Iago, in my opinion, is the most interesting character in Othello. He is extremely complex and his wicked ways are somewhat compelling, drawing the audience into the story.
Most criticism of Othello has focussed on the culpability of the two male protagonists. Thomas Rymer (1693), one of the earliest and most negative critics, has criticized the play for being unrealistic; he was disappointed that the story did not provide its audience with satisfactory morals. Rymer described Iago as being too malicious to be believable. This is a topic that holds a lot of controversy; Dr Johnson (1765) on the other hand, praised Othello for being true to life.
Personally I believe some critics overlook their main objective and become too critical. Othello is a play, not a story comparable to realistic human morals. Shakespeare intended to entertain his audience; ever detail of. The villain, Iago, has to be played up in order to captivate the audience in the same way; realistic human nature becomes larger then life and characters personalities are over exaggerated.
If Iago were a real man he would be an extremely bitter and spiteful person, therefore its only possible to convey him on stage by highlighting these characteristic. Samuel Taylor Coleridge called him, “A being next to the devil.” Although other critics see him in a different light, Badley-leavis feels Iago displays: “a not uncommon kind off grudging malice” and his ability to explain his motives proves his role is “subordinate and merely ancillary.”Coleridge strongly believes that Iago has no adequate motivation for his actions; he is simply driven by “motiveless malignity.
” This makes us contemplate his behaviour; critics have questioned whether Iago can recognise or even understand his own motivations. It is often the case that Iago’s motives are so casually tossed at us that we are made to feel he has no intention of justifying his actions. We often see Iago trying to convince himself of these motives, “For that I do suspect the lusty Moor..
.” Iago starts off by simply implying that he merely “suspect(s)” Othello of adultery. By the end of his soliloquy he has convinced himself that he will,”..
.have our Michael Cassio on the hip, / Abuse him to the Moor in the rank garb…
“Only then dose he say “…i fear Cassio with my nightcap too.
” This is presented as an after thought, as if it has no significant to his revenge. There always seems to be a gap between what Iago does and the reasons he offers for doing it. In this sense, I would agree with Coleridge that Iago is “motive-hunting.” He is simply displaying these motives for our benefit.
Iago is like a chameleon, with his continual changing between pose and verse, modifying and adapting his style to suit his different audience and purpose. This gives him a slippery presence. Some critics have actually called him a cold-blooded creature, emphasizing his base reptile nature. Iago is successful because he is able to manipulate his style and convincingly plays a number of roles.
He enjoys deceiving the other characters into believing he is honest. With characters that are socially and professionally superior to him, there always seems to be an absence of ego in his dealings. This is very deliberate:”With his inferiors (Roderigo and Emilia) Iago can afford to be less circumspect and selfless. His exchange with Roderigo reveals that the villain is a self-serving and materialistic cynic.
” (York notes Advanced)Although its in his dealings with Othello that we are shown Iago’s real skill. The two men have a fascinatingly complex relationship. Iago is adamant to prove that his “love” for Othello outweighs the “super-subtle” Venetian’s.Leah scraggy (Shakespeare survey 21, 1968) states that Iago “personifies rationality, self-interest, hypocrisy, cunning, expediency and efficient ‘policie'”.
Iago, whose over-active and intelligent mind lacks stimulation, so he turns to amusing himself with wicked mind games.Iago always seems to start off with a clear motive; he shows professional jealousy and prejudice against Cassio, “a Florentine.” This motivates him to disgrace the lieutenant. He also admits he is envious of the “daily beauty” in Cassio’s life.
Not only dose Iago accuse Cassio of sleeping with his wife Emilia, but he also claims Othello has done the same, “‘twixt my sheets…done my office.
” Iago admits, “I know not if’t be true,” if he has no proof is he simply “hunting” for motives? At this point we are given a glimpse into Iago’s state of mind, he is sexually paranoid, obsessed with his wife being unfaithful. In 1938 Iago was portrayed on stage as a,”…
repressed homosexual whose motivation was an unrecognised passion for Othello, although the production was a failure the suggestion became a recognised theory.” (Danny Crutchley, Othellohall [Internet])Ever since there have been numerous suggestions that Iago is driven by latent homosexuality, could this paranoia be his own frustration with not being able to accept his gay feelings? By creating these lucid affairs, he is simply masking his own fantasies.It seems as though Iago’s main objective is to destroy Othello “I follow him to serve my turn upon him.” It is also debatable that this envious hatred towards Othello is propelled by his own love for Desdemona.
