If there were more than one evil presence in Shakespeare’s Othello who had the intensity of Iago, the play would be unbearably pessimistic. Let us examine the character who is unexcelled in his evil ways.
Lily B. Campbell in Shakespeare’s Tragic Heroes expounds on the self-centered philosophy of Iago:
To Iago love is merely “a lust of the blood and a permission of the will”. Self-love, which is in the thinking of Shakespeare’s day the mother of all vices, is the only love that Iago respects. [. . .] It is thus that the villain is defined. Will is directed to the gaining of ends set by passion and judged by reason. The passion which escapes reason the leads men on to their destruction is the passion which marks the tragic hero. But the passion which sets the ends and has the means judged by reason is the passion which we have already seen is mortal sin. And such is the passion that has brought the judgment and the will into its service in Iago and the other villains. (157)
Is there any doubt as to how vital Iago is to the narrative of the play? Helen Gardner in “Othello: A Tragedy of Beauty and Fortune” elaborates on Iago’s exact function and place in the play:
. . . Iago ruins Othello by insinuating into his mind the question, ‘How do you know?’ The tragic experience with which this play is concerned is loss of faith, and Iago is the instrument to bring Othello to this crisis of his being. His task is made possible by his being an old and trusted companion, while husband and wife are virtually strangers, bound only by passion and faith; and by the fact that great joy bewilders, leaving the heart apt to doubt the reality of its joy. The strange and...
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...ho Each Other.” Readings on The Tragedies. Ed. Clarice Swisher. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 1996. Reprint from Shakespeare: The Pattern in His Carpet. N.p.: n.p., 1970.
Gardner, Helen. “Othello: A Tragedy of Beauty and Fortune.” Readings on The Tragedies. Ed. Clarice Swisher. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 1996. Reprint from “The Noble Moor.” British Academy Lectures, no. 9, 1955.
Shakespeare, William. Othello. In The Electric Shakespeare. Princeton University. 1996. http://www.eiu.edu/~multilit/studyabroad/othello/othello_all.html No line nos.
Wright, Louis B. and Virginia A. LaMar. “The Engaging Qualities of Othello.” Readings on The Tragedies. Ed. Clarice Swisher. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 1996. Reprint from Introduction to The Tragedy of Othello, the Moor of Venice by William Shakespeare. N. p.: Simon and Schuster, Inc., 1957.
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