Honest Iago

Custom Student Mr. Teacher ENG 1001-04 25 September 2016

Honest Iago

Iago is the most unique villain of Shakespeare There has been a lot of controversy about his motives and he has been considered as an incarnation of the devil. At the same time, Iago is one of the most brilliant Shakespearean characters although Shakespeare uses his cunningness only for diabolical purposes. He has can rightly be called an atheist of human nature and a stealthy corrupter of human piety, a fearless disturber of domestic peace and an unbeliever in and denier of anything spiritual.

This is interesting to note that all characters in the play, except for Roderigo (to whom he sometimes shows his real face) have a high opinion of Iago and refer to him as “honest Iago”. He uses this high oestimation of him by these major characters to befool them. The Mutual relationship between Iago and Othello is of trust and reliance on the part of Othello but it is conniving and devious on the part of Iago. Iago has same relationship with Cassio. Cassio is also deceived by the seeming virtue of Iago and actually believes that ensign is a kind-hearted man.

But at the same time is a rival to Iago in the royal court. Another facets of his relationship with Othello and Cassio is that he (Iago) lives the part of a blurt outspoken plain fellow who is always prepared to say what he really thinks without caring for the effect it may have on others. Othello is shown as a trustful and thorough in his trust for Iago. Although when Iago starts working on him, he suspects him and asks for evidence, yet from the beginning of the play, he seems to have put entire confidence in the honesty of Iago, who had not been his companions in arms.

This confidence is misplaced but it is no sign of stupidity in Othello. He does not have a distinctive fear of him. We find this even before Iago has set a trap for him. Othello fears the monster “too hideous to be shown” that he discerns about Iago’s thoughts. This manifests a strange relationship based on paradoxical feelings. It is of confidence, trust and fear. But latter events show that Othello’s trust in Iago overpowers the instinctive fear. This happens due to Othello’s non-meditative nature.

He does not contemplate over issues and does not weigh their motive and consequences. And this is the thing that helps Iago to get control over Othello. A. C. Bradley rightly says in this regard; The sources of danger in this character are revealed but too clearly by the story. In the first place, Othello’s mind, for all its poetry, is very simple. He is not observant. His nature tends outward. He is quite free from introspection, and is not given to reflection. Emotion excites his imagination, but it confuses and dulls his intellect.

On this side he is the very opposite of Hamlet, with whom, however, he shares a great openness and trustfulness of nature. In addition, he has little experience of the corrupt products of civilised life, and is ignorant of European women. (p. 217) Relationship between Iago and Cassio exists and develops on the same lines as that of Othello’s. Cassio has a high opinion of Iago and considers him an unmatched person in Florence but Iago’s opinion of him is prejudiced and biased. Iago dismisses Cassio as a mere theorist and not a practical warrior.

In their mutual relationship Cassio’s genuine honesty is contrasted with Iago’s seeming honesty. We are never certain that we understand why Iago commits his evil deeds. Coleridge calls his evilness as “motiveless malignity” (315) there is no doubt that he is throughout an artist in villainy. There is no mystery in the psychology of Iago and the key to Iago’s motives may lie in the composition of his character. One of the noticeable traits in his character is keen sense of superiority and contempt for others.

There also the annoyance of having always to play a part, the enjoyment of the action and the absence of fear. Iago’s sense of superiority has been thwarted and it needs satisfaction. The fullest satisfaction, it could find would, no doubt, be in the consciousness to take revenge from those who are so successful and popular. In addition to his strong desire to satisfy his sense of power, there are also certain other forces which drive him on. One of these is a pleasure in action very difficult and perilous. This action and pleasure lends him artistry in the art of being spiteful against other.

All these characteristics if nature and his disposition play a part in making him a great villain of Shakespeare. These motives appear and disappear in the most extraordinary manner. Resentment as Cassio’s appointment is expressed in the first conversation with Roderigo, and from that moment is never once mentioned again in the whole play. Hatred of Othello is expressed in the first act only. Desire to get Cassio’s place scarcely appears after the first soliloquy, and when it is gratified Iago does not refer to it by a single word.

The suspicion’s of Cassio’s intrigues with Emilia emerges suddenly as an afterthought. Iago’s love of Desdemona is alluded to in the second soliloquy; there is not the faintest trace of it in word or deed either before or after. The mention of jealousy of Othello is followed by declarations that Othello is infatuated about Desdemona and is of a constant nature, and during Othello’s suffering Iago never shows a sign of the idea that he is now paying his rival in his own coin.

In the second soliloquy he declares that he quite believes Cassio t0o be in love with Desdemona; it is obvious that he believes no such thing, for he never alludes to the idea again, and within a few hours, he describes Cassio as an honest fool. All these motives have strange paradoxical characteristics in them but it could not have been coincidence that Shakespeare has attributed so many motives to Iago. All these motives manifest the intricate nature of Iago’s characters and disposition. In addition to a man of action, Iago also seems to be something of an artist who takes delight in undertaking a complicated task in a meticulous manner.

The action he starts and works out is intricate. We get an impression that at some stage, the action Iago initiates remain no longer within his control and power but rather becomes his master. It is as he was fated to do what he does. Works Cited Bradley, A. C. Shakespearean Tragedy: Lectures on Hamlet, Othello, King Lear, Macbeth. 2nd ed. London: Macmillan, 1905. Colderidge, Samuel Taylor. Lectures 1808-1819 On Literature. Ed. R. A. Foakes. Volume 2. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1987. Shakespeare, William. Othello. New York: Penguin Books. 1993.


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  • University/College: University of Chicago

  • Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter

  • Date: 25 September 2016

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