In Othello, Shakespeare proffers Iago as a complex, fascinating, anddespicable character. Several scholars have found Iago inhuman andmysterious, often speaking of his hybrid nature a character betweenhumanly comprehensible sociopath and evil embodied (Snyder 16Erickson 11). Iago wickedness remains indebted to the moral traditionof devil and evil, and his malice transcends the elemental jealous,rage, and human reactions shown by other characters. In fact, Iago’sdynamic thirst for material gains, control, and power combined withhis desire for action and organizational skills accounts for hiscredibility, enigma, and importance to the characterization of othercharacters. Stewart describes Iago as a “complex and crediblefigure, the most significant originator of actions,” (294). Therole of Iago supports Stewart’s assertion greatly since, throughoutthe play, Iago is involved or actively controls most of the acts andthe actions of the characters, often achieving his control throughevil ingenuity. In fact, Iago’s influence upon Othello turnsOthello to a jealous monster who confuses his identity as a soldierand as a lover from a noble and a straightforward man. Suchmanipulations and evil dynamisms present Iago as an enthralling whosecredibile nature to the characterization of other characters, and thedevelopment of the play is overly significant. In this regards, thediscourse illustrates the magnitude of Iago’s credibility andimportance in the play by creating parallelism on scholar’sassertions and the character of Iago.
Othello centers on Iago’s endeavors to destroy the happiness ofOthello, wherein Shakespeare proffers comprehensive evidence ofIago’s motives that make a realistically credible character in theplay. Iago loves evil in all its entirety, uses Machiavelliantechniques, and sets to capitalize on his sociological power. Infact, Murray describing the villainy of Iago says, “He is to beunderstood as the mere source of motive power whose function is tobring the seed of death…, to maturity…” (318). Iago’ssituation as a Venetian soldier and as a low-class, inferior toCassio and Othello define his situational credibility thus, althoughhe is incredibly important, his lack of appropriate socialcredentials causes natural resentment in him. Snyder asserts thatthis lack of appropriate social credentials causes Iago to egghimself and advance his evil deeds or credibility to other charactersby hook or crook (22). Readers undertake that Othello refuses toappoint Iago as his lieutenant due to Iago’s lack of socialstanding hence, this insufficient social standing acts as thedriving force for Iago’s importance in the play. Iago’ssignificance and authority to the development of the play onsets inscene one of the play when he engages Rodriguez in a conversation,
“Despise me, if I do not. Three great ones ofthe city, In personal suit to make me hislieutenant, Off-capp`d to him: and, by the faith of man, I know my price, I am worth no worse a place: Buthe as loving his own pride and purposes, Evades them,with a bombast circumstance Horribly stuff`d with epithetsof war And, in conclusion,”
“Nonsuits my mediators for, `Certes,` says he, `I havealready chose my officer.` And what was he? Forsooth,a great arithmetician, One Michael Cassio, aFlorentine…,By debitor and creditor: thiscounter-caster, He, in good time, must his lieutenantbe, And I—God bless the mark!—his Moorship`sancient.”(Shakespeare 1.1. 2-33)
This conversation with Roderigo, overly honest in its static, and anillustration of how Iago exploits Roderigo wretched and impracticablehopes and foolhardiness shows the tactical instruments that Iagoemploys in his conspiracy against Cassio and Othello. Theconspiratorial relationship as developed in the conversation is hencean expedient dramatic occasion to proffer readers an insight into thesignificant of Iago in the development of the play. In addition, theconversation allows the readers to understand Iago’s motives as he“tells Roderigo that he follows Othello with the plan of taking thereins,” (Erickson 9). Iago’s abhorrence for Cassio and Othello isapparent when he demeans Cassio’s abilities and asserts that he hasbeen denied promotion by a man “that never did set a squadron inthe field/Nor division of a battle knows.” In fact, Iago says, AndI, of whom his eyes had seen the proof/At Rhodes, at Cyprus and onother grounds/Christian and heathen, must be be-lee`d andcalm`d (Shakespeare 1.1. 28-30). Iagooffers his experience in battle to demean Cassio’s abilities aswell as present jealousy and abhorrence towards Cassio, which lendscredibility to his desire to encompass Cassio in his motives ofobliteration. On the other hand, Iago’s attempts to demean Othellobecome apparent when Brabantio asserts, “This accident is notunlike my dream: / Belief of it oppresses me already,” (1.1.154-155)
Iago’s powerful character is evident in his double knavery andtreatment of Othello and Cassio. In fact, Iago has a complexcharacter, so deeply duplicitous that it is difficult to define him,but from his assurance, soliloquies, and conversations with Roderigo.His assurance is perhaps important in construing his credibility, “Iam not what I am,” but then such assurances fail to define himcompletely especially when he asserts, “I hate the Moor.” On theother hand, Sadowski asserts, “Iago’s suggestions that Cassio ishaving an affair with Desdemona is therefore designed to disgrace thelieutenant in Othello’s eyes and to pave the way for Iago’spromotion: provoking jealousy in the Moor is only a means to thisend, not an end in itself.” (187). Such assertions and the focus ofthe play on the jealousy of Othello as developed by thedisintegration of Othello’s character point to the powerful natureof Iago in the play. In addition, the credibility of Iago shows inhis attempts to demean both Othello and Cassio rather than Othelloalone as he knows that he cannot do anything by destroying Othelloalone. Iago understands that if Othello is to dissipate, then Cassiowill take his place thus, he needs to destroy both of them. In fact,Sadowski asserts that Cassio is Iago’s main target rather thanOthello, and he is using Othello to compromise the lieutenant to takehis place (187). As such, Iago exploits Cassio’s gentlemanlydemeanor and Othello’s personal insecurity and imprudence to hisfavorable benefit. In fact, Sadowski sees Iago as an aspiringplebeian who cannot be patronized by Cassio.
