Iago And The Literary Tradition Of A Villain In William Shakespeare's Othello

2910 words - 12 pages

Iago and the Literary Tradition of a Villain in William Shakespeare's Othello

In this essay, I am going to explain how Iago conforms to the literary
tradition of a villain.

Firstly, to answer this question, we must understand what exactly is
meant by the term 'villain'. The Collins Plain English Dictionary
states that a villain is someone who 'deliberately sets out to harm
other people.'

It is clear that Iago is clearly someone who has intentions of
destroying other people, whether they are his main targets or merely
pawns in his game.

Shakespeare himself created some of the most memorable villains of all
time. The list includes Iago (Othello), Richard III, Cornwall and
Edmund (King Lear), Aaron the Moor (Titus Andronicus) and Macbeth.

What all these characters share is their willingness to commit the
most heinous of crimes in order to acquire what they want.

With the exception of Macbeth, none of these characters seem to have a
conscience. Macbeth is the only one who shows the slightest hint of
remorse over the crimes he has committed. He has terrible nightmares,
illusions and eventually turns himself mad with worry over whether or
not he will be found out.

The rest of the characters are described as ruthless villains by
"about.com". Richard III, according to the website, is 'tyrannical and
morally vacuous.'

'In a play rife with heinous evildoers, Cornwall towers over them all.
Infinitely greedy and exceptionally cruel, he delights in gouging out
Gloucester's eyes.'

Aaron the Moor is accused of 'masterminding vile crimes and remaining
defiant to the end, 'If one good deed in all my life I did, I do
repent it from my very soul.' This shows that he does not want to ever
have done anything decent in his life. He wants to be known and
remembered for his evilness and immorality rather then as a kind,
giving man.

King Lear character Edmund 'strives to destroy his brother and father
to gain Gloucester's title.'

We can conclude from this that a villain is an individual (male or
female), who for various reasons, intends to destroy another person,
usually for his or her own gain. More often than not, a literary
villain works alone or in two's and three's, typically never more than
this because the more people who know about the plot, the more chance
there is of being found out.

Literary villains are insatiable and ruthless. They stop at nothing to
obtain what they want. They obliterate those in their way without a
second thought. They cannot and do not have a conscience as this would
mean feeling emotions like pity and guilt which in turn would stop
them from committing the wrong deeds they are so renowned for.

But Iago has to be the most machiavellian character Shakespeare has
ever created. Literary critic William Robert Turnball points out 'Iago...

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