Does Shakespeare's Iago Conform To The Traditions of a Literary Villain?
Dictionary Definition of a Villain: – a wicked person or a criminal (slang). A violent evil-doer. A person of extreme wickedness.
I think a villain is someone who is evil and someone who commits evil deeds. Villains are cruel, and sometimes to innocent people. A literary villain is a villain that is in a book. Sometimes the villain is an enemy of the hero or heroine that is in the story of the book. Iago in the play ‘Othello’ written by Shakespeare is a good example of a literary villain. I believe this as he is definitely a villain, and he is also in a book, this makes him a literary villain.
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There are many literary villains that are well-known, and some of them come from Shakespeare’s plays. Some other examples of literary villains are Lady Macbeth and Macbeth in the play ‘Macbeth’. Both of these characters and Iago are literary villains and in some ways, are similar. Lady Macbeth and Iago have some of the same traits (they both plant bad thoughts into other people’s minds and also have a lot of ambition and greed). Iago, in some ways, is a ‘typical villain’. He is vulgar, racist, evil, jealous of others and very clever. Almost throughout the whole play, Iago has the description ‘honest Iago’ and a lot of the other characters call him this. Iago must have been trustworthy and faithful in the past to gain this much respect. So as everyone trusted Iago, it was quite easy for him to manipulate people and corrupt their lives.
In Act 1 Scene 1, we can see some of Iago’s villainous traits straight away. We learn that he has been taking money from Roderigo, a Venetian gentleman, in love with Desdemona, “Iago, who hast had my purse as if the strings were thine shouldst know of this.” This is manipulation; Iago uses Roderigo’s love for Desdemona against him. Roderigo is willing to give his money to Iago because of this. Also in this scene Iago enrages Brabantio, a Venetian senator, father of Desdemona, by using racist and vulgar language and also animal imagery, “an old black ram is tupping your white ewe.” “your daughter and the Moor are now making the beast with two backs.” Iago is very clever in how he does this; he uses his language to twist others thoughts and this is how he stirs up Brabantio.
Iago also knows that Brabantio fears the Moor, so this is also an example of Iago’s manipulation of others weaknesses.
We know from the beginning of the play that Iago is quite a jealous person, and most of his jealousy is of other people he knows.
In Act 1 Scene 1, we realise that the job of Othello’s Lieutenant has been given to Michael Cassio. Iago believes that he himself should have been offered the job and is furious. “One Michael Cassio, a Florentine, That never set a squadron in the field, nor the devision of a battle knows, unless the bookish theoric.” This is a great example of Iago’s jealousy and shows us how angry he is over Cassio’s promotion. Perhaps this is a reason why Iago involved Cassio in his evil plans/scheming.
Jealousy is a main part of Iago’s characteristic. It’s as though he’s addicted to jealousy and his fiendishness throughout the play soon turns to pure evil. His jealousy comes from different directions, them being his innate state of mind and also Cassio’s job and handsome figure and looks. We know this as in one of his soliloquies he says – “framed to make women false” and this quote then reveals his jealousy towards Cassio. He also envies Cassio and Othello regarding Emilia. He thinks they are both sleeping with her, for example “for I fear Cassio with my night cap” this explains his fear of Cassio’s and Emilia’s love (though there isn’t anything there). To prove that he thinks that Othello is sleeping with Emilia, “twixt my sheets, he’s done my office” this shows he believes Othello has slept with Emilia.
In the play I feel Iago is jealous of those in relationships filled with true love. He tries to fail those in love or just partners; the evidence towards this comes from his actions such as trying to separate Othello and Desdemona. Roderigo was in love with Desdemona and Iago just teased Roderigo about it. This goes to show he is jealous of those in love. Iago does also state that he loves Desdemona “now I do love her too” yet he shows no real love for her or towards her in any special way.
Iago’s manipulation skills are put to the test a lot in the play and every time he manages to cover up quite successfully. Even his wife Emilia falls for his tricks even though she knows what he is like and knows how he feels about her and what she is “good for” , for instance he states “you are bells in your parlours, wild cats in your kitchens…” he says this when expressing his views on women. This shows that Iago is a misogynist.
The way in which Iago treats Emilia is just how he deals with people naturally. His rough ways with her are taken on board as a normal relationship to Emilia. She is a strong character to put up with Iago as she just bounces back after his indescribable comments and scathing ‘jokes’ about her and women in general.
Emilia states to Desdemona her views of men, “They all but stomachs, and we all but food. They eat us hungrily, and when they are full, they belch us” that’s the view she has, and I think it’s come from the way Iago treats her.
Iago’s racist views hide behind his fake innocence around others. In soliloquies he tells the audience what he really thinks and feels. He calls
Othello “The Moor” which was classed as a racial name in those days, but despite Othello being used to the name and being called it by others, Iago never calls Othello the Moor to his face.
Iago is very lucky throughout the entire play and a lot of the play entitles fate to overcome events. Some of these events may have been coincidence or they may have happened for a reason, for example, Cassio being intolerant to alcohol and then not controlling his ways with Roderigo. From these situations in the play, we can see that it was not only Iago’s clever plans and scheming that made him so successful in destroying the lives of others but that he was lucky that things went according to plan and his way.
When Othello first wed Desdemona, Brabantio said to Othello – “look to her moor if thou have eyes to see, she has deceived me and may deceive thee” this quote will always stay in the back of Othello’s mind and Iago isn’t really helping to abolish it. This leads to another one of Iago’s villainous traits, conscience (he has none). Everything he does is for himself even if it ruins other people’s lives, and he doesn’t care unless it affects him and only him. He has no compassion for either Roderigo or Cassio and in the end he plots their ruin and death.
In conclusion, Iago cleverly contrived the events of the play and I see him as a true literary villain, he manages to manipulate people for his own benefit. His jealousy controlled him. His scheming succeeded. And in the end he wound up speechless (refusing to speak at the end). Iago was jealous, and the only way to cure that jealousy was to destroy the person he envied. Someone with a good job, someone with a high ranking in the army, someone with a beautiful, loving wife and unquestionable respect from the people around him – someone like Othello, the Moor.