Darkest Sins and Heavenly Shows: the Nature of Iago's Villainy in Shakespear's Hamlet

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William Shakespeare’s Othello is a classic work of tragedy named after its protagonist. It is a compelling piece of literature due to the intentions and subsequent actions of not the noble Moor but of his ensign or ancient. The character of Iago is responsible for the conflict within the story. He is villain who manipulates the other characters by assessing and exploiting their weaknesses with complete lack of conscience, and he accomplishes this trickery by employing clever use of language. His methods consist of taking advantage of Roderigo’s feelings towards Desdemona – Othello’s lover – and using the trust that Cassio and Othello have for him against them, and he does it to great effect.

As previously stated, Othello is not the only character in this play with feelings for Desdemona. Roderigo is a Venetian gentleman who has long pined for her affections, even going as far to pay Iago to assist him in winning her heart. Unfortunately for Roderigo, Iago does not have his best interests in mind, stating “Thus do I ever make my fool my purse. For I mine own gained knowledge should profane if I would time expend with such a snipe but for my sport and profit” (1.3.382-385). Based on this admission, one must concede that Iago is aiding Roderigo purely to satisfy his own desires. Another display of Iago’s manipulative villainy can be found in Act 2 when he makes Roderigo believe that Cassio would be next in line to win Desdemona’s love if her and Othello were no longer married as he witnessed the two holding each other’s hand (2.1.251-252). He goes on to suggest that Roderigo provoke Cassio in some way (2.1.264-268) which results in Cassio’s loss of rank and ultimate disgrace. In essence, this diabolical act stems from Iago’s jealousy toward Cassio. In fact, it could be argued that Iago hates Cassio almost as much as he hates Othello for passing on him and promoting Cassio to the rank of lieutenant (1.1.7-32). Cassio trusts Iago, and the scoundrel uses that trust...
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