Iago as the Perfect Villain of Shakespeare's Othello

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Iago as the Perfect Villain of Othello

Iago, the villain in Shakespeare’s Othello, is a round character of great depth and many dimensions. Iago works towards an aim that is constantly changing and becomes progressively more tragic. Yet, at times, "honest" Iago does actually seem honest. This essay will explore the complex character of "honest Iago.

One of the most interesting questions that crops up is concerning Iago’s motives. What are his reasons to kill every major Venetian in Cyprus? Shakespeare seemingly sets the stage for Iago’s actions, giving him two distinct reasons to avenge Othello. The first is the fact that Othello promotes Cassio, an "arithmetician" to the rank of lieutenant and passes over Iago who is but a sergeant. Secondly, Iago is suspicious of his wife, Emilia and thinks she is sleeping with every other man but him—including Othello. There are other reasons that Iago talks about in his soliloquies—the primary one being jealousy or "the green-eyed monster." Iago resents the love that Othello and Desdemona share and also takes offence at the fact that Othello is older, yet he has a young and beautiful wife, power, and respect, all that Iago desires. However, all these reasons seem to be false and made-up just for the sake of being excuses for his malice. He also uses these reasons to convince Roderigo to hate Othello. The real motive seems but a slip on Iago’s part when he says in act five, as he waits to stab Cassio:

"If Cassio do remain,

He hath a daily beauty in his life

That makes me ugly..."

He refers to Cassio’s goodness here and realizes that he lacks his gentlemanly traits. They are not quite of the same class and Iago resents that, for he knows that the promotion was not ...

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... that people, who all along look up to him and call him "honest" Iago, realize this. Being a Shakespearean tragedy, Iago and—ultimately—evil, triumphs.

Works Cited and Consulted

Bradley, A. C.. Shakespearean Tragedy. New York: Penguin, 1991.

Di Yanni, Robert. “Character Revealed Through Dialogue.” Readings on The Tragedies. Ed. Clarice Swisher. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 1996. Reprint from Literature. N. p.: Random House, 1986.

Mack, Maynard. Everybody’s Shakespeare: Reflections Chiefly on the Tragedies. Lincoln, NB: University of Nebraska Press, 1993.

Shakespeare. Othello. The Longman Anthology of British Literature. Ed. Rossi. New York: Longman, 1999. 312-379.

Shakespeare, William. Othello. In The Electric Shakespeare. Princeton University. 1996. No line nos.
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