In Act One, Scene One the character of Iago is swiftly established in a number of ways
In his early conversations Roderigo, Iago makes it clear to him that he only follows ‘The Moor’ (Othello) to suit his purposes; to the audience, it shows us that he is a selfish, scheming character. I think Shakespeare gives us a full picture of what sort of a character Iago is, so that we are aware of what he is capable of in the future.
Iago uses clever tactics to provoke people, for example, when he tells Brabantio that his daughter has married Othello, he exaggerates, claiming that Othello and Desdemona are having sex, ‘tupping the beast with two backs,’ this suggests to us that he is impetant, and as a way to satisfy his sexual pleasures he thinks of sex images.
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‘I am not what I am,’ these words are the central part of the play, the character of Iago proves this many times in the play through his actions, and interactions with other characters. The character of Iago can be described as a villain, because he feels no guilt, over the things he does. When he is in Othello’s presence Iago is very polite and loyal to him, whilst behind his back refers to him in racist terms such as ‘thick lips’ and ‘the devil’
The character of Iago is able to manipulate people’s thoughts and feelings so much as to make them hate other people, especially Othello and Roderigo.
As the play progresses and the character of Iago is slowly unveiled, we discover that his main motive is to destroy Othello, physically as well as emotionally. Iago does this for several reasons, particularly because Cassio was chosen to be lieutenant instead of him, which angers him so much that he is resentful towards Othello.
On a number if occasions Iago uses racist language to refer to Othello, for example in Act One, Scene One, when he describes Othello as an ‘old black ram,’ this reinforces his words at the beginning of the play when he says, ‘I am not what I am.’
In Act One, Scene Three, Iago recounts a rumour that his wife, Emilia has slept with Othello, and although Iago has got no evidence to back this up, he is determined to act as though it were true, ‘Yet I, for mere suspicion in that kind will do as if for surety,’ this clearly shows us how cunning he is.
Iago’s baffled mind towards love not only makes him want to destroy Othello, but Desdemona as well. He does not understand the love they share and what he fails to understand he is eager to destroy.
Another reason as to why Iago is eager to destroy Othello and Desdemona ‘s marriage is because he is unhappy in his own marriage to Emilia, he sees women as immaterial possessions, the fact that Iago gives no regard to his wife gives the audience the impression that he has a strong hatred for women, indicating that he a misogynist, and in return suggesting that he is homosexual. In Act One, Scene Three, Iago tells Othello of a time in which he has slept with Cassio, “And then Sir he would gripe and wring my hand, cry ‘O sweet creature’ and then kiss me hard.” Although Shakespeare does not directly give us the message that Iago is gay, he reveals Iago’s element of homosexuality through the things Iago thinks of and imagines, ‘and then kiss me hard.’
Most of Iago’s satisfaction is gained though power and manipulation over people; he controls people’s thoughts and feelings.
The character of Othello plays an important part in the play because Iago is able to achieve his goal to destroy him by manipulating his perceptions of other characters in the play, using great skill, especially through lies, which shows us that Iago can only achieve his goals through other people’s weaknesses. Othello’s failure to use his own knowledge and understanding towards Cassio and Desdemona encourages Iago to bombard him with more lies, and as a result the end of the play is tragic, with the deaths if Othello Desdemona and Emilia.
In both Cinthio’s story and Shakespeare’s play the character of Iago/Ensign dominates the play using various tactical skills to fulfil his evil deeds.
In common with Shakespeare’s play, in Cinthio’s story The Ensign is full of hatred and anger towards ‘The Moor.’ The Moor’s wife Disdemona is the main reason as to why The Ensign intends to destroy The Moor.
After numerous attempts to win Disdemona’s love and failing on all occasions the Ensign’s strong love for her eventually turns into the most hostile hate, and as a result he plots her death through manipulating The Moor’s thoughts and feelings.
In the play ‘Othello’ the character of Iago holds a number of differences to The Ensign in Cinthio’s story. Shakespeare deliberately changes many of the original parts of the play perhaps to create more tension or to reinforce certain aspects of the characters, for example how devious Iago is.
The Ensign’s three year old daughter plays an important part in Cinthio’s story because Cinthio shows us the extent to which Iago will go in order to satisfy his feelings, doing unruly things; he does this by using his own daughter as an accessory to assist him in stealing the handkerchief from Disdemona, which shows us that he lacks the basic understanding of the proper rules of behaviour, especially through respect. I think Shakespeare does not include a child in ‘Othello’ in order to show us that Iago can still accomplish his wrong doings without the aid of a child to help him through.
In Cinthio’s story, The Ensign is portrayed as a man who can not get enough of women, this is because whilst he is already married, and with a child of his own, he still feels the need to search for more love, from Disdemona, The Ensign’s attitude towards love is similar to how Iago describes Disdemona in ‘Othello,’ ‘her eye must always be fed’
In Othello, the attitude Iago displays towards love is totally different to that of The Ensign’s, his failure to understand how love works in a relationship makes him hate his wife, Emilia, and hate what Othello and Desdemona share.
Instead of defeating his anger and frustration as to how love works, Iago encourages it by imagining unhealthy images of sex and plotting for people’s downfalls, I think at this point Shakespeare is showing us how immorality can easily take over our lives!
Throughout the play Iago is able to complete his tasks using people as sources to cover up the fact that he is the one responsible for what they say and do.
The earliest encounter in which Iago is indirectly involved is when Roderigo tells Brabantio that his daughter has married Othello, during this scene Iago stands behind a pole and shouts out to Brabantio, occasionally telling Roderigo (who listens to everything Iago says) what to say. Iago does not show himself deliberately because he knows that later on if questions as to how Brabantio found out about the marriage, he would be labelled responsible, and this would make Othello angry, since he considers Iago to be a friend.
Whilst he is able to use people in such a manner, Iago is also able to perform his knavery without anyone knowing, for example when he plants the handkerchief in Cassio’s clothing, he insures that Cassio is not aware of what he has done, as a result when Cassio discovers the handkerchief he will immediately be labelled responsible for stealing it, and so Iago cannot be the one to blame for it.
At the end of the play however, tables turn for Iago as many of his characteristics are revealed to the audience and the characters in the play. Emilia’s honesty results in her suffering a painful death, after her own husband stabs her, and although Iago, can not be totally held responsible for the other deaths in the play, for Emilia’s he suffer the consequences since he stab her himself.
Shakespeare uses Othello and Desdemona’s strong and blissful relationship as a comparison to Iago and Emilia’s sad and unhappy marriage.
The significance of Iago and Emilia’s broken marriage is emphasized throughout the play, by the sad and distorted life Iago lives combined with Emilia’s vain efforts to try and understand why her husband does not give her the average attention most loyal husbands would give to their wives. Shakespeare shows us the extremes to which people will go when in a relationship, to try and get what they want, in this case sex, an example of this is when Emilia goes out of her way to steal the handkerchief for her husband’s sake expecting to get his appreciation through sex, in return. In a normal relationship such an act would be unheard of, because love and sex, usually come as a natural part of a strong and stable relationship, such as Othello and Desdemona’s.
Shakespeare uses the characters in ‘Othello’ in skilful ways to get his points across. I think the character of Iago plays the most complex part of the play, which teaches us that we must not let wickedness take over our lives.
Othello has an unhappy ending, because of failing to read through Iago’s wickedness. The play ‘Othello’ also reminds us to always question ourselves twice before we act harshly towards other people.