Differences Between Shakespeare’s Othello and Iago Characters

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Othello’s character undergoes a dramatic transformation, the man of calm integrity seen at the beginning of the play deteriorates into a man infected with ideas of revenge and death.

This essay will focus on the attitudes and relationships between the central characters and the mistrust that is apparent as the play progresses.Othello is the protagonist of this tragedy who can be solely described as the tragic hero of the play. Aristotle defined a tragic hero as a person who moves from the highest point to the lowest. Othello was once referred to as the saviour of the Venetian state but later appeared to be a mentally disturbed murderer whose mistrust and jealousy for Desdemona brought about his downfall.

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A common finale in Shakespeare’s plays is having the central character killed in a bloody and violent fashion. In plays such as Macbeth and Romeo and Juliet a death occurs early on in the play which triggers off conflict between the central characters. The death at the beginning of Othello is that of principles and trust, the kind, loving soldier within Othello dies and a new violent man is born.Othello’s race is a source of tension in the play, in Act 1 Scene 1 Roderigo and Iago discuss ‘The Moor’ and all references to him appear derogatory.

They conjure up a false image of him mocking him for his unfair choice of lieutenant, ultimately displaying jealousy and racism towards Othello.Brabantio’s rude awakening by Roderigo and Iago is a racist section of the play. Brabantio is informed that his daughter has eloped with Othello a disobedience so shockingly unnatural to Brabantio that it’s obviously due to charms and chants used in witchcraft by ‘the sorcerer’ Othello. The strong racist perceptions of Othello continue throughout the play, he remains an outsider who is accepted by only a few characters as a important military figure and a respected individual.

In this scene he is confident and deals with Brabantio’s insults in a relaxed fashion, if anything he appears over-confident, qualities which he lacks in following scenes.The reason that Othello became so insanely jealous may have simply arisen from his own personal conflicts. Othello does not seem to know his own worth which makes him feel insecure and alone. He is an intelligent man and to be constantly judged because of his race would have proved difficult.

Perhaps Othello has an inferiority complex, a man of his background would expect to endure a life of slavery as opposed to being a high ranking soldier. In Act 3 Scene 3 , Othello addresses the matter of his race in a soliloquy, he reflects that his colour, speech and age may be the cause of Desdemona’s infidelity: ‘Haply for I am black, and have not those soft parts of conversation that chambers have.’ His jealousy is not the only factor contributing to his downfall and sudden change in character.Act 3 Scene 3 is the most significant and effective section of the play, this scene displays dramatic power within the characters and it is at this point that Iago wins Othello’s trust.

It is the pivotal scene where jealousy, mistrust and deception are recurrent images.The scene opens with a conversation between Cassio and Desdemona, this conversation is completely innocent with Cassio expressing his needs for Othello’s ‘love and service’. Iago manages to convince Othello that this innocent meeting is in fact a meeting of two deceitful lovers, arousing suspicion by questioning Desdemona’s loyalty to her father. ‘She has deceived her father, and may thee.

‘ were Brabantio’s final words in Act 1 Scene 3. Brabantio has unwittingly reiterated the question of Desdemona’s loyalty which will know doubt create further veins of suspicion in Othello’s mind.Iago continues to manipulate Othello by focusing on the importance of reputation, a topic which a valiant soldier would want to uphold. A quote by Iago which focuses on reputation is ‘Good name.

…the jewel of their souls.

‘ The audience at this point will feel empathy with Othello aware that Iago is destroying the reputations of both Desdemona and Cassio.Iago’s words have a direct impact on Othello, subtly planting seeds of doubt in Othello’s mind but never directly accusing Desdemona of adultery.Othello believes like many other characters in the play that Iago is an honest and trustworthy individual. It is in Othello’s first soliloquy that the audience have the opportunity to hear his inner most thoughts proclaiming Iago to be a fellow of ‘exceeding honesty.

‘ Othello is completely oblivious to Iago’s malignant ways, naivety is not a quality that you would expect from a creditable and experienced soldier like Othello but these traits are becoming obvious as the play progresses.Iago hesitates in his speech when expressing his thoughts about Desdemona’s infidelity with Cassio. Iago’s hesitancy and delaying tactics worries Othello believing that if honest Iago appears troubled then the news must be extremely serious. Othello is blinded by the truth he could be described as gullible, he is gradually losing all sense of reality.

In Iago’s soliloquy in Act 1 Scene 3 Line 381 Iago too describes Othello as gullible ‘The Moor is of free and open nature.’It is not just Othello’s personality that changes but he also changes linguistically. In the early part of the play we witness the purity of Othello and Desdemona’s relationship. His speech carries rich imagery and he speaks poetically about their genuine love for each other.

‘She gave me for my pains a world of sighs.’ He is constantly being attacked because of his colour but still manages to maintain a calmness and displays respect for Brabantio the father of his love ‘You shall more command with years than with your weapons.’ Yet by Act 3 Scene 3 the eloquent, poetic verses plummet into brutal, death threatening prose.This breakdown in language could symbolise the breakdown of trust and reality in Othello’s life.

