Othello, by William Shakespeare

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Iago’s deceit and manipulation in Othello

Iago is widely credited, in the words of Agatha Christie, as “the greatest villain of all time”. He is a manipulative character who “weaves a web of deceit” by exploiting even the tiniest faults in others. By maintaining a facade of comedy and boyishness he uses his honesty and twisted truth to play others “like a virtuoso” and “drive... them to madness”. In the play Othello, Act 2 Scene 1 is perhaps the most enlightening scene with regards to the truly manipulative character of Iago. Containing several soliloquies and interactions between all of the main characters, his manipulation is well encapsulated both in this scene in the play and in the 1965 Stuart Burge film adaptation.

In this scene, soliloquies are used by both Shakespeare and Burge to convey copious amounts of dramatic irony, symbolism and metaphor which convey Iago’s devious personality and his evil plans. Burge augments these language techniques with several filmic ones such as high angle shots, use of intonation and salience to characterise Iago. After Othello and Desdemona are reunited, Iago in his soliloquy uses a musical metaphor – “Oh, you are well tuned now, but I’ll set down the pegs that make this music work”. The effect here both shows the depth of Othello and Desdemona’s love and the manipulative prowess of Iago to destroy utterly the love between them. Indeed, later in the play, the hatred Othello holds for Desdemona is made even more shocking because of the height of their love previously. In the film, the use of salience heightens the viewer’s impression of Iago as a manipulative, vengeful individual in the soliloquies. As Iago stands in the background, covering a full half of the screen as Cassio and Desdemo...

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...ower simply because of his own jealousy and for his own entertainment. The manipulative and vengeful character is made all the more terrible and magnetic by the final metaphoric line of the scene – that “Knavery's plain face is never seen till used.” Clearly, Iago fully embraces the evilness of his actions and revels in the pain he causes, and this line foreshadows the downfall of Othello, Desdemona and in certain interpretations himself.

In conclusion, both Shakespeare’s Othello and Burge’s film adaptation of the play use dramatic and filmic techniques to convey the unparalleled manipulation and vengefulness of Iago. Through the use of dramatic irony, gaze, metaphor and several other techniques just in one scene, Iago is shown to be a manipulative and highly unpleasant individual who preys on the faults and even the virtues of others for his own sadistic gain.
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