In William Shakespeare’s play Othello, Iago is seen by many as an honest and trustworthy person, though in reality he is a man of deceit and malevolence. This duplicitous nature of Iago’s is arguably one of Shakespeare’s most intriguing antagonists. From the outset, the audience is immediately drawn in by his sinister, yet unclear motives by revealing to them – “I am not what I am”. Iago is truly an evil character: he is extremely immoral and wicked, associating himself with the devil.
He shows no remorse as he inflicts misery on those around him, but rather showing pleasure in their misfortunes.
How Iago is able to manipulate those around him is largely attributed by his ability to act convincingly in different roles, adapt to different situations as well his brilliant use of language to fool his victim. This suggests that despite his evil nature, he shows the characteristics of a genius. By the end of the play, the audience becomes fascinated by Iago’s ability to manipulate others and the duplicitous nature of Iago and this shows that he is an “evil genius”.
From the opening scene of the play Iago’s amoral, sadistic and deceptive nature is shown as he plans to destroy his superiors, notably Othello.
In this first scene, Iago immediately begins scheming ways to destroy Othello, suggesting possible motives as to why he needs to do such things. However, as the play reaches its climax, it is clear that Iago’s motives were not just limited to being “his [Othello] lieutenant”. In a sense, Iago is also deceiving the audience, leading them to believe that his motives to destroy Othello are those highlighted in the opening scene. Iago’s sadistic nature is clearly represented when he wishes to “poison his [Othello] delight”. It suggests that he takes pleasure in spoiling another man’s delight.
Iago shows duplicity throughout the play and compares himself “Janus”, the Roman God with two faces, and with the combination of duplicity and deception, Othello cannot see past this comparison and continues to refer to him as “good” and “honest” Iago, and trusts him to look after Desdemona – “I assign my wife to thee”. In addition, Iago’s deceptive nature is arguably most prominent during the “poison scene”. Along his ability to use language to manipulate others, he manages to convince Othello to believe that Desdemona is having an affair with Cassio.
He persuades him from firmly placing trust in her – “My life upon her faith” until he concedes “And so she did [deceive Othello]”. This scene is a testament to Iago’s deceptive nature. Iago’s duplicity and deception also affects the other characters around him. His ability to manipulate others extends particularly to Cassio and Roderigo, but also Emilia and Bianca. Iago’s first manipulates Cassio after the drunken swordfight. He distorts the truth so that it works in his favour, though still enough that is in an honest recount. This leads to Cassio’s demotion and Iago seizes the opportinity to make certain situations to his favour.
As a result of the demotion, Cassio becomes vulnerable, exclaiming his distress – “O I have lost my reputation! I have lost the immortal part of myself”. Again, Iago takes advantage of Cassio’s vulerability and manipulates him in his favour and yet still remains in Cassio’s eyes, “honest Iago”, which again shows Iago’s ability to deceive others. Later on, Iago’s deceiving nature on one hand allows him to fool Othello into believing his wife is unfaithful and also indirectly affect Bianca, where she is led to believe that Cassio is sleeping with another woman.
Iago’s second victim is his “good friend” Roderigo. Iago agrees to help Roderigo woo Desdemona upon payment for his services. Although Roderigo would not have been persuaded by Iago’s excellent use of language, it again proves that Iago is a master of manipulator and deception. Roderigo is eventually convinced to “put thy money in thy purse” and states “I’ll sell all my land”. However, Roderigo sees that Iago had deceived him, confronting him with “I do not find that thou deal’st justly with me”. Again, Iago manipulates him to the point he “will hear further reason for this”.
Iago finally shows amorality in the treatment of his wife Emilia, referring to her as “foolish wife” and a “villainous whore”. He manipulates her to do the dirty work, even wooing her so she steal the handkerchief Othello first gave to Desdemona – “My wayward husband hath a hundred times wooed me to steal it”. As the play reaches its climax, Emilia finally realises that Iago had manipulated Othello into becoming a man consumed by jealousy. Iago kills his own wife, showing amorality and no remorse. The number of people he affected and manipulated truly shows that Iago is a man of pure evil.
Despite Iago’s evil nature, the audience is intrigued by his ability to use language to persuade others and improvise in various situations. Through these actions he is a genius. The language he uses plays an integral part in why he can successfully con so many of the people around him. The most obvious examples are the way he used language and his intellect to manipulate Othello and Roderigo. Iago is able to quickly switch characters in the first scene: he is at first expressing his motives to destroy Othello, and then quickly joins Othello when they confront Brabantio. His excellent use of language continues during the poison scene.
He uses negative thoughts to lure Othello in “Ha! I like not that”. He then uses repetition and lies to manipulate Othello “Honest, my lord? /My lord, you know I love you”. By using this language, Iago poisons his mind with deceitful and mischievous suggestions. This repetition can also be seen when he persuades Roderigo to “put thy money in thy purse”. This exquisite use of language leads many of the people around him to believe he is “honest Iago” and it shows that Iago is an evil genius. “I am not what I am” – this quote by Iago is a correct description of that type of person Iago is: a duplicitous, amoral and deceptive individual.
From the beginning of the play, he captivates the audience by his mysterious motives to destroy Othello. He shows pleasure is inflicting misery on others and so no remorse in killing those around him, even his wife. However, Iago could not manipulate so many people without his extraordinary ability to adapt to various situations often improvising using the information he has learnt from those around him previously. As the play reaches its climatic end, Iago’s true character is revealed by Emilia at the expense of her own life. There is no doubt Iago is a man of pure evil, but nevertheless a genius. An evil genius.
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