Is Iago The Perfect Villain?

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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. The fact that Iago is the only character to mention Othello’s skin colour is also signs of one of his weakness- the fact that he is blinded by stereotypes. This character trait is explored further by Shakespeare in Iago’s soliloquies.

        The play Othello is one of Shakespeare’s tragedy’s, ending in a dramatic, breathtaking climax. The proud, noble and trustworthy character of Othello promotes his young solder Cassio ahead of his more experienced ally Iago, setting off a chain of events which eventually ends with the demise of Othello, his young wife Desdemona and Iago himself.

        Twisted with jealously and rage Iago sets out to manipulate and  exploit Othello’s trustworthy nature, instead revealing him to be slightly naïve and gullible. After a series of Iago-inspired mis-understandings, Othello believes his wife to be sleeping with his new lieutenant, Cassio and thus commences to kill his wife. However not long after he fatally wounds his wife, he learns the truth from Iago’s wife and, after apologising to Cassio, kills himself.

Othello is one of Shakespeare’s only plays where the villain of the piece speaks more lines then the title character or protagonist. This fact reflects Iago’s incredible contribution to the play and also sets the tone for the story- for the most part we see things from Iago’s perspective as, after the audience, Iago has the most knowledge on what is going on in the play. You could even argue that, at times, Iago knows even more than the audience, which is a trait of a true, compelling villain. We never know what face Iago is going to show next, never know what move he is going to make, partly helped by the fact that for long stretches of the play Iago is in “good” mode. He is seemingly kind, loyal and truthful to Othello, all signs of a true friend. It is only through the intimate soliloquies that the real Iago comes to the fore.

        Othello’s race is particularly important in the play, despite the fact that only one character slurs his race in the play: Iago. Othello is frequently called “The Moor” in the play, implying he is either of African descent or simply just a Muslim. The fact that Shakespeare does not allot Othello a specific race could be due to the fact that he wanted his audience to see that race isn’t crucial in understanding a person or character and only the narrow minded (or evil, like Iago) would see race as a barrier. The fact that Othello is not native to Italy is especially important to the play and it’s affect on it’s audience: it makes Othello’s demise more saddening and guilt tinged as Iago has manipulated a man of a different culture and robbed the only person who he felt a real, strong connection with and, who in turn, respected him back- Desdemona.

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        In many of Shakespeare’s other plays, the phrase: “actions speak louder then words”, could be applied to the villain of the play. Many of the villain’s true characters are revealed when they are committing their piece of true evil however with Iago, it is the opposite way around. He keeps up a false face when around Othello; “pouring pestilence into his ear” with his “heavenly shows” and this is arguably the greatest of Iago’s many evil deeds. He is manipulating Othello, influencing him. This is one of the many factors that could be seen as making Iago into the “perfect ...

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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