Although Iago blatantly admits he believes they are suited and make a happy couple “And I dare think he’ll prove to Desdemona a dear husband,” he cannot deny his love for her “Now I do love her too.” This is Iago’s primary motive in the original story of Hecatommithi by Giraldi Cinthio. The character of Iago is deeply in love with Desdemona, though when he finds out his love is not returned he destroying her. Shakespeare has modified and reshaped this story making the characters in his play more complex.
Whether or not Shakespeare intended to keep Iago’s objective the same, he has defiantly given the character reason to feel hostile towards the Moor. At first it looks as though Iago simply wants to take Cassio’s place, although as the plot thickens and Iago admits: “I hate the Moor” we begin to think he simply wants to get closer to Othello,”Keep your friends close, but your enemies even closer” (Niccolo Machiavelli, “the prince”).Later in Act II scene ii Iago affirms this by saying “Make the moor thank me, love me, and reward me for making him (Cassio) egregiously an ass.” I can understand Iago’s tactics, which, for me, make his character more realistic.
He wants to destroy Othello but to do this he has to work his way up. Iago keeps the audience up to date with his plans,”Myself awhile to draw the moor apart/And bring him jump when he may Cassio find soliciting/his wife.”This shows Iago rational and sane enough to think strategically. So is Iago motiveless? Although his motive may not always be realistic (Othello and Cassio slept with his wife) they’re still motives.
Envy and jealousy are Iago’s main weaknesses.Iago is the most powerful and influential character in the play, he acts as a stage manager, “pleasure and action make the hours seem short.” While Cassio and Montano are fighting, Iago directs Roderigo to: “go out and cry a mutiny.” He is clearly enjoying his control and does everything he can to draw attention to the brawl.
Iago also shows his control when Othello enters. Othello orders them to stop fighting, although its not until Iago shouts: “Have you forgot all sense of place and duty?” they are quite and Othello is able to speak. This shows how Iago can make himself even more influential then Othello.Iago is lonely and in pain.
His position in society has kept him repressed. He wants others to suffer like he is suffering, he does this be degrading those he despises, and making those who are superior to him look like fools. Its part of Iago’s characteristic to be vindictive. Iago is extremely egotistical and proud “I am not what I am.
” He is driven to revenge by feelings of frustration and loathing. He wants Othello and Cassio, who have violated him personally and professionally, to suffer.The Machiavellian characters'”Whose only real criterion of action was expediency and self-interest, but who, to achieve their aims, had to dissemble their real motives and appear to be open, honest and virtuous.” (New Swan Shakespeare Advanced Series).
Iago presents many of these qualities, and he admits the joy it gives him “pleasure and action,” this is a very stereotypical attitude of a Machiavellian, they loved being evil.It is fairly obvious that Iago enjoys his role as the plays deceitful trickster, he is very aware of his purpose in the play. Although he is a sophisticated villain he often gets carried away with his actions and finds it hard to know when to stop. Iago has achieved what he set out to do, Cassio has been dismissed and Othello’s respect and gratitude for the ensign has grown, Othello proclaims that Iago’s “honesty and love doth mince this matter.
” Iago, excited by his power continues to plot and scheme against the general.In 1951, William Empson stated in his essay Honesty in Othello that he didn’t agree with the accusation that Iago is “close to devil” in his actions. Empson interprets the character differently, he see Iago as if he were human rather then a monster giving the class jealousy, Marxist, as cause for his monstrosities. Empson says that Iago is resentful because Cassio is important to Othello in a way he could never be.
Cassio is well educated “a mathematician” and from a higher social class. Othello had reason to choose Cassio, as he was his collaborator while he was courting Desdemona. It is reasonable to assume that it’s because of these factors that Othello chose Cassio over Iago to be promoted; this alone gives Iago a strong motive to take revenge on Cassio, Desdemona and Othello. Empson’s description also provides us with an Iago who is fundamentally honest, at least to himself, the audience, in his numerous soliloquise.
“I think a queer kind of honesty is maintained in Iago through all the puzzles he contrives…”To Rodrigo, he displays his true feelings sincerely.
This openness gives Iago the potential to win over the audience and almost lure them into understanding, if not liking, him.In my opinion it is possible to conclude that Iago’s motivation lies not within one individual motivation but, as Bloom believes, in a collection of different ideas. I believe Coleridge’s argument that Iago is a “motiveless malignancy” suggesting that he plays a mischievous evil character as a full time occupation, feasible though personally I feel there is more to his character. Though Iago’s speeches and actions I find it more convincing to agree with Empson’s class discrimination theory, it shows Iago having a strong reason for attacking Othello.
Although Iago maybe evil and twisted, he is still a human. It would be wrong to believe that it’s solely an evil nature that is responsible for his actions.