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Is Iago The Perfect Villain?

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Introduction

Othello Essay 'Is Iago the perfect villain?' Few Shakespearian villains radiate evilness and jealously quite as much as Iago, the unbeknown nemesis of the play's title character, Othello. In other plays written by the bard of Avon the villains can come across as one-dimensional- weak, personified by a flaw in their genetic make-up or unattainable ambition yet Iago is a far more complex and compelling character. True, he has the power to both betray and murder those he once worked alongside, but Iago isn't the complete cold-blooded murderer in the same sense of Macbeth or King Claudius from Hamlet. True, he meticulously plans the death of Cassio but he plans it to be by hands of Rodrigo, his puppet. In the end opportunity presents itself to Iago and he seizes the moment to stab Cassio in the back but the blow fails to kill him. Iago also reveals a moral conscience through his three soliloquy's which I will explore in more detail later. In short Iago is like no other of Shakespeare's villains which makes him an utterly compelling and absorbing character. And like the other characters in the play, Iago delights in absorbing us, the viewer... The tragedy of Othello was believed to have been first performed in the early 1600's and is one of Shakespeare's more famous plays. The play is also rich in historical context and features the Moorish race heavily, leading many to believe it was influenced by a visit to the capital of the Empire by the Moorish ambassador, who is said to have met with the ruling monarch. In the play, only Iago voiced an explicitly stereotypical view on Othello and his race and, the fact that Iago is the main villain of the play, means most scholars view the play as Shakespeare's statement on society, notably that people are the same, regardless of skin colour- a message many would do well to remember in this current day and age. ...read more.

Middle

It is engendered. Hell and night, Must bring this monstrous birth to the world's light," show once more that Iago knows what he is doing is wrong, but also hint at the fact that he has forgave any chance of redemption, and knows that his future will end in the death of his former friend, and the loss of his soul to evil. Whether this pains him, however, is never fully explored or revealed by Shakespeare. The quotation also compares Iago to the Devil, which would have shocked the Jacobean audience. People of this time would have been devoutly religious and the devil would have frightened them, as he was seen as the ultimate evil. The phrase "hell and night" implies that evil often materialises during the night, during the darkness, which juxtaposes the image of heaven and light, which could be associated to Othello. This is slightly ironic as the character of Othello is black, yet he is the "light" character being manipulated by the "black" Iago. The adjective "monstrous" proves that Iago is aware of his wrongdoing. Yet when used in his soliloquy, used after he passionately describes his plan, the word sounds very ominous and sinister. One gets the impression that Shakespeare wanted the actor portraying Iago to spit the word to the audience. The word "birth" also suggests that Iago is comparing the manifestation of his evil plan to a newborn baby. This links in with the idea of Iago hating women as he has a rather shallow relationship with Emilia and mentions in the play how he thinks women are good only for sex. In the soliloquy, by describing his plan has having a "birth" he is slurring females, as his plan is one of evil and vindictiveness. Iago's second soliloquy continues where the first left off and provides us with a number of reasons for why Iago is so hell-bent on Othello's destruction. ...read more.

Conclusion

Here, Iago is fantasizing about putting his plan into action. He is also once again revealing the sense of detachment he feels, he is planning on manipulating Desdemona's innocence and purity into a weapon, thus highlighting the ruthless nature of his character. The fact that Iago sees these qualities as factors to be exploited sum up his nature in perfect fashion. Iago is an opportunist, a speculator. He is extremely apt in finding a gap in someone's character and using it to fulfil his own needs. Whilst most would see this as a weakness, Iago sees it as strength and it serves him well until he is caught. The fact that Shakespeare compares Iago manipulating everyone around him to "enmeshing people" suggests that Iago is in a higher position than everybody else. He is rounding up the other characters, and delighting in the fact that it is Desdemona's innocence that is luring people in. He is doing the dirty work whilst using another character o take the blame. In conclusion, I do see Iago as the perfect villain. He is opportunistic, ruthless and compelling, a perfect villain in so many ways. An Elizabethan audience would most likely have at first reacted very negatively to Iago, but such is the strength of his character that his motives for destroying Othello begin to be understood long after the play has been performed. Whilst at first he seems purely evil, upon further reflection you begin to see Iago as a victim, a victim of what ambition can do to a man. The soliloquies also help Iago gain, and lose empathy. Shakespeare uses them as a tool, an instrument in engaging the audience. First the audience feel sorry for Iago, before Shakespeare turns the story on it's head and makes Iago utterly evil once more. This all contributes to making Iago the perfect villain; he is unreadable and unpredictable, unlike other Shakespearean characters that remain the same character throughout. Iago is constantly changing, evolving and developing. ...read more.

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Here's what a teacher thought of this essay

5 star(s)

This response shows a very good understanding of the play and the character of Iago. The only thing that needs further consideration is the definition of the 'perfect villain'.

5 Stars

Marked by teacher Laura Gater 24/06/2013

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