Explore the extent to which Shakespeare's characterisation of Iago and Edmund is influenced by the Machiavellian villain and the Vice figure of medieval morality play. (62 marks)

Authors Avatar by shazyo (student)

Both Iago and Edmund possess traits which are both Vice-like and Machiavellian, however Iago leans more towards the Machiavellian figure (but is still strongly Vice-like), as does Edmund but on a lesser level as his motives are clearer than Iago's. Iago has a strong ability to convince other characters of his honesty and loyalty towards them, but the audience are immediately introduced to his intense passion for revenge despite the lack of real reason in seeking so. Iago represents the true form of villainy and is immensely unpleasant throughout the play which is shown to the audience. Edmund is similar to Iago in the fact that he is also seeking revenge and feels like he has been treated unjustly and must get what he thinks he deserves. Both characters aim to climb up the social hierarchy and gain financial superiority by using other characters and they are prepared to hurt the source of this wealth in doing so; this trait is very Machiavel-like.

Both characters show similar traits in the way they use the idea of seeming and appearing as a virtuous character. This view prompts at their roles as Machiavellian as the Machiavelli figure is far more controlling and aware of other characters than the Vice figure, and knows how to be viewed in a well, righteous manner by other characters. However, in this particular example, he does so by using devil imagery, which could suggest that he is more Vice-like. Within a soliloquy (2:3), Iago says: "When devils will the blackest sins put on /They do suggest at first with heavenly shows /As I do now". This is a direct reference to Iago being like the devil, which is closely associated with the Vice figure from the medieval morality plays. This idea of seeming is apparent throughout both plays. For instance, Iago says directly to the audience that he will "pour this pestilence into his [Othello's] ear"; the image of 'pestilence' implies that Iago poison Othello's mind, driving him into a whirlpool of jealousy. G.K Hunter agrees with this idea when he said that Iago is the type of character that finds and he does so by keeping his image untainted also. Edmund, similarly, manipulates Gloucester when he shows him the letter supposedly written by Edgar. This is seen in 1:2 when Edmund says to Gloucester: "I beseech you, sir, pardon me. It is a letter from my brother that I have not all o'er-read. And for so much as I have perused, I find it not fit for your o'erlooking". This evidently suggests that Edmund appears respectful and concerned about Gloucester's reaction to Edgar's letter but he clearly has the intention of showing him the letter. Both Iago and Edmund compulsively lie in attempt to manipulate how a character perceives another character, while appearing as the individual whom is thoughtful and caring about everybody.

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Additionally, Shakespeare uses Iago and Edmund to manipulate other characters and create majority of the storyline. One theme which is evident in both Iago and Edmund is the way they use other people's positive characteristics, and turn them into weaknesses for their own advantage. A key example of this is when Iago says in a soliloquy that he will "have our Michael Cassio on the hip, / Abuse him to the Moor" (2:1:296-297). This shows that he aims to take power over Cassio, and then tell Othello negative things about him to fuel anger and jealousy regarding Desdemona. Additionally, in ...

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