Othello - Iago Essay

This essay has a total of 2712 words and 12 pages.

Othello - Iago

Unequivocally, Iago plays an important and major function in the tragedy of Othello. By
the end of the play, Iago has been directly responsible for the deaths of Roderigo, Emilia
and the protagonist and his love. Iago's importance to the play is revealed by his
contribution to the plot and his significance relative to other characters. Iago's
function, which invariably adds to the importance he has on the play, is to lead to the
downfall of Othello therefore revealing the themes of hate, jealousy and revenge. Iago
also serves to contrast with the characters of Othello and Desdemona and to create
dramatic irony consequently involving the audience in the journey of the play. The
foundation of his success has been built upon his honest reputation, perceptive nature and
ruthless motivation.

Iago's importance to the play is revealed through the significance he has in determining
the direction of the plot. Just like a masterful puppeteer, he has forcefully steered its'
direction. Shakespeare, at the very beginning of the play does not bother to develop the
character of the protagonist, Othello but rather places greater emphasis on plot
development. We are immediately introduced to Roderigo and Iago and are privy to their
conspiracy to undermine Othello. With a masterful stroke, Iago subdues Roderigo, his
'dupe' and sets up the initial plot- Iago intends to gain his rightful position of
lieutenant by destroying Othello and Casio. "I Know my price, I am worth no worse a
place." Although Iago's plan does not change throughout the play, his motives, which
obviously influence his actions do. Iago's initial motive in destroying the protagonist is
hatred. "I hate the Moor." This shifts to jealousy, "He's done my office", to just sheer
malignant motives. "If Cassio do remain he hath a daily beauty in his life that makes me
ugly." It is as if Iago has allowed us to follow his journey from revenge to finally

Iago's emotive feelings are dictating the direction of the plot. The audience ponder
whether Iago will gain some control and restore balance. By Act 3 sc. iii he has achieved
half of his objectives. Cassio has been removed and Iago has replaced him as lieutenant.
'Now art thou my lieutenant'. Instead Iago, full of rage and satisfaction that is plan is
working so well continues his destructive plan. All the while Iago's 'medicine' is working
to 'put the Moor at least into a jealousy so strong that judgement cannot cure'. He so
easily controls the 'levers' of the play.

The success of Iago can be attributed to his ruthless motivation fueled by his emotions.
From the outset, Iago sets up his plan and motivations. With tenacity, he sticks to it.
'Dull not device by coldness and delay'. Even when flaws start to appear in his plan he
still goes on with it. 'The moor may unfold me to him- there stand I in much peril'. This,
in effect, undermines his own success- because he does not know when to stop, he cannot
see his own destruction coming. Throughout the play the imagery of a spider drawing his
net to catch his prey is constantly used. 'I Shall ensnare them all', Iago says. So just
like a barbaric animal, Iago has set his web and nothing can stop him now.

Iago success is also achieved because he positions everything correctly. This involves
getting Cassio drunk, arranging 'the' handkerchief to go missing in Cassio's quarters and
personally beguiling Othello's mind into thinking Desdemona is cuckolding him. Obviously
without these events (so remarkably planned by Iago), the plot would never have developed.
With great skill, Iago is able to arrange a conversation between Cassio and Bianca and
carefully position Othello so that he thinks Cassio is discussing his wife. 'Oh, dear
Cassio! As it were. His gestures import it'.

However, Iago's success is partly due to luck. Luck that the handkerchief was dropped by
Desdemona and retrieved by one of Iago's unsuspecting puppets, Emila. Luck that Cassio was
confronted by Bianca and luck that his plot was not discovered any earlier.

Iago's importance is also shown through his significance (relative to other characters) to
the play. By far, in terms of stage time, soliloquies and the like, Iago supersedes any
other character. He makes Roderigo to appear like a 'fool'. He has similar success with
Cassio and Othello. Both these characters turn to him for his 'free advice'. Even when he
is off stage he is still referred to in praising terms- 'that he is honest'. Shakespeare
does not allow any attention to shift from Iago. Throughout his soliloquies, Iago
discloses his true evil nature as well as the nature of other characters. 'Hell and night
must bring this monstrous birth to the world's light', clearly shows Iago's passion driven
dominance. He will do anything to destroy the goodness of Othello. His soliloquies also
give him the chance to reveal the qualities of other characters. He so easily stipulates
that Othello is of 'a free and open nature.' This contrast to any other character- they
all have difficulties in examining human nature. Iago is often referred to as 'honest'
even though he is far from it. Othello cannot dispel Iago's simplistic argument that
Desdemona 'be false'. This quality makes Iago an extremely important character as he
serves to highlight other's flaws.

A fundamental reason for Iago's success is his ability to appear 'honest', underhandedly
giving him the power to manipulate and influence other characters. Iago manages to appear
honest partly because of natural characteristics and partly because he purposely sets out
to look honest. Before Iago can even begin to initiate his plan he is referred to as
honest by many of the characters. This would suggest that this is a fundamental
characteristic of his. However, Iago does strive to appear honest and sincere. 'If I shall
stay [with Roderigo] I shall- against the Moor. This is also seen when he defends Cassio
after the drunken brawl. Iago speaks with hesitation and refers to Cassio being a friend
several times. 'I had rather have this tongue cut out from my mouth than it should do
offence to Cassio'.

This appearance allows him to gain favour with all characters, especially those of Cassio
and Othello, allowing him to influence them.

The success of Iago's deceptive honesty is most clearly seen in the final scene of the
play in which the truth of his dishonesty is revealed. So successful was Iago's scheme
that Othello can only think that Iago must have been a devil. 'I look down towards his
feet- but… If that thou be'st a devil, I cannot kill thee'.

Even when on stage, Iago appears to have an overriding dominance over the other
characters. In Act 3 sn iii, in which Othello asks Iago to kneel next to him and make a
pact in order to destroy Cassio and Desdemona, we cannot but notice the power Iago evokes
in Othello. 'Do not rise yet', Iago cries, 'I am yours forever'. Also Iago's dominance
over Othello is seen in Act 4 sn I where Othello has fallen into a trance. The audience
look on with pity as Iago says, 'Thus do credulous fools are caught.' On stage this would
be a powerful scene in which Iago finally subdues Othello.

Iago has also shown his importance in the way he has changed Othello's language and
nature. Bestial terms such as 'black ram' and 'plague him with flies' are initially
reserved for the likes of Iago. However, he has managed to bring Othello down to this base
language. 'Oh blood! Blood! Blood!' Similarly, after Cassio has disgraced his
'reputation', Iago councils him, offering with affirm belief the way in which Cassio
should seek his position back. The language Iago uses is sharp and commanding. 'What man!
There are more ways to recover the general again'. Cassio can only resort to thanking
Iago- all initiative is gone- Iago controls Cassio's puppet strings, furthermore revealing
him importance to the play.

Another reason for Iago's success is that he is very perceptive and can manipulate
character flaws. Roderigo's flaw is first noticed- his infatuation with Desdemona. Iago
wonderfully capitalize on it. He temps Roderigo with the promise that Desdemona 'will be'
his. This serves to 'profit' Iago as well as use Roderigo to achieve his plans. Under the
powerful control of Iago, Roderigo further adds to the plot. He is responsible for the
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