The Character of Iago in Othello
In the Shakespeare play of Othello, Iago plays an important role. Iago is a compelling sophisticated villain, who revels in his own ability to dissemble. Shakespeare's Iago is one of Shakespeare's most complex villains. At first glance Iago is pure evil. Perhaps the most interesting character in the tragic play Othello
is `honest Iago' during the play Iago uses carefully thought out words and actions which enable him to manipulate others and do things in a way which benefits him and allows him to move closer to his goals. He is a villain who is adept to quick-witted improvisation. Iago's pride is laced with sly vindictiveness; also he is egotistical and independent, convincingly able to adapt his tone and style to any situation. All of these personality traits
are unveiled to the audience at certain moment of his choosing. In this essay we shall investigate the character of `honest' Iago.
Act one of Othello, is all based around one evening's events in Venice. It is a very fast paced act, where many things
happen in a short time span. The opening of the act is an argument with Iago and Roderigo, in which you first see the seeds of Iagos character immerging.
In the opening scene, Iago displays many of the characteristics that are to epitomise his pivotal role in the progress of the tragedy. Perhaps his most revealing declaration at this early point is his proud boast `I am not what I am'. Though Roderigo is evidently meant to take this as reassurance that Iago only feigns allegiance to Othello for his own ends, the deeper implications of Iago's words are soon to become apparent to the audience, for Iago is a self-serving malcontent who practises deceit whenever it is expedient. Iago becomes very jealous of Othello because of his position in the Venetian Army. Iago feels that black men cannot rise above him because they are black. Iago frequently refers to Othello as the `Moor' and the `Black Ram', with these statements Iago is implying that Othello is worse than white people and because of his race he should not hold the position he does in the army. Out of this racism also extents the jealousy of Othello´ wife, Desdemona. With this in mind Iago feels that Othello has slept with his wife Emila, `leapt into his seat', he wants revenge for this too, `not out of absolute lust', but so he can get back at Othello.
The act starts with Iago and Roderigo, having an argument over Desdimona. Iago is telling Roderigo that Desdemona has gotten married to Othello. During act one scene one Iago uses a lot on animal imagery, to convey his anger and dislike of Othello such as `an old black ram Is tupping your white ewe' (Act 1 Scene 1 Lines 89-90), and `Barbary horse' (Act 1 Scene 1 Line 112). Also in the first quote Iago uses the comparison between black and white that, has always been seen as a comparison and the difference between good and evil. During scene one Iago persuades Roderigo to go and tell Brabantio, Desdemona's father that she has eloped with Othello, `call up her father, Rouse him, make after him, poison his delight' (Act 1 Scene 1 Lines 68-69). In this quote Iago refers to poison, Iago during the course of the play poisons peoples minds. As Roderigo cannot rouse Brabantio, Iago takes over and leaves before Brabantio comes down.
Iago has reasons for hating Cassio, the main reason would be that Othello has given him a job that Iago, thinks he deserves `I know my price, I am worth no worse place' (Act 1 Scene 1 Line11). Iago presents himself as the experienced, reliable soldier who has been passed over for promotion. The job has been given to a man who has acquired `bookish theory' (Act 1 Scene 1 Line 24) but lacks the experience. Iago's unflattering description of Michael Cassio creates scepticism about his character as well as the man that appointed him. Iago reveals his misogyny when describing Cassio as `A fellow almost damned in fair wife' (Act 1 Scene 1 Line 21), for, as far as Iago is concerned, beautiful women invariably betray their husbands. Towards the close of the action, Brabantio's servants enter with torches. It is perhaps ironic that a scene, which features so much deceit, should begin in darkness yet end in light, for Brabantio's assessment of Desdemona's absence (based as it is on the misleading language of Iago and Roderigo) proves to be mistaken. In the context of a play where black and white do not necessarily denote good and evil, however, this seems entirely appropriate.
During scenes two and three Shakespeare has held back from introducing the title character of Othello directly. He has mainly been called `the moor' or `his moorship' and does not appear until nearly 200 lines have passed. This has given Iago time to create an image of Othello. The scene's opening exchange means that before we have met either character, both Othello and Cassio have been pre-judged by the report Iago gives of them. This is one of a number of ways in which Shakespeare cleverly introduces the idea of reputation, and the theme of judgement. When Othello is introduced he is seen to be an intelligent commander speaking in poetic prose, thus enforcing Iago's pure hatred for him. Iago is also revealed as manipulative, amoral and cruel in the extreme, relishing the suffering that he and Roderigo inflict on Brabantio.
During the scene Iago's concern has been to demonstrate his loyalty through an account of how he was almost provoked into fighting on Othello's behalf, enforcing the view of an `honest Iago'. Iago believes that Roderigo is bringing Brabantio to confront Othello. Having set up the scene, he expects to be able to demonstrate the reliability of his advice. He did not expect the entrance of Cassio, who know of Othello and Desdimona `from first to last' (Act 1 Scene 3 Line 95), Iago at this point is not in control. Iago's expressed opinion of Othello can no longer stand, for by his words and actions Othello has shown great judgement under pressure.
Act one ends as it began with a conversation between Iago and Roderigo. Iago again is in control of this conversation as Roderigo is a follower not a leader while Iago is a silent cunning leader, whom takes control from the back door not the front. When Roderigo discovers that Iago has been hoarding his money he screams at Iago and threatens him. However, when Iago tells him some fanciful plot in order to capture Desdemona's heart Roderigo forgets Iago's theft and agrees to kill Cassio. When talking to Roderigo he is talking in blank verse but while talking in his soliloquy he talks in prose and rhyming couplets. His disappointment in failing to get the promotion he sought after is not mentioned here.
Iago is a character that thrives on the flaws in people's characters in Othello, especially Roderigo's. Iago's soliloquy at the end of act one is a bitter speech of hatred and revenge to be taken out on Othello. It is full of animal imagery such as `as asses are' (Act 1 Scene 3 Line 396). The Iago soliloquy he states that `I hate the moor' (Act 1 Scene 3 Line 360-361). Iago also mentions `Hell and night' (Act 1 Scene 3 Line 397), which are both dark images of evil, that Iago represents so well.
`Must bring this monstrous birth to the world's light' (Act 1 Scene 3 Line 398), is the start of the idea for the downfall of Othello and Cassio.
The opening act of Othello is Iago's act where you learn about the character of Iago, who is not just one character but also many who are all vital to the plot of the play. The opening scene provides an entirely appropriate beginning to Othello, offering as it does an intriguing first encounter with Iago, and an early exploration of the themes of deception, prejudice and judgement, which have a prominent place in the rest of the play. Iago is shown to be `honest', but to each individual character he is honest and truthful to them, but not to everyone.