A Character Analysis Of Iago (Othello by William Shakespeare)


One second or one moment can change a person's life forever. However, it is not the event itself that changes a person, but the individual’s reaction to it which changes the course of his life. At that pivotal moment, it is up to the person to pick between two paths. He can take the high road to be noble and honest, or he can choose the road that leads him into spiraling corruption full of unrelenting self-obsession. Unfortunately, people often select some form of the latter, but that might be the humanity in everyone. Consequently, the perfect villain is the one who uses their misfortunes to drive themselves into self-destruction using the qualities humans want to suppress. In the play Othello by William Shakespeare, Iago is the complex villain who has an event that changes the course of his life because he believes he has been wronged and cheated out of what he deserves. Iago decides to choose evil over nobility to become a representation of the darkest parts of humanity.

At the beginning of the play, the audience learns Othello promotes Cassio to lieutenant over his good Iago. Iago is upset by this and feels betrayed and used by his friend. Iago tells Roderigo, “Three great ones of the city,/ In personal suit to make me his lieutenant,/ off-capped him; and, by the faith of man,/ I know my price; I am worth no worse a place” (27). The anger and entitlement consumed by Iago are expressed in this scene because he believes the position of lieutenant was rightfully his. Othello and Iago have been friends for a while, so Iago assumes he gets the new rank. However, Othello selects Cassio for the position, causing a stream of evil deeds executed by Iago. Iago first reveals to Brabantio the marriage between his daughter Desdemona and Othello to make him infuriated with the Moor. Iago, accompanied by Roderigo, goes to Brabantio and says, “I am the one, sir, that comes to tell you your daughter/ and the Moor are now making the beast with two backs'' (31). By exposing the marriage between Othello and Desdemona, Iago hopes to enrage Brabantio. Brabantio's rage and disapproval help Iago with his master plan because it starts the newlywed’s marriage off with tension. In both of these scenes, Iago tries to get revenge for the wrongs he believes have been committed against him. Revenge is a quality many humans turn to when faced with hurt. Therefore, Iago seeking revenge is a basic human instinct, and it is just one of the vile parts of human nature.

Throughout the play, Iago gets more pleased with his plan and the pieces falling into place. Since Cassio gets promoted over his, Iago makes taking down Cassio one of his top priorities in his scheme. When Iago witnesses the friendliness between Cassio and Desdemona, he says, “With as little web as this will I ensnare as/ great a fly as Cassio” (59). With little signs of kindness between Cassio and Desdemona, Iago can make Othello believe there is something more between them. Iago’s manipulation of the characters starts the lies and the distrust between the groups. When the peace is disrupted within the group, all will let their insecurities overcome themselves. Another person Iago is trying to ruin is Othello because he believes Othello was disloyal by not making him lieutenant. When Iago speaks of the plan against Othello, he says, “Or failing so, yet that I put the Moor/ At least into a jealousy so strong/ That judgment cannot cure” (63). Iago illustrates how he is going to use Othello’s weakness against him by making him feel jealous and believe his wife is unfaithful to him. Iago wants Othello to feel the same kind of disappointment he feels, so he gets some kind of retribution for what was done to him. Othello and Cassio are being tricked by Iago so they may join him in misery filled with their insecurities. Iago is the temptation humans have of self-doubt trying to ruin what people cherish the most.

Trust and honesty are two primary ideas Iago uses to manipulate the characters to make them believe he is the honorable guy. Iago rarely comes out and directly divulges a lie. Instead, Iago implies deceitful habits in others' character, so he always appears honest and right. To Othello and Montano, Iago claims, “Touch me not so near,/ I had rather have this tongue cut from my mouth/ Than it should do offense to Michael Cassio” (72). Iago is acting like it pains him to speak poorly of Cassio. In doing so, he is maintaining the trust of Othello and making it seem as if he does not want to do any harm. As soon as Othello questions Iago about his honesty, Iago acts hurt, and Othello believes he is trustworthy because of his reaction. Iago declares to Othello, “To be direct and honest is not safe./ I thank you for this profit, and from hence/ I’ll love no friend, sith love breeds such offense” (95). This manipulation Iago utilizes makes it unthinkable for Othello to question where Iago’s loyalties lie because then it makes him feel like he is the disloyal one. By appearing innocent and like he has everyone’s best interest at heart, Iago can manipulate people’s perspective of him. In this, Iago becomes trustworthy, causing him to know every secret each person hides. The lies and deceit Iago displays illustrate how deceitful people are willing to become to get what they want.

As Iago’s plans fall into place, his pride overcomes him because he is delighted by himself for getting the other character’s to wallow in the traps he sets. After Othello sees the handkerchief he gave Desdemona in Bianca’s hands, he goes into a trance overcome with despair. Iago smirks, “Work on,/ My medicine, work! Thus credulous fools are caught” (109). Iago has successfully ruined Othello, and his crude human character causes him to rejoice in the destruction of his supposed friend. All Iago’s schemes have dismantled people’s lives and caused unrest in relationships between most of the characters. Later, Iago is tasked by Othello to kill Cassio because of his suspected affair with Desdemona. However, Roderigo wants Desdemona, so Iago uses Roderigo to do his dirty work for him. Iago beams, “whether he kills Cassio,/ Or Cassio him, or each does kill the other,/ Every way makes my gain" (132). Everything Iago has worked for to this point is finally paying off, and now he even gets to keep his hands clean. By having everyone wrapped around his finger, Iago can get what he wants how he wants it. Iago’s smugness controls him, and his human pride causes him to feel invincible against the world, especially against the people he has misled from the beginning. Human pride is a dominant downfall many stories focus on, but Iago himself is the symbol of excessive pride for the wrong reasons.

In the end, Iago’s secrets must come out. His treachery is for everyone to see and know what he has done. At some point, people will gather the pieces of lies they have been told by Iago and put together the full picture. Iago’s wife, Emilia is used by Iago and finally sees the betrayal that has happened. Emilia tells Othello, “I found by fortune and did give my husband;/ For often with a solemn earnestness/, More than indeed belongs to such a trifle,/ He begged of me to steal it” (149). Emilia reveals the lies Iago fabricated, and she pays the price for going against her husband. When Iago gets cornered and exposed, he becomes full of rage and acts out against those who wronged him. More proof against Iago surfaces as people start to agree with the shady behavior and stories he has gone around telling. Lodovico searches Roderigo’s body, he reports, “Here is a letter/ Found in the pocket of the slain Roderigo,/ And here another. One of them imports/ The death of Cassio to be undertaken/ By Roderigo” (152). This is the last straw in Iago’s scheme that makes it clear he has lied to everyone to get what he wants, and this enrages Iago to his core. When plans go awry, it is human nature for wrath to take over, and it is what happens to Iago.

Human beings are full of both good and bad qualities. Additionally, the best villains are those whom all people can connect to in some way. Iago is all the worst things about humanity. He seeks revenge, lets his insecurities overtake him, manipulates, has an abundance of pride, and becomes enraged when his plans are obstructed. There are parts of everyone that can connect to the things Iago does. Iago points out how irrational people can act in difficult circumstances, and once the situation starts, people dig themselves into bigger holes. When someone makes a bad mistake, the evil in them comes out. Iago is not pure evil. He made a mistake and tried to cover it up. Iago is a man who clung to a hope that was crushed and chose the wrong path. After all, people are just one mistake or one breath away from becoming the villain.

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