Shakespeares Villains: Iago and Claudius

Topics: Othello, Iago, Michael Cassio Pages: 5 (2180 words) Published: May 26, 2008
When reading a story, people tend to identify with the hero. They like to think of themselves as heroes in their own lives and the success of a hero in a story makes them feel better about their chances of success in their own lives. However, a hero is only as great as the obstacle he can overcome. The obstacle can be a natural disaster or even a wild animal but it is a human villain who himself develops and changes as the story unfolds that can be the most challenging, and therefore interesting obstacle to overcome. In fact, it is the villain who makes the story exciting. What is a story without a villain? For example, what would the story of Cinderella be without the ever-present evil of Cinderella’s wicked stepmother and stepsister’s. And the ending of the story would be much less satisfying if the prince did not have to run all over town, shoe in hand to find his true love. We would never have come to know and love the seven dwarfs if Snow White wouldn’t have been kicked out of the house by her jealous stepmother. It is the villain who moves and compels the story. It is the villain who provides the conflict that in turn sets the story into motion. As George W. Williams says of Iago “...The most energetic of the number and because of that energy... the most interesting (Williams, 96).” It seems that many of the best theatrical moments go to these shadowy figures. There are many characteristics that define a villain. Shakespeare does an outstanding job of creating tremendously well developed villains, the type of villains that you “love to hate”. I will use two of Shakespeare’s most famous villains, Iago and Claudius, to examine the character and function of villains in a drama. For one, villains are self-serving. These egocentric characters place their own interests above the interest of others. They refuse to accept the idea of a higher morality and pursue their own ends at the expense of the rest of the world (Geitzen, 2). When Iago doesn’t get the job that he thinks he deserves, he sets out to destroy Cassio, who did get the job, and Othello, who gave Cassio the job. He is willing to build himself up at the expense of ruining Othello’s life. Claudius kills his brother and takes the throne for himself while he parties and drinks away his nights and isn’t doing the best for his country. He puts his own power before the welfare of the state of Denmark. Secondly, villains are aggressive. The antagonists set out to attain their goals. They make things happen, and force other people to react. When something in the world causes discontent for a villain, he sets out to change the order of things, or at least make himself feel better (Geitzen, 2). Iago creates situations and facts about Desdemona’s infidelity in order to build up and add concrete information to his case against her, leaving no room in Othello’s mind for doubt on Desdemona’s guilt. Claudius doesn’t wait for his brother to die of natural causes, he creates the “natural causes” that lead to his brother’s death. Most villains are also loners. This may sound contradictory, for one cannot be a villain without others to dupe. And yet, the villains are isolated individuals. They have no genuine relationships with any of the other characters in the play. All their interactions are based on falsehoods and deceits. The villain may have allies, but these characters will be used or discarded once they have served the villains needs (Geitzen, 2). Claudius, for example, marries Gertrude on the pretense that he truly loves her. However, he has no real feelings for her. When Gertrude is about to drink from the poisoned cup, Claudius warns her with a tepid “Gertrude, do not drink (Hamlet 5.2.291).” Maurice Charney calls Iago a master of a withering and dismissive contempt (Charney, 256). Even as he is setting up Roderigo to kill Cassio, he refers contemptuously about Roderigo saying, “I have rubbed this young quat almost to the sense (Othello 5.1.11)”, calling Roderigo by a...
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