Othello regains his former poetry during the final act where he suffocates the innocent Desdemona. To regain his poetic speech at such a time is quite ironic and I believe that Shakespeare purposely used this technique to show the significance of Desdemona’s death to Othello. Othello is now at peace with himself he feels that Desdemona has been sufficiently punished for her ills and has restored his reputation.Iago has a direct influence on Othello’s views on women managing to pollute Othello’s idealistic views on Desdemona.

Othello can be described as arrogant as he never directly approaches Desdemona to question her about the suspected affair but instead allows himself to be manipulated by Iago. Surely if this love was as pure as we were led to believe then Othello would give Desdemona the benefit of the doubt instead of calling her a ‘strumpet’. Surely such a strong a leader of men should be able to formulate his own opinions? Why does he allow Iago to convince him that his loyal wife is worse than a common prostitute? My conclusion to these questions is that Othello sees Iago as a friend and because he feels so betrayed is unable to see that Iago is exploiting the situation to plot Othello’s downfall.In Elizabethan England, black people were seen as an alien race soin writing Othello, Shakespeare would have been wary of offending Queen Elizabeth and her powerful courtiers.

It was therefore inevitable that Othello would perform a heinous deed and trust the malevolent Iago otherwise Shakespeare would have been executed for his blasphemous play. Othello could never be a true hero because of the racism during Queen Elizabeth’s reign so Othello’s downfall was destined.The extent of his transformation is seen in Act 4 Scene 1 where Desdemona is certainly withdrawn from Othello’s loving gaze. Desdemona has a natural goodness and speaks to Othello about the ‘unkind breach’ in Othello and Cassio’s relationship.

Desdemona unaware of Othello’s suspicions states her fondness and love for Cassio and pleads with Othello to forget the dispute. Othello in his present state of mind misinterprets Desdemona’s wishes and strikes her believing that this incident echoes his doubt of Desdemona’s loyalty.Lodivico is astounded by Othello’s actions ‘My lord, this would not be believed in Venice’. The citizens of Venice would indeed dismiss this act as completely out of character.

The ‘old’ Othello died when he left Cyprus a ‘new’ violent man took his place.Act 3 Scene 4 discusses the key to the plot of the play, Desdemona’s handkerchief.Desdemona dismisses the idea of the lost handkerchief and pursues the matter of Cassio’s dismissal. The persistent talk of Cassio enrages Othello and eventually so overcome by anger demands ‘The handkerchief.

‘Other than the battlefield Othello has never acted in such a harsh and offensive fashion towards Desdemona. This abrupt change in character scares Desdemona especially when remembering the public display of affection he showed her previously.It is ironic that Othello speaks of the ‘Magic in the web’ of the handkerchief as he is reverting back to the magical stereotype suggested about himself in Act 1 Scene 2. Under Iago’s influence, Othello is changing, the handkerchief symbolising the darkness and evil in Othello.

I believe that the missing handkerchief is more proof concerning the jealous nature in Othello. Othello is extremely quick to believe ill of Desdemona in Act 3 Scene 3 Line 289 Desdemona uses the handkerchief to bind Othello’s aching head. It is in the same scene line 433 where Iago claims that the handkerchief is in Cassio’s clutches. ‘Have you not sometimes seen a handkerchief spotted with strawberries in you wife’s hand?’Does Othello really believe that Cassio could have got the handkerchief in such a short space of time? I believe that this only confirms Othello’s jealous nature, a trait that wasn’t evident at the beginning of the play.

Has Iago influenced Othello into his way of thinking?The women lack power and importance in Othello, Desdemona who is perceived as a loyal wife is stripped of her respect by Othello. This is not dissimilar to the manner in which Emilia is treated by Iago. Iago has again affected Othello’s opinions which shows that Iago is the principal cause of Othello’s dramatic change.Iago does not change throughout the play, he has a single purpose to seek revenge on Othello.

Iago’s motivation is the envy of Cassio’s promotion, as he can’t understand why Cassio a ‘arithmetician’ with no experience or ability as a soldier should be favoured over him.I perceive Iago as a jealous man who is envious of Othello and Desdemona’s loving and fulfilling relationship and is bitter about the alleged affair between Othello and Emilia. Another explanation for Iago’s desire for revenge is his jealousy of Cassio’s relationship with Othello. Iago has fought beside Othello in several battles proving to be a courageous soldier and loyal friend, yet receives no acknowledgement or reward.

Iago’s character doesn’t change but he acts differently depending on the company keeps. In one instance he appears to be an honest and trustworthy friend to Othello but in his soliloquy’s the audience see him for what he is- a manipulative villain. This masking by Iago can be related to the image of the angel and the devil, a subject that Shakespeare often depicts in his plays. Shakespeare used the imagery of good and evil for a purpose as he strongly believed that evil is formed by the corruption of good.

This play explores the fact that things are never as they seem, however real or genuine they may first appear they can often prove to be a figment of the imagination. Iago appears to be a genuine friend of Othello’s but in reality it is all an act, a mere ploy to seek revenge. ‘I follow him to serve my turn upon him.’When Iago helped Roderigo to win Desdemona’s heart, Roderigo assumed that Iago was being genuine but he was again only serving his own purposes.

