Iago’s deceit and manipulation in Othello
Iago is widely credited, in the words of Agatha Christie, as “the greatest villain of all time”. He is a manipulative character who “weaves a web of deceit” by exploiting even the tiniest faults in others. By maintaining a facade of comedy and boyishness he uses his honesty and twisted truth to play others “like a virtuoso” and “drive... them to madness”. In the play Othello, Act 2 Scene 1 is perhaps the most enlightening scene with regards to the truly manipulative character of Iago. Containing several soliloquies and interactions between all of the main characters, his manipulation is well encapsulated both in this scene in the play and in the 1965 Stuart Burge film adaptation.
In this scene, soliloquies are used by both Shakespeare and Burge to convey copious amounts of dramatic irony, symbolism and metaphor which convey Iago’s devious personality and his evil plans. Burge augments these language techniques with several filmic ones such as high angle shots, use of intonation and salience to characterise Iago. After Othello and Desdemona are reunited, Iago in his soliloquy uses a musical metaphor – “Oh, you are well tuned now, but I’ll set down the pegs that make this music work”. The effect here both shows the depth of Othello and Desdemona’s love and the manipulative prowess of Iago to destroy utterly the love between them. Indeed, later in the play, the hatred Othello holds for Desdemona is made even more shocking because of the height of their love previously. In the film, the use of salience heightens the viewer’s impression of Iago as a manipulative, vengeful individual in the soliloquies. As Iago stands in the background, covering a full half of the screen as Cassio and Desdemona attend to their airs and graces, he summarily tells the audience through direct address, gaze and salience how he plans to “ensnare... Cassio” in his “web of deceit”.
One of the most striking characteristics of Iago throughout the play is his use of humour and the forgery of truth to achieve his objective in widening the chasms between the main characters and feeding the faults within his objects of jealousy. This is somewhat better conveyed in the movie, as high angle shots and contrasting intonation is used to differentiate between Iago’s different personae. Cassio’s gentlemanliness, illustrated both in the play and the movie by constant courteous gestures such as kissing Desdemona’s hand clearly contrasts with Iago’s coarseness – “for you may relish him more in the soldier than in the scholar”. While Iago puts on the completely convincing facade of the comedian (albeit a crude one), his attitude in the aside clearly shows how he uses the humour and truth exhibited by others, as well as their “green eyed” jealousy against them. In the aside, he analyses Desdemona and Cassio chatting and assers that “it will be easy to turn their manner with each other into something damaging to them both” – with so “little a web...