Iago's True Character Exposed in Othello
Of all the characters in Shakespeare's Othello, none is more complex and unknown to the audience than Iago. He is portrayed by every character as an honest and trustworthy person. Yet, as the audience is well informed by the end of the first act, he appears to be quite the opposite. He's a duplicitous character, honest and kind on the outside, but truly a pure, evil and malignant person on the inside. Throughout the entire play he turns all his friends, who trust him most, against each other. He does this by penetrating their deepest fears and concerns, using that to "make the net that shall emesh them all" into a jealous web of hatred [II. iii. 356]. There are many examples throughout the play that show clearly Iago's villainy, but the motives for his villainy become increasingly unclear to the audience as the play progresses. Iago gives several different possible motives to the audience throughout the play in his different soliloquies and while talking to Roderigo, but he never backs up these motives and for the most part never refers to them again in the play. In this essay, I will prove through evidence in the text that Iago was in fact an honest and caring person who suddenly turned villainous because he was deeply unhappy about the way his life was turning out. Things were not going his way: he did not gain lieutenancy, his rank in society was completely reliable on Othello, he was jealous of Othello's life as well as Cassio's, and most of all honesty was getting him nowhere. I will also prove that Iago is not a complete villain, but that the crimes and murders which occurred could not have happened without the villain which lurked inside the other characters in the play. Iago simply enflamed a jealousy which was already there and therefore cannot be blamed for the actions of others.
Throughout the play Othello almost every character at one time or another referred to Iago as an honest man while the audience saw Iago cruelly and viciously lie and deceive one character after another, trapping them all in a jealous rage. Othello says, "A man he is of honesty and trust" before allowing Desdemona to be in the care of Iago [I. iii. 286]. Othello again says, "I know, Iago thy honesty and love..." when asking Iago to tell him who started the drunken brawl between Cassio and Roderigo [II. iii. 240]. Cassio says "Good night, honest Iago" before leaving after the drunken brawl [II. iii. 329]. Cassio says to himself "I never knew a Florentine more kind and honest" after Iago gave him advice about his job [III. i. 42]. Desdemona states "O, that's an honest fellow" after Emilia brings up the fact that Iago is worried about Cassio's job. Iago is seen as deceivingly honest throughout the entire play, but it is hard for one to believe that Iago's "universal reputation for honesty has been based over a long period of time on calculation and bluff" (Godfrey, 421). Iago must have truly been an honest person prior to this plot against Othello and Cassio, and this proves that he was not always a villain.
Iago had probably been honest and kind his entire life, and now reaching the age of 28 ("I hath looked upon the world four times seven years" [I. iii. 311]), Iago saw that his life was not going the way he wanted. He felt he was of low rank and without that promotion from Othello he would remain of low status far beyond when he felt it was time for him to move up. "I know my price, I am worth no worse a place" [I. i. 12]. That fear of remaining in a job for the rest of his life that he felt was for the less experienced, struck and scared him into an overwhelming feeling that he was running out of time. A comparison can be made to someone of the modern era. Iago felt the same way someone would who got stuck working at McDonalds the rest of their life after graduating from high school and college, when the person had much greater plans. Yes, it is okay...
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