How does Shakespeare reveal Iago's villainy throughout 'Othello'?

Othello is considered a typical Shakespeare tragedy because of the elements that make up a Shakespearean tragedy are included within Othello. These elements include the presence of supernatural elements or madness, a tragic hero of a high social status and a new order moving in after the old one is thrown down. It also includes the element of chance, the tragic hero has a fatal flaw that brings about the downfall and most of the main characters, apart from the new order, die at the end of the play.

These are the traditional elements to a Shakespearean revenge tragedy although these aren’t the only type of tragedies in literary history. Tragedy is one of the oldest genres in literature and originated from as early as the Greek times, carrying through to Roman times where it was also popular. One of the first people to consider tragedy and its elements was Aristotle, a Greek author and philosopher. Another famous early tragedy author was Seneca.

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The Elizabethans thought the genre to be good and they based their tragedies on Seneca’s works.

Thomas Kyd, however, changed and revolutionised the way tragedies were constructed with ‘Spanish Tragedy’. This looked more at people’s psychology and feelings while also changing the structure of tragedies. Shakespeare took all this onboard and with Seneca’s ideas and works, Shakespeare wrote various tragedies based on these ideas but moving them on for an Elizabethan audience. Iago is a typical villain in one of Shakespeare’s revenge tragedies.

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He seeks revenge against the tragic hero because of something he has done to the villain either directly or indirectly.

In ‘Othello’ Iago seeks revenge on Othello because he feels that he should’ve been Lieutenant rather than Cassio. “Off-capped to him: and by the faith of man, I know my price, I am worth no worse a place. ” Moreover he thinks that Othello slept with his wife and also it could be argued from that his use of language Iago is racist and dislikes black people. Stating, “I hate the Moor, And it is thought that twixt my sheets He’s done my office. ” This quote comes from the soliloquy in 1:3:379-381 which shows his reasons for revenge. Iago has the same traits of a villain in a Shakespearean tragedy, such as Lady Macbeth in ‘Macbeth’.

He manipulates Othello’s mind in very much the same way as Lady Macbeth does to Macbeth. He also poisons Othello’s brain into thinking that Desdemona is having an affair whereas Lady Macbeth poisons Macbeth’s brain into murdering King Duncan and taking the power for himself. Shakespeare begins to reveal Iago’s villainy as soon as the character is introduced to the audience. In Act 1 Scene 1 Iago is introduced to us a cowardly man spurting insults like, “Zounds, sir, you’re robbed; for shame, put on your gown” and “Zounds, sir, you are one of those that will not serve God if the devil bid you. This gives the audience a negative impression of Iago and this then automatically identifies him as the villain at this early stage but it also gives a negative impression on Othello, known only as the ‘Moor’ at this stage because of way he is talked about by Roderigo and Iago.

“What a full fortune does the thick-lips owe” and “But he, as loving his own pride and purposes, Evades them with a bombast circumstance Horribly stuffed with the epithets of war. Shakespeare reveals Iago as the villain as soon as he’s introduced so that he can give his motives for what he commits and does later so that the audience knows what’s happening and why he is doing the acts he is. Here is a quote from 1:1:94, “Most revered Signor do you know my voice? ” This shows Roderigo being respectful to Brebantio before he says that in comparison because they cannot be seen by him he asks if he knows who it is. Only Roderigo is known to Brebantio which means that Iago can weave his web of evil around Brebantio about Othello and Desdemona.

This also shows how Shakespeare reveals Iago’s villainy from the start by using his friend Roderigo so early on. In Act 1 Scene 3 Iago gives a soliloquy to the audience giving reasons for his revenge. This lets the audience get some insight into Iago’s mind and mainly into his plan for the later acts. Shakespeare openly reveals Iago’s feelings to the audience at this point just before a major event takes place in the play. This enables the audience to know what to expect after the event and know Iago’s motives.

“I hate the Moor, And it is thought broad that ‘twixt my sheets He’s done my office. This shows that Iago believes Othello has had an affair with his wife but also repeats his image of Othello. He keeps referring to him indirectly by using ‘the Moor’ which means North African, black and barbaric. Iago believes that Othello is an outsider to Venetian society and a threat to it and himself. Roderigo also believes this because he calls Othello “thick-lips” which is also a racist comment towards Othello and could imply that he feels the same as Iago. Shakespeare, using that on word, shows Iago’s true extent of his villainy.

Iago keeps referring Othello as an animal throughout the play. Iago thinks that Othello is nothing but an animal but also keeps calling him this because of his colour. By using animal imagery Iago implies that Othello isn’t human because of this. “You’ll have your daughter covered with a Barbary horse”. Iago refers Othello as the ‘Barbary horse’ and that Desdemona, Othello’s wife, will be ‘covered’ by him. This adds effect to what Iago is trying to say to Brebantio, Desdemona’s father that not only Desdemona is sleeping with an animal but she is almost engulfed by him.

During Act 3 Scene 3 Shakespeare reveals Iago’s villainy by the language he uses throughout the scene. In this his language changes from friendly chat to poison, telling Othello about Desdemona and Cassio’s supposed affair and with it, Iago manages to convince Othello about this. Before this he builds up with little comments such as “Ha! I like not that. ” in Act Scene, which refers to Cassio innocently pleading with Desdemona for his lieutenancy returned to him. Othello thinks nothing of it until Iago talks about them being together often when Othello turns from a jolly friend to a worrying husband in Act 3 Scene3.

This signifies the power change that occurs in this scene when Iago was a loyal servant with his superior to an evil, back-stabbing friend telling ‘what he thinks’. Of course the audience knows what Iago ‘thinks’ may be what he thinks but are essentially lies. We know this by Shakespeare letting Iago tell the audience in a soliloquy his motives and feelings so we know that he is lying and his advice is nothing more than lies, this is called dramatic irony and Shakespeare uses this language technique to reveal Iago’s villainy.

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How does Shakespeare reveal Iago's villainy throughout 'Othello'?. (2020, Jun 02). Retrieved from

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