Tuesday, May 21, 2013



Iago's capacity for cruelty seems limitless, and no motivation for his actions seems enough to explain the incredible destruction he wreaks on the lives of the people he knows best. Is Iago pure evil? 


The Evil Iago of Shakespeare's Othello

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The Most Evil Iago of Othello


"How shall I murder him, Iago?"   This one line, spoken by Othello, in Shakespeare's play of the same name speaks volumes of the evil and deceitful nature of the character being spoken to, Iago. The ability to turn a noble, self controlled, respected man such as Othello into a raving, murderous lunatic can only be had by an evil man such as Iago. Iago is conniving, vengeful, vain, ruinous, dishonest, egotistical and paranoid. This makes him one of the most evil men in all of literature.


The first of many examples of Iago's villainy occurs in scene one of act one. His vain ego has been hurt. Othello has chosen a "bookish theoric" to be his lieutenant instead of Iago. Iago has this to say of Othello's choice:


Forsooth, a great arithmetician,

One Michael Cassio, a Florentine,

A fellow almost dammed in a fair wife,

That never set a squadron in the field

Nor the division of a battle knows

More than a spinster--unless the bookish theoric,

Wherein the togaed consuls can propose

As masterly as he. Mere prattle without practice

Is all his soldiership. But he, sir, had th' election;

And I, of whom his eyes had seen the proof

At Rhodes, at Cyprus, and on other grounds

Christianed and heathen, must be beleed and calmed

By debitor and creditor. This countercaster,

He, in good time, must his lieutenant be,

And I--God bless the mark!--his Moorship's ancient.


This position is one Iago expected, not only because of his seniority in battle, but also because of his seniority with Othello himself.


Iago clearly shows his vengefulness when he tells Roderigo: “Call up her father.Rouse him, make after him, poison his delight...”   His intent is to sow the seeds of dissent between Othello and Brabantio, believing it will ultimately get him his revenge. The idea of ruining Othello is beginning to consume Iago.


Still another example of evil shown by Iago is when in an attempt to incense hatred between Roderigo and Cassio he tells Roderigo that Desdemona is in love with Cassio. The reasons for this lie are twofold. Firstly, to anger Roderigo to the point of murder and lastly to begin the process of Othello's discrediting of Cassio and distrusting of Desdemona. Iago cites the example of the "paddling" of the palms and states this paddling is the prologue to the "history of lust and foul thoughts". In discrediting Cassio, Iago achieves a small piece of his "peculiar end", that is his being placed in the position of lieutenant and the setting into motion of the distrust of Desdemona, and the subsequent ruining of the life of Othello. With this plan in play, another piece of Iago's puzzle falls into place.

Iago shows himself to be a madman, driven by the psychosis of revenge, in this soliloquy taken from act two scene one:


That Cassio loves her, I do well believe 't;

That she loves him, 'tis apt and of great credit.

The Moor, howbeit that I endure him not,

Is of a constraint, loving, noble nature,

And I dare think he'll prove to Desdemona

A most dear husband. Now, I do love her too,

Not out of absolute lust--though peradventure

I stand accountant for as great a sin--

But partly led to diet my revenge

For that I do suspect the lusty Moor

Hath leaped into my seat, the thought whereof

Doth like a poisonous mineral, gnaw my innards;

And nothing can or shall content my soul

Till I am evened with him, wife for wife,

Or failing so, yet that I put the Moor

At least into a jealousy so strong

That judgment cannot cure...


Iago has clearly convinced himself that Cassio and Desdemona are mutually in love. Iago also says Othello is of a "constant, loving, noble nature" and will "prove to Desdemona a most dear husband". These comments show Iago's thoughts to be non-linear at worst and confused at best. His statement of love for Desdemona is a tribute to his view of people being mere pawns in his game of chess, his belief that Othello "hath leaped into my seat" (slept with his wife) a sign of his paranoia.


In scene three of act three Iago shows his duality when acting the friend of a man he truly, deeply and utterly hates, Othello. Cassio, in an attempt to gain reinstatement elicits the help of Desdemona. As Cassio finishes his meeting with Desdemona, Othello approaches and Cassio makes a hurried departure. Iago draws this to Othello's attention in the following dialogue:


Iago:   Ha? I like not that.

Othello:   What dost thou say?

Iago:  Nothing, my lord; or if--I know not what.

Othello:  Was not that Cassio parted from my wife?

Iago:  Cassio, my lord? No, sure, I cannot think it,

            That he would steal away so guiltylike,

            Seeing you coming.


His duality is further shown later in the scene when asking Othello of the relationship between Cassio and Desdemona, and of the part played by Cassio in Othello's wooing of Desdemona. Iago then states "For Michael Cassio/ I dare be sworn I think that he is honest." all the while planting the idea of Cassio's dishonesty and Desdemona's infidelity. The proverbial "icing on the cake" happens when Iago joins an enraged Othello on his knees, vowing his loyalty in obtaining his sacred revenge against the pair.


Iago's lies become the "straw that broke the camel's back" in scene one of act four when he asks questions of whether infidelity could be a "kiss in private" or "to be naked with her friend in bed...not meaning any harm". These questions enrage Othello to the point of a seizure. When Othello awakens he is given no reprieve as he allows himself to be hidden by Iago on the premise that Iago will prove all he has been saying. Iago then engages Cassio in a conversation about his mistress, Bianca. Othello can not hear the whole conversation and so believes Cassio to be speaking of Desdemona. When the conversation is over, Othello asks "How shall I murder him, Iago?". This utterance signifies the removal of all doubt from the mind of Othello. Iago has almost achieved his "peculiar end".


In act five, scene two, the final scene of the play, Iago has succeeded in his diabolical plan. He has traded "wife for wife" as Othello has smothered, albeit regretfully, Desdemona. When discovered by Emilia, Othello confesses, saying it was Iago that persuaded him to murder her. Emilia tells Othello too late of the lies told by her husband and she dies at the hands of Iago for her confession. Iago's lies have come to a crescendo and Othello realizes he has been deceived. Othello then commits suicide and we find, in this case, in order for love to conquer all, evil must triumph. As is the case oftentimes in real life, there is no happy ending.


Iago is, for the literary world, evil incarnate. He lies and deceives with half-truths, to achieve his revenge, causing distrust and ultimately murder and suicide. This makes Iago one of the most evil, but most memorable characters, if not in all of literature, at least in all of Shakespeare.

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MLA Citation:
"The Evil Iago of Shakespeare's Othello." 123HelpMe.com. 18 May 2015

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