On the other hand, Iago subsumes a sadistic side when he says, “Ihate the Moor” and then shows his trust to Othello. In act two,Iago uses his knavery and manipulative techniques to advance hismotives. He organizes the drunken affray in the Cyprus garrison toannihilate Othello and Cassio. Iago organizes the affray mostly todisgrace Cassio and disturbs Othello in bed. In fact, his ingenuityand “powerfulness” is seen when he plies the officers with wine(Novy 492). In fact, this scene offers an impressive instance of hismanipulative and controlling nature as well as presents his dexterousnature to dissimulate. He presents a resounding show of pleasantnessand companionship so alien to his anti-social and cold nature, whichshows how he has managed to hide his personality. Iago persuadesCassio to have drinks and then disparages him behind his back for hisinfirmity to ensure that other officers will back him when Othelloasks for the person accountable for the scuffle. After raising a cryof mutiny and the scuffle to a complete disorder, Iago presentshimself to Othello as the only sober and accountable man and goesahead to rebuke the officers for their incompetence and misdemeanor.This instance allows Iago to disgrace Cassio and advance himself byattaining increased favor. However, Iago does not replace Cassio, andultimately Cassio repents his fault and becomes the general despiteIago creating another intrigue involving Desdemona.
Perhaps, Iago’s powerfulness comes when he manages to bring downOthello despite failing to disgrace Cassio ultimately. Iago utilizeslove and sex to stir Othello’s jealousy by convincing him about herinfidelities. When Desdemona innocently and accidently drops herhankie, Emilia finds it but returns it to Iago, who quickly organizesto leave the hankie in Cassio’s accommodations. However, Iago haslost control at this point, and he depends on hope and chance tofulfill his plans as fortunately for him, jealousy has eatenOthello, of course, advanced by Iago’s assertions. In fact, Iagouses Othello’s diminished critical aptitudes and jealousy toproffer the truth of the handkerchief as a mere hypothesis (Novy493). Furthermore, Iago presents Cassio’s erogenous dream ofDesdemona and the wiping of his beard with Desdemona’s hankie. Iagosays of the situation, “If imputation and strong circumstance/Whichlead directly to the door of truth/Will give you satisfaction, youmay have’t,” (3.3 409-411). After this, Othello welcomes theverdict to install Iago as his lieutenant and punish Cassio for hisdisloyalty. This instance illustrates Iago’s credibility toOthello, but the death of Desdemona does not help him gain hisrevenge and control. However, it appears Iago has lost total controlas Cassio is installed as the general and Emilia speaks about Iago’scharacters, although he desperately tries to silence her by tellingher, “Go to, charm your tongue/ I charge you, get you home (5.2179: 5.2 221). This tragedy shows that although Iago is powerful andcredible in advancing the characterization of other characters suchas Othello and Roderigo, he fails to advance the same power andcredibility to Cassio.
Probably, Iago is a fascinating character as his motivations, andlack of convincing ideas for his motives promotes and questions hiscredibility in the play. His abhorrence for Cassio and Othello allowshim to advance evil motives and employs manipulative techniques anddouble knavery to attain these motives. Although Iago’s lies andmotives are laid bare at the end, he manages to remain credible forthe most of the play and in fact, develops his personality aspowerful and significant. In fact, apart from his exchanges withRoderigo and his soliloquies, he appears honest in his assertion andeven when his motives are laid bare in these exchanges mostcharacters such as Othello and Cassio sees him as credible in hisdoings. The disarray he causes and the advancement of jealousydispositions for Othello points to his credible nature and hispowerful character thus, although he fails in the end, he comes outas overly credible and powerful.
Erickson, Peter. "Mining Shakespeare: Fred Wilson’s VisualTranslations of Othello." Nka Journal of ContemporaryAfrican Art 2013.33 (2013): 8-19. Print.
Murry, John Middleton. Shakespeare. London: JonathanCape, 1959. Print
Novy, Marianne. "Shakespeare and Contemporary Fiction:Theorizing Foundling and Lyric Plots by Barbara L. Estrin(review)." Shakespeare Quarterly 64.4 (2013):492-494. Print.
Sadowski, Piotr. Dynamism of Character inShakespeare`s Mature Tragedies.University of Delaware Press, 2003. Print.
Shakespeare, William. The tragedy of Othello. Vol. 27.Methuen, 1903. Print.
Snyder, Susan. The Comic Matrix of Shakespeare`s Tragedies:Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, Othello, and King Lear. PrincetonUniversity Press, 1979. Print.
Stewart, J. L. M. “Shakespeare’s Men and theirMorals”. Shakespeare Criticism. Sel. AnneRidler.London: OUP, 1970. Print