Iago: Deception as Catalyst for Truth
The audience will achieve a more complete understanding of Iago in The Tragedy of Othello if Iago is viewed as a complex character and not simply as a conventional "villain." Iago's devious schemes destroy lives both literally and figuratively, but they may also serve to reveal the character of others in intricate ways. A critical interpretation of Iago reveals that although he is principally a deceiver, he is also a dramatic agent of truth. Even though his acts are malicious and deceitful, the title "honest Iago" is fitting in the sense that he reveals the true nature of his victims, as well as the propensity for human beings to act in accordance with their inherently dark natures. While based in deception, Iago's machinations expose the truth of Brabantio's hidden racism, Cassio's inner vanity, and Othello's repressed sexual possessiveness.
Iago cleverly emphasizes the issue of race and its association with devilry when he and Roderigo announce to Brabantio that Desdemona has eloped with Othello. Iago is the first to emphasize the biracial nature of the marriage by referring to Othello as an "old black ram" and to Desdemona as a "white ewe" (1.1.85-86).1 Iago then associates Othello with the image of "the devil" (88) because he is black, warning Brabantio that he has "lost half [his] soul" (84) now that Desdemona is married to Othello. It is Iago who initially suggests that Othello exemplifies the stereotype that a black person is inherently evil and likely to be a practitioner of witchcraft. Granted, it is unlikely that Iago's few brief statements give birth to Brabantio as a racist; yet by plaguing Brabantio's thoughts with a dialogue that feeds his natural tendency towards racism, Iago helps to expose Brabantio's true character.
Perhaps it is Iago who has allowed the idea finally to surface, but Brabantio's double standard for Othello has apparently always existed. Brabantio may have respected Othello as a military general, as a close acquaintance, and perhaps even as a friend, but it is clear that he never considered Othello good enough to be a husband for his daughter. Brabantio seemingly laments the fact that his daughter has married a black man, falling in love "with what she feared to look on!" (1.3.98), more than the fact that she has betrayed him. While Iago's statements are strong enough to precipitate the release of Brabantio' s true feelings in a stressful situation, the ease with which Brabantio vocalizes racist remarks about Othello suggests that he has always been secretly prejudiced and has never considered Othello a true friend.
In his defense speech to the council of Venice, Othello discloses his belief that he and Brabantio were previously friends: "Her father loved me; oft invited me; / Still questioned me the story of my life..." (1.3.127-28). Yet rather than attack Othello's character, Brabantio develops the stereotype that Iago presents to him in the...