Shakespeare’s Othello, concludes with arguably one of the most tragic endings to a play anyone has ever written. In this final scene, the deceptive Iago is revealed as the villain responsible for Othello’s desperate act. Although Iago’s deceptive persona is finally unveiled here, he refuses to offer any justification for his evil deeds. Despite Othello’s demand for an explanation, and treats of torture, Iago maintains an immovable silence. Like Lodovico, audiences and critics alike, are left with no reasonable explanation for Iago’s malevolent actions. This mysterious facet of Iago has led critics to rack the text with astute cruelty, desperately seeking an answer to the ambiguous nature of Iago. In 1969 author of critical analysis, Daniel Stempel, published “The Silence of Iago” in the literary journal, Shakespearean Criticism, which can now be found as a reprint from the Literature Resource Center. In this critical review Stempel argues that Shakespeare dramatized Iago’s character through an in depth examination of Iago’s motives, as well as the irrationality of evil itself. Stempel acknowledges previous works done, which explore facets of Iago such as, his motives or lack of motives, his honesty and more prevalent dishonesty, as well as his orthodoxy and possible diabolism, and endeavors to provide an alternative way to analyze the duplicity of Iago. Stempel believes that “Iago embodies the mystery of the evil will” and offers examples to justify why this may be the true origin of Iago’s wickedness. Throughout this essay most of Stempel’s arguments are associated with religious history and terminology that I had not been previously exposed to, which made the essay quit difficult to understand. However, after doing a bit of research on such religious topics I was finally able to gain the insight Stempel provides within his essay, which I feel has given me a complete understanding of Iago, confidently, in the way which Shakespeare himself intended.
Stempel’s essay begins by clarifying a possible ambiguous interpretation of Iago’s silence, recognizing that Iago’s silence “is not the mere bravado of a “Sparton Dogge”; but it is the ultimate fulfillment of Iago’s boast to Roderigo in the opening scene.” For when my outward Action doth demonstrate
The native act and figure of my heart
In Complement extern, 'tis not long after
But I will wear my heart upon my sleeve
For daws to peck at; I am not what I am.
(I. i. 61-65; 708)
By remaining silent in the final scene Iago lives up to these words, demonstrating that he in fact is not at all what he appears to be. Iago is the mere definition of evil in its most simplistic interpretation of the word. Iago is evil, simply because he is evil. Recognizing this, Stempel argues that Iago needs no motivation at all to be the villain that he is, because he “embodies the mystery of the evil will, an enigma which Shakespeare strove to realize, not to analyze.” Iago however, does not see his ability to choose as being a mystery. Iago possesses the power to have the will choose what it will, regardless of any outside influence from any source, may it be good, or evil. This ability of Iago’s is introduced in the scene where Roderigo comes to Iago in search of advice saying, “What should I do? I confess it is my shame to be so fond, but it is not in my virtue to amend it.” Iago then replies with, “Virtue? a fig! ‘Tis in ourselves that we are thus or thus. Our bodies are our gardens, to which our wills are gardeners.” (I. iii. 312-315; 722) Associating to these lines critics have labeled Iago a “Machiavelli,” claiming that Iago “demolishes the very theological foundations of Christian ethics by denying “virtue” as the divine grace flowing into the otherwise helpless nature of man. Iago sees the whole world and human life as self-sufficient on their own terms, obedient only to the laws of nature, Iago remains uninhibited and uninspired by any participation in divinity.”...