Shakespeare's Othello - Iago's Deception as Catalyst for Truth

2076 Words9 Pages
Iago: Deception as Catalyst for Truth The audience will achieve a more complete understanding of Iago in The Tragedy of Othello if Iago is viewed as a complex character and not simply as a conventional "villain." Iago's devious schemes destroy lives both literally and figuratively, but they may also serve to reveal the character of others in intricate ways. A critical interpretation of Iago reveals that although he is principally a deceiver, he is also a dramatic agent of truth. Even though his acts are malicious and deceitful, the title "honest Iago" is fitting in the sense that he reveals the true nature of his victims, as well as the propensity for human beings to act in accordance with their inherently dark natures. While based in deception, Iago's machinations expose the truth of Brabantio's hidden racism, Cassio's inner vanity, and Othello's repressed sexual possessiveness. Iago cleverly emphasizes the issue of race and its association with devilry when he and Roderigo announce to Brabantio that Desdemona has eloped with Othello. Iago is the first to emphasize the biracial nature of the marriage by referring to Othello as an "old black ram" and to Desdemona as a "white ewe" (1.1.85-86).1 Iago then associates Othello with the image of "the devil" (88) because he is black, warning Brabantio that he has "lost half [his] soul" (84) now that Desdemona is married to Othello. It is Iago who initially suggests that Othello exemplifies the stereotype that a black person is inherently evil and likely to be a practitioner of witchcraft. Granted, it is unlikely that Iago's few brief statements give birth to Brabantio as a racist; yet by plaguing Brabantio's thoughts with a dialogue that feeds his natural tendency tow... ... middle of paper ... ...ility to perceive Iago completely is the natural human tendency to deny that which is abhorrent in our own natures, and to find scapegoats on which to place the blame for our darker sides. As a conventional villain, Iago becomes an easy scapegoat; we place the responsibility for the moral failings of others on his ability to manipulate and deceive. Yet as an agent of truth, Iago's most meaningful revelation is that we tend to deny the reality that, as human beings, we all possess the propensity to judge what is foreign to us in racist ways, to esteem ourselves too highly, or to be sexually motivated and possessive. Indeed, Iago has the "last laugh" in being "honest Iago" as an agent of truth-for he manipulates not only the characters, but the audience as well. Note 1. All references to Othello are from the Signet Classic Edition (New York: Penguin, 1998).
Open Document