Iago subtly mentions his split personality to Roderigo in Act 1 Scene 1 Line 66 when he says ‘I am not what I am.’Iago may appear honest and trustworthy, successfully managing to deceive characters such as Desdemona and Cassio but if truth be told he is a scheming villain whose purpose is to bring about Othello’s downfall. His personality never changes but it has been proved that he will change his disposition in order to manipulate his own ends.Iago is an intriguing and mysterious character and is one of the most memorable villains produced by Shakespeare.

Iago would have been popular amongst the Elizabethan audiences and it was during this time that a band of people retaliated against Parliament as a protest against the oppressive anti-Roman Catholic laws. Iago manages to retain his power to the bitter end when his villainy is finally exposed. Iago could represent the change in society and Iago’s conspiracy to murder Othello could have provoked Roman Catholics to kill James 1.Iago’s takes pride in his reputation during the end of the play a quality that would have been admired by Shakespearean audiences.

There is no disputing that Iago is the evil character in the play but I believe that audiences would have sympathy for his treacherous ways. Othello being ‘A Moor’ would be despised partly due to his colour and his marriage to the white Desdemona.. There are certain similarities between the characters of Othello and Iago that Shakespeare would have been careful when writing the play not to cause offence.

. If Shakespeare wanted to be ‘politically correct’ he had to allow Iago to live and his morals be in tact at the end of the play. To have Iago die and Othello live would have been out of the question and this is partly the reason why the image of Iago’s strong, powerful and clever character never changes.You can often determine the personality of a character by looking at the structure of their speeches.

As I have mentioned previously Othello’s breakdown in speech is used to symbolise the breakdown of trust and reality in his life. Shakespeare uses prose in specific speeches of Iago’s to emphasise his villainy and to indicate the mood and tone of Iago in that scene. This technique is used in Act 2 Scene 3 where Iago persuades Cassio, a man with a light head for alcohol, to drink a ‘stoup of wine’. This was all part of Iago’s master plan; if Cassio was drunk and quarrelsome whilst in charge of Othello’s party then he would be undermining the position of trust and responsibility placed in him by Othello.

It was significant for Shakespeare to use prose at this point as it is a piece of Iago’s plan that will help complete the jigsaw.Both Iago and Othello change linguistically throughout the play. Iago’s change can be again likened to good and evil, he speaks in verses when pretending to be a trustworthy friend and speaks in passive pros when speaking of his destructive plan. Iago’s split personality is again apparent but this change is superficial, the true Iago is seen in his soliloquies.

The fact that Iago is clever can never be disputed. Iago expertly manipulates every single character by focusing on their weaknesses and questioning their self doubt. I would describe Iago as a puppeteer as he appears to know what strings to pull on each of the characters in the play. Iago knows that Othello is inexperienced in love and takes advantage by inventing a lie about Desdemona.

Othello was a clever man who often made decisions on state affairs so you wouldn’t really expect a man like Iago to fool Othello. This proves how clever Iago is and this cleverness stays with Iago whether he is playing the angel or the devil. This is one thing that remains constant in every scene in the play.Iago’s lack of regard for women is evident in the play and I feel that this can partly be attributed to the fact that he believes Emilia is unfaithful with Othello.

‘I hate the Moor and it is thought abroad that twixt my sheets he’s done my office.’Iago portrays women as an inferior race and his opinions never change, if anything they become more adverse.It is ironic that Iago’s wife Emilia is the character who exposes Iago’s villainy. This act of betrayal by Emilia would only further determine his stereotypical views on women during that period.

Emilia disobeying her husband was not anticipated by Iago he clearly misjudged her thinking her to be foolish and weak. Iago didn’t believe Emilia would be able to outwit him but if truth be told Emilia can be described as the female equivalent of Iago. Emilia is not prepared to be taken for granted and Shakespeare was one of the first writers to portray women as clever, crafty and in some respects equal to men. Iago is constantly being let down by those close to him and it is this that triggers his plans of brutal murder.

This play is full of sexual betrayal and it is this factor that brings about a change in Othello, kills Roderigo and reduces Iago to murder.In conclusion, my essay illustrates that Othello does indeed undergo a change in character. His character transforms from that of a loving husband and honourable soldier to a man possessed by jealousy, hatred and bloody revenge. However, one could argue that Othello’s insecurities concerning his background have always played a part in his make-up.

Iago realising his gullibility and weaknesses feeds on them to suit his own purposes. Could it be that in a difficult situation Othello will always act in a malicious and deadly fashion? It is significant that after murdering his wife he reverts back to being the Othello that is respected in Venice. His suicide proves that he has realised his wrong doings and his only cause of action as an honourable man is to die under his sword.In Iago’s case whilst the character’s see him as an ‘exceedingly honest fellow’ the audience through his soliloquies see him for his true worth.

Iago is a devious manipulator who has little regard for anyone apart for himself. In my essay I have likened Iago to that of a angel and a devil, a man who changes his personality to suit his purpose. In conclusion, to a certain extent I would support the argument that Othello’s character changes but Iago remains constant.

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Differences Between Shakespeare’s Othello and Iago Characters. (2017, Oct 28). Retrieved from


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