Shakespeare\'s Antagonists and "Honest" Iago James L. Gillis IV
Essay- Knaublauch

During this most recent semester we, as a class, have waded through a sufficient sampling of works by the good bard. During this experience, a plethora of characters have successfully held the spotlight, evoked aspects of the nature of man, and twisted the extremes of human emotions into knots. By retreating to ponder these noble souls and most horrid villains, one immediately recognizes a character worthy of more close examination is the dastardly and enigmatic puppeteer culpable for the tragic finale of Othello. Iago, or more ironically, "honest Iago," as he is called, is complex role to be considered for two principal reasons. Primarily, because the depth of his character is somewhat endless, but also because when we contrast him with other main antagonists throughout other Shakespearean efforts, some interesting insights can be revealed. Stemming from said contrasts involving Iago, we immediately begin to shift our thoughts to the apparent differences between antagonists within the Shakespeare. This brings us to the pressing issue of do we consider Iago to be the most complete antagonist? Is he the bard\'s most complete depraved creation, or just an assemblage, or mosaic of previous more one-sided evil doers?
When beginning to flesh out the skeleton of Iago\'s character, it must be first understood that he is not the admitted and obvious opponent of the tragic hero. Iago is a hidden antagonist, or rather he disguises his intentions within the actions or deeds others. He manipulates and "plays" other characters (pardon the pun) showing the reader that he values others as if they were tools available to be used for achieving his own ends, or pawns in a game centered around himself. Iago is beyond the simple representation of the evil foe, for he states that Cassio\'s "daily beauty in life…makes me ugly," and that it is greatly painful for him to have to suffer the "constant, noble, loving nature" of Othello. Considering the significance of these statements, we find that not only is he somewhat Machiavellian in his role, but also, he has intense hatred complementing that dubious asset.
The first point where textual evidence reveals extent of his depth is where Iago confronts the audience and actually illuminates his position by saying, "I am not what I am." (1,1,65) This really, is direct insight into his intent or character, and uniquely enough, he shows the audience his committed to proving that. Another interaction equally as revealing is found indirectly following Rodrigo inquiry about why he continues to follow Othello after having been passed up for promotion in favor of young Cassio. Why follow a leader which spurned him and disgraced him so? Iago\'s reply to the question is that "I follow him[Othello] to serve my turn upon him."(1,1,39) This is ambiguous enough as it is leaving room for interpretation, but later, he elaborates even more openly saying that, "In following him, I follow but myself." It is curious that Iago has such straightforward interactions with the audience, for this is the polar opposite to his dealings with the characters of the play. It almost seems as if he does this to assert his role as a central character and foreshadow the coming events.
Although reading these obvious types of statements points us in the right direction, it is still questionable whether Iago will be direct or shrouded and malevolent in his imminent conflict with Othello. The first example beyond mere words of his indirect underhandedness comes when we see him convince Rodrigo both to go to Cyprus, and to pay him under the guise that it will assist in winning favor with the innocent Desdemona. To digress, Desdemona, herself, carries certain significance as well as we find her as an angelic figure ushering in a religious angle. Othello must make his choice is between the faultless Desdemona (angel) and the sadistic Iago (Satan).
Concerning the swindling of Rodrigo\'s finances, we find Iago even gloating in his when he remarks, "Thus do I ever make a fool my purse." However, reality be known of course that Rodrigo has no hope of success with Desdemona, for Iago intends to do nothing for the sums of riches given him for furthering said cause. The situation worsens for Rodrigo because he