Perhaps the most sinister of all characters ever created by the Bard of Avon is in his tragedy Othello. It is Iago – the cause of everyone’s problems in the play. Let us focus a strong light on his character in this essay.
David Bevington in William Shakespeare: Four Tragedies enlightens us on the ancient:
Iago’s machinations yield him both “sport” and “profit” (1.3.387); that is, he enjoys his evildoing, although he is also driven by a motive. This Vice-like behavior inhuman garb creates a restless sense of a dark metaphysical reality lying behind his visible exterior. Even his stated motives do not always make sense. When in an outburst of hatred he soliloquizes that “I hate the Moor; / And it is thought abroad that twixt my sheets / He’s done my office,” Iago goes on to concede the unlikelihood of this charge. [. . .] The charge is so absurd, in fact, that we have to look into Iago himself for the origin of this jealous paranoia. (223)
And looking within Iago for the cause can yield the answer that the ancient is psychologically sick. In Shakespeare’s Four Giants Blanche Coles comments on the mental illness that appears to afflict the despicable Iago:
When such old time critics as H. N. Hudson, who wrote nearly a hundred years ago, saw that Iago was not acting from revenge, one is more than surprised to find modern critics, who have had the advantage of the progress that has been made in the study of abnormal psychology, accepting Iago for anything but what he is, and what Shakespeare intended him to be – a psychopathic personality. (79)
Evidence of his psychopathic personality is seen early in the play. He manipulates the wealthy Roderigo into awakening the senator Brabantio (“Rouse him: m...
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...erits for himself the full punishment of the law – administered, surprisingly, by his arch-enemy Michael Cassio, the new “lord governor”: “To you, lord governor, / Remains the censure of this hellish villain, / The time, the place, the torture. O enforce it!”
The audience laments that Othello did not heed his original evaluation of the ancient at the beginning of the “temptation scene”: “There is some monster in his thought too hideous to be shown.”
Bevington, David, ed. William Shakespeare: Four Tragedies. New York: Bantam Books, 1980.
Coles, Blanche. Shakespeare’s Four Giants. Rindge, New Hampshire: Richard Smith Publisher, 1957.
Shakespeare, William. Othello. In The Electric Shakespeare. Princeton University. 1996. http://www.eiu.edu/~multilit/studyabroad/othello/othello_all.html No line nos.