Evil in Othello
What can compare to the evil present in William Shakespeare’s tragic drama Othello? The sinister aspect of the play is so heavy at times that it has a depressing effect on the audience.
In the essay “Wit and Witchcraft: an Approach to Othello” Robert B. Heilman unveils the evil awaiting the reader in Othello:
Reason as an ally of evil is a subject to which Shakespeare keeps returning, as if fascinated, but in different thematic forms as he explores different counter-forces. ]. . .] Although Iago, as we saw, does not take seriously the ennobling power of love, he does not fail to let us know what he does take seriously. When, in his fake oath of loyalty to "wrong'd Othello," he vows "The execution of his wit, hands, heart" (III.3.466), Iago's words give a clue to his truth: his heart is his malice, his hands literally wound Cassio and kill Roderigo, and his wit is the genius that creates all the strategy. (338)
By an extraordinary composition of character Shakespeare has made Iago, literally or symbolically, share in all these modes of evil. And in Iago he has dramatized Dante’s summary analysis: “For where the instrument of the mind is joined to evil will and potency, men can make no defense against it.” But he has also dramatized the hidden springs of evil action, the urgency and passion and immediacy of it. He contemplates too the evildoer’s “potency” and man’s defenselessness: but these he interprets tragically by making them, not absolute, but partly dependent on the flaws or desire of the victims themselves. (343)
First of all, Iago’s very words paint him for what he is. Robert Di Yanni in “Character Revealed Through Dialogue” states that the evil antagonist reveals his character quite plainly through his speech:
Iago’s language reveals his coarseness; he crudely reduces sexual love to animal copulation. It also shows his ability to make things happen: he has infuriated Brabantio. The remainder of the scene shows the consequences of his speech, its power to inspire action. Iago is thus revealed as both an instigator and a man of crude sensibilities. (123)
Evidence of his psychopathic personality is seen early in the play. He manipulates the wealthy Roderigo into awakening the senator Brabantio (“Rouse him: make after him, poison his delight”); and then he utters very offensive smutty lines about a black ram and white ewe, which indicate the way his sick mind operates. Francis Ferguson in “Two Worldviews Echo Each Other” describes the types of base, loathsome imagery used by the antagonist Iago when he “slips his mask aside” while awakening Brabantio:
Iago is letting loose the wicked passion inside him, as he does from time to time throughout the play, when he slips his mask aside. At such moments he always resorts to this imagery of money-bags, treachery, and animal lust and violence. So he expresses his own faithless, envious spirit, and, by the...