An analytical view of Iago: Shakespeare’s most notorious villain
Of all the villains in all the works of Shakespeare, Iago, from his tragedy Othello, is definitely the most villainous of all the villains. While Desdemona embodies true goodness through her beauty and honesty and Othello embodies the baseness of our nature that can override our intellect and lead to chaos, Iago tends to be portrayed as the embodiment of evil. Yet this is not entirely the case. Iago is a villain, who is also a human. Through his behavior he explains to the audience his motives, despite the fact that they are not powerful enough on their own. His motives layer on top of one another, making him a very realistic villain. Iago is driven by his jealousy and a quest for revenge from the people who’ve wronged him, rather than just pure evil enjoyment.
Iago is jealous of Desdemona and Othello’s connection with each other. Iago is incapable of having an intimate connection with Emelia, but since he is a solider and spends most of his time with other men finds a connection with them. In this regard Iago is jealous of both Desdemona as well as Othello. Desdemona for her connection with Othello–which he spends a good portion of the play destroying as well as building up Othello’s own confidence with him. Iago is jealous of Othello for his ability to confide in Desdemona, who, unlike his own wife who admits to having numerous affairs, is the embodiment of all that is good and honest in the world.
Cassio, another one of whom Iago attempts to destroy even admits that Cassio must die, which implies that he never wanted to actually kill anyone, just ruin their lives a little. “Though in the trade of war I have slain men,/Yet do I hold it very stuff o’ the conscience/To do no contrived murder: I lack iniquity/Sometimes to do me service” (Iago, Act 1 Scene ii). Iago’s dislike of Cassio comes from both being passed over for position of Lieutenant for Othello, and the trust that Othello placed in Cassio when he carried messages between himself and Desdemona. Iago’s methods from the very beginning when Iago tricks the drunken Cassio to get into a bloody fight, slowly chip away and destroy Othello’s faith in Cassio. It’s not until after Othello decides very firmly that Cassio and Desdemona need to die that things start to get out of control that Iago first realizes that there will probably be real death.
Another source of Iago’s jealousy of Othello and Desdemona comes from Desdemona’s fidelity and honest love for Othello. Iago’s own wife, Emilia, admits to Desdemona that she has cheated on Iago on more than one occasion. This also adds to Iago’s hatred of Othello, who he thinks has been one of the ones to have an affair with Emilia “And it is thought abroad, that ‘twixt my sheets/He has done my office: I know not if’t be true;/But I, for mere suspicion in that kind,/Will do as if for surety” (1.3.12). Iago’s revenge on Othello takes the form of jealousy, which is especially sweet for Iago, as it gives Othello a taste of what he has inflicted–unknowingly and quite possibly as a mirror to Othello’s own situation with Desdemona, Iago has been fooled by rumors sought out revenge without any proof. Iago’s revenge is made all the sweeter by this little mirror between Iago’s life and what comes to Othello’s.
Why is it that Iago is the villain of this tragedy and not the hero? He has motivations like Othello’s, who is the hero. His motivations in fact mirror Othello’s and as Othello is the representation of the emotion over reason–which in turn destroys all–Iago is perpetually portrayed as evil incarnate. It is claimed that none of Iago’s motives seems to be enough of a motive to drive him to ruin Othello, Cassio and Desdemona’s lives. Yet, when all his jealousies are compounded and his quest for revenge is added in, it makes it very easy to believe that he would behave in such a way. Iago is undoubtedly the villain of this tragedy, yet he is not, as some would claim, just an evil character.
Shakespeare, William. Othello. Naperville, IL: Source MediaFusion, 2005. Print.
Shmoop Editorial Team. “Othello” Shmoop.com. Shmoop University, Inc., 11 Dec. 2008. Web. 31 Oct. 2011. ***
***Although no ideas or quotations taken directly from this source intentionally it did play a part in the essay as a whole and deserved to be recognized.