Iago as the Hero of Othello by Shakespeare
In most plays and novels, the protagonist is the main character, who is viewed as a good
person who has bad things happen to him or her. Likewise, the antagonist is portrayed as evil and villainous, and seeks to destroy the moral protagonist. Many readers and critics perceive Iago as evil, manipulative, and antagonistic. He directly seeks to destroy Othello, Cassio, Roderigo, and any other good character, out of selfish and unprovoked rage. The critic, W.H. Auden, says this in reference to Iago, " Iago is a wicked man. The wicked man, the stage villain...the suffering he inflicts is real (48)." In the play Othello, Othello is viewed as the good, and intelligent character. He is loving wise, and the ideal soldier. The critic William Empson defines him as, "the personification of honour (44)." For these reasons, many readers side with Othello as being the heroic protagonist of the story. Othello is living a successful life, newly married, and prospering until Iago decides to step in. By looking at the play in another perspective, Iago, not Othello, can be viewed as a heroic and good character. Despite Othello's role in the play and portrayal by the critic, Iago's desire and motive to create a better life for himself, as well as his keen and cunning intellect, make him a heroic protagonistic character with whom the audience can sympathize.
Although disputed by the critic, Iago's motivation is not to be evil and villainous, but rather heroic. Iago is perceived as evil and self-absorbed, but his desires and dreams are like any other person's. Iago merely wishes to secure a better life for himself and his wife, Emilia. Iago wishes to earn the position of a lieutenant in Othello's army. This position is second to Othello's, and would mean more respect, responsibility, and money for Iago. With a higher rank, Iago would improve the status of his family and create a more comfortable life for himself and his wife. Although Iago has proven his worth to Othello, the lieutenancy is given to Cassio, a man undeserving of the role. Angry and disappointed, Iago says, " "One Michael Cassio, a Florentine that never set a squadron in the field nor the division of a battle knows more than a spinster." Iago is driven by his passion and yearning to fulfill his dream and acquire the lieutenancy, even if it means stealing it from Cassio. His desire to do this, is not based jealousy or selfishness. Iago merely wishes to acquire the typical American or Venetian dream. Iago wants to be happy in life, and to him, happiness comes through the promotion to lieutenant.
An example of the protagonist/ antagonist relationship which Othello and Iago share, is portrayed through Iago's desire to become a lieutenant. Iago is a good and faithful soldier to Othello. He is Othello's "ancient," or advisor. He has proven his loyalty and intelligence to Othello, and deserves a promotion. Othello destroys Iago's hopes and dreams by...