The Character of Iago in Othello
In the play Othello, the character Iago plays a paramount role in the destruction of Othello and all of those around him. Some critics state that Iago's actions are motiveless and that he is a purely evil character. However, during the course of this paper, certain motives for Iago's actions will be discussed.
For the first motive to be understood the reader must become knowledgeable of Othello's heritage and the setting of the play. Othello is a Moslem from North Africa. He is living in Venice. He is the leader of the Venetian forces. Anthony Burgess, a Shakespearean critic, believes that Othello's color has nothing to do with Iago's actions.
"Othello's color had no connotations of the enslavable inferiority. There were many great Negroes in those days like that Antonio de Vunth, who was King of Congo's ambassador to the Holy See."(Shakespeare, pp.200)
There may have been many great Negroes around in those days but there were none in Venice. Othello was the only member of his race in Venice. Many of the people who lived in Venice had never seen a Moor. To the people of Venice, Moors were different and feared, they were seen as an evil spirit. Some people thought that they were witches or devils that walked the earth. Included in a text written by Stephen Greenblatt, Roderigo and Barbanizo believed that "Othello used magic to win Desdemona."(Norton Shakespeare, pp. 2091). You also see many references in the play where a character will refer to Othello as being a devil or beast.
It was no secret to the reader of the play that Iago possessed a hatred for Othello. In fact, in act one of the plays the reader sees hints of Iago's racial prejudice when he informs Barbanizo that Othello is copulating with his daughter. "Even now, now, very now, an old black ram/ Is tupping your white ewe."(Othello, Act 1, scene 1, ln. 88-89). Iago knew that Othello and Desdemona had eloped and he was determined to break the couple up. Othello was a high-ranking officer in the Venetian forces, however some critics believe that to Iago, Othello was simply a Moor who had moved into his territory and taken over. Iago had reasons other than the color of Othello's skin to hate the Moor.
Iago is a very secretive villain throughout the play and until the end of the play there were not many characters who knew what Iago was scheming. However, in the first scene of the play Iago tells Roderigo that he hates the Moor and despises the fact that Othello chose Michael Cassio to be his lieutenant. Iago tells this to Roderigo before he plans to seek revenge on Othello. This envy of Michael Cassio plays a very important role and is a tremendous motivational factor in the plot against Othello. Iago is so ruthless that he involves Cassio into the plot in order to ruin his reputation and career. Iago wants to destroy Cassio because he...