Othello and Iago

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Iago has a reputation for honesty, for reliability and direct speaking. Othello and others in the play constantly refer to him as "honest Iago." He has risen through the ranks in the army by merit and achievement, and Othello, whose military judgment is excellent, has taken him as ancient (captain) because of his qualities. In Iago, Shakespeare shows us a character who acts against his reputation. Possibly Iago was always a villain and confidence trickster who set up a false reputation for honesty, but how can one set up a reputation for honesty except by being consistently honest over a long period of time? Alternatively he might be a man who used to be honest in the past, but has decided to abandon this virtue. Shakespeare has built the character of Iago from an idea already existing in the theatrical culture of his time: the Devil in religious morality plays, which developed into the villain in Elizabethan drama and tragedy. Iago says (I.1, 65) "I am not what I am," which can be interpreted as "I am not what I seem." But it is also reminiscent of a quotation from the Bible which Shakespeare would have known: In Exodus, God gives his laws to Moses on Mt. Sinai, and Moses asks God his name. God replies: "I am that I am" (Exodus, iii, 14). If "I am that I am" stands for God, then Iago's self-description, "I am not what I am" is the direct opposite. Iago is the opposite of God, that is, he is the Devil. Iago in this play, has the qualities of the Devil in medieval and Renaissance morality plays: He is a liar, he makes promises he has no intention of keeping, he tells fancy stories in order to trap people and lead them to their destruction, and he sees other's greatest vulnerabilities and uses these to destroy them. Iago does all this not for any good reason, but for love of evil. Iago is surrounded with bitter irony: he is not as he seems, his good is bad for others, people repeatedly rely on him, and he betrays them. He likes to have others unwittingly working to...
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