In Iago, Shakespeare Has Created an Engaging and Complex Villain Who Governs the Actions of the Play. Discuss

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In Iago, Shakespeare has Created an Engaging and Complex Villain who Governs the Actions of the Play. Discuss

Shakespeare's character of Iago is seen as one of the most intriguing and deceptive characters ever created. His menacing and complete control over the play and how he so easily toys with the course of the performance draws in all those observing his act and leaves his victims grasping for straws of reality amongst a bed of hoaxes. In order to understand how Iago operates one must first understand the play. In brief summary Othello is the story of a high ranking soldier who falls in love and elopes with his wife. His ensign Iago sets out to destroy Othello and his recently promoted lieutenant, Cassio. How Iago brings all their lives into a pit of misery is the tragedy of the moor. The complexity of such a villain lies in his un-nerving calm with which he carries out his twisted duties, using a mastery of the language in order to push and persuade, rarely resorting to physical violence and when doing so, usually using a misled character to do his dirty work. His motives that drive him are despairingly thin; his power over others captivates his audience and his curious crimes lead us ‘by the nose, as asses are.'

In the time of Shakespeare writing this play there would have been a large host of set stock characters in order to make the plays easy to follow for the audience. Iago does perform to this main baseline of what would have been labelled a Machiavel, a practised liar who secretly plots and schemes. He uses cunning and duplicity to achieve his ends; delighting in his own manipulative evil with the ability to dissemble and disguise his true identity, a theme exceedingly popular theme in the 17th century. Iago conforms brilliantly with this character. In his frequent soliloquies in which he forces the audience to conspire with him, he often shows us the extent of his likeness. ‘In love and honest kindness.' Iago is commenting on advice he just gave a supposed friend, assuring him of its worth, in fact the advice he just gave will led to his entire plot to be cast underway. It is this self assured lying and disguising of his own identity that links him to the Machiavel, combined with the scheming and manipulation that he performs, keeping the audience informed of his dirty tricks in his soliloquies lest we should miss his ill doings. His conformation with the Machiavel stock character meant the 17th audience would have immediately picked up his intentions and would follow closely to see how this particular evil manifested itself. His conformation to the mould of an established villain also comes with the close ties Shakespeare makes with hell. To his audience heaven and hell were to very stark realities, and Iago's connection to the latter would have provoked a response out of the audience. ‘The devil will make a grandsire out of you' Iago is linking himself to the devil, by threatening someone with the prospect of becoming a relation of the devil to the 17th century audience would have stroked a cord amongst the crowd, being a very serious and real threat, and the evil in Iago seems to flow out in his repeated use of devilish imagery. ‘Hell and night must bring this monstrous birth to the world's light.' Iago is directly linking his plans to hell and this link to dark satanic forces would emphasize to the audience just how potently evil it is.

An involving point about Iago which elevates him above the traditional stock character is that he knows precisely what he is doing. ‘What's he who says I play the villain.' Iago is being ironic and sarcastic. He knows that he is the evil in the story and that it is his plotting and scheming that will destroy them all. This shows the complexity of him as a villain as he has no illusions about what he is doing; he is perfectly comfortable with his crimes and is in complete control of the play. His comfort in his actions brings into stark light the exact evil he is...
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