The Complex Character of Iago of Othello
Iago can be clearly characterized as the villain in Shakespeare’s Othello. The notion of the "honest" Iago does at times appear not to be a misnomer. In this essay I shall attempt to explore the complexities contained within the character of Iago.
One of the most interesting questions that crops up is the one concerning Iago’s motives. What are his reasons to kill every major Venetian in Cyprus? Shakespeare seemingly sets the stage for Iago’s actions, giving him two distinct reasons to avenge Othello. The first is the fact that Othello promotes Cassio, an "arithmetician" to the rank of lieutenant and passes over Iago who is but a sergeant. Secondly, Iago is suspicious of his wife, Emilia and thinks she is sleeping with every other man but him—including Othello. There are other reasons that Iago talks about in his soliloquies—the primary one being jealousy or "the green-eyed monster." Iago resents the love that Othello and Desdemona share and also takes offence at the fact that Othello is older, yet he has a young and beautiful wife, power, and respect, all that Iago desires. However, all these reasons seem to be false and made-up just for the sake of being excuses for his malice or perhaps they seem to sum up a sense of paranoia.
Furthermore he uses these reasons to convince Roderigo to hate Othello. The real motive seems but a slip on Iago’s part when he says in act five, as he waits to stab Cassio:
"If Cassio do remain,
He hath a daily beauty in his life
That makes me ugly..."
He refers to Cassio’s goodness here and realizes that he lacks his gentlemanly traits. They are not quite of the same social status or class and Iago resents that, for he knows that the promotion was not given to him in the first place because of this issue. A frustrated Iago decides to create havoc with everyone that is concerned.
Shakespeare portrays Othello as the general without faults, perfect. Yet slowly he reveals the weaknesses of Othello’s love for Desdemona. For this love he will forsake anything. Iago is quick to focus upon this and starts working towards destroying Othello through his only percieved shortcoming.
Iago uses a gamut of devious methods to achieve his means. His use of Roderigo is a masterly move. From being "a Venetian gentleman," Roderigo becomes Iago’s gull. In the very first scene he gets him to confront a sleepy Brabantio and give him the news of his daughters escapades with the Moor.
At the end of the court scene in the first act, Iago and Roderigo are left alone with the poor doting lover in great despair. Roderigo takes a decision to drown himself. Iago easily convinces him out of it by pointing out Othello’s shortcomings. Says he,
"She must change for youth: when she is sated with his body,
she will find the errors of his choice."
This satisfies Roderigo and Iago’s hate starts taking definite shape:
"I hate the moor,