Villains and why they do their villainy is always justified or explained in any literary work. Even those childhood fairy tales with the villain’s formulaic and predictable evil deeds will always do things that have a purpose or will do those things because they were compelled to do it caused by a negative feeling: jealousy, revenge, envy, greed, a childhood without someone to love them or support them, etc. William Shakespeare’s plays are not an exemption to this case as he even creates characters that are capable of not only of evil; they embody evil in their totality as a person—if you may call them that.
An example of this would be Iago, touted as the most villainous of all villains in the literary world because of the simple reason that he was guiltless, conscienceless and definitely purposeless in his strategic deeds that destroyed Othello and the people close to the tragic hero. This analysis will focus on this villain and scrutinize his character, villainy and most of all, his purpose (or the lack thereof) on why he did the things he has done that aimlessly ended to other people’s lives.
In fact, there is already an answer to this query for Iago is just plain evil, nothing less and definitely more. His motivation lies in the fact that he wants to end other people’s happiness and takes simple delight in causing other people pain and grief which makes him not just a villain but a very mysterious and most terrifying one. In Othello, the Moor of Venice, a man’s capacity to do evil is magnified as Iago is overcome with rage as Othello gives a position to another less qualified man that was originally intended for Iago.
Iago takes this in deep and plots against Othello, a Moor in Venice that holds such high position, influential power and great riches. Iago uses jealousy to destroy Othello and the people around him by making it appear that Othello’s loyal wife, Desdemona, is having an affair with another man. In rage, Othello kills his own wife and when he realizes that it was all Iago’s evil plan, he kills himself out of grief and guilt. Iago confesses to no one and does not explain his actions; instead, he keeps mum about what he has done and the purpose in them.
Thus, as the play concludes, it is only the audience who are witnesses to Iago’s malice and the extent of his wickedness—but there is a possibility that Iago also leads the audience into believing that they know the entire truth when in fact, he has been dishonest the whole time to everyone—even that of the audience. Iago acts as the villain in the play even if he was not really the one who did the bad deeds. He is the sole villain because he was the master plotter in the whole thing that even innocent people like Roderigo and Emilia were implicated as bad people when they were not wholly that capable of evil.
Roderigo and Emilia were simply pawns to his plans and he used them and easily discarded them. In the book of Dobbs & Wells entitled The Oxford Companion to Shakespeare, they sum up the villainy of Iago (and pretty much, the entire play) in a few words: He skilfully convinces Othello that his wife Desdemona has been adulterous with Cassio. He wounds Cassio, murders Roderigo, whom he has involved in his plots, and also kills his own wife Emilia. (211) The extent of Iago’s villainy does not merely end in his acts and plans but in an entirely different context and case because his villainy was unjustified and unexplainable.
He did not have a purpose and an aim in ruining Othello’s life and soul. For even if it seems that Iago was motivated by the anger he felt over Othello’s passing over the position that was rightfully his to another man that was very much unqualified (according to Iago that is), it still seems not enough motive. In the first part of the play (act I, scene i), Iago insists that he does hate Othello and does a lengthy monologue on why he hates the Moor.
However, it can be later learned that maybe Iago was not really motivated by that trivial act done by Othello since Iago has never really revealed the real reason on why he hates Othello. This is because in the same act, he declares that he will never say what he feels and thinks because it is dangerous and it is laughable: For when my outward action doth demonstrate / The native act and figure of my heart In compliment extern, ’tis not long after / But I will wear my heart upon my sleeve For daws to peck at. I am not what I am. (Shakespeare 1. 1. 63-7)
His supposed reason on hating Othello may not be his true reason for the vendetta he so chillingly instills on the Moor because Iago will never disclose his real reasons. Thus, even though Iago was transparent with his feelings and thoughts to the audience and some characters like Roderigo and Emilia, he actually lied to everyone since he could never “wear his heart” on his sleeve. Moreover, even if the rage he felt over Othello’s actions propelled him to do/plan such things, it was not enough to completely destroy the life of one man and the lives around that man.
To think that Iago even killed his own wife with his own hands—without a second thought on doing it or a guilt overcoming afterwards. As what Dobbs & Wells wrote, Iago was a “motiveless evil” and that lack of motivation in him makes him a superior proponent of evil (211). In conclusion, Iago is most villainous not just because of the things he has done but also because of the lack of motivation in them, the absence of purpose, the incapacity to be guilty over the success of his evil plans and most of all, the mockery he throws to the characters and the audience at the end of the play with his silence.
This silence is eerie as it has a purpose—to make everyone shiver at what other havoc and damnation he could have done with that evil mind of his. Works Cited Dobson, Michael and Wells, Stanley. “Iago”. The Oxford Companion to Shakespeare. New York: Oxford University Press, Inc. , 2001. 211. Shakespeare, William. “Othello, the Moor of Venice”. Ed. Russ McDonald. New York: Penguin Group, 2001. Print.
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