There are many critical interpretations of Iago’s character. Was he a ‘skillful villain’? Or perhaps he was a ‘mysterious creature of unlimited cynicism’? Or was he simply a ‘wronged man’? More sinned against than sinning?
What is your view of this complex character and how would a contemporary Shakespearean audience have responded to him?
In Shakespeare’s ‘Othello’, the reader is introduced to the character Iago. There are many different interpretations of his character, was he a ‘skillful villain’? Or was he a ‘mysterious creature of unlimited cynicism’? Or just a ‘wronged man’ who is more sinned against than sinning?
Iago indeed does show qualities for all of these different interpretations, Iago can be seen as a skillful villain and I believe that this is the strongest argument. his sly, manipulative insatiable appetite for power, ambitious confidence, and spiteful plan for turning all the other characters against themselves which, eventually leads to the destruction of the love between Othello and Desdemona..
He uses a foul mix of direct and indirect actions to ensnare and manipulate the characters around him causing them to trust Iago and listen to his advice thinking that it is for their benefit, whist it is actually Iago manipulating them for his own personal gain. This is shown when Iago manipulates Roderigo for his money, ‘who hast my purse as if strings were thine’ (I, i, 2-3) telling him that he will benefit from it whist Iago just takes it for his own. Futhermore because he knows that Roderigo loves Desdemona he uses this knowledge against him and instead of trying to help him he uses it to help himself. This is shown when Iago makes Roderigo wake Brabantio from his sleep to tell him about Othello and his daughter. This shows Iago using the knowledge of others to his advantage showing his skilled villain side, the critic, A.W. von Schlegel agrees with my view of Iago, he states he is a:
‘ Complete master in the art of dissimulation; accessible only to selfish emotions, he is thoroughly skilled in rousing the passions of others, and of availing himself of every opening which they give him.’*
Throughout the play Iago is by Othello’s side manipulating him and by using an intellectual use of both direct and indirect language he manages to poison Othello’s mind and put words into his mouth. He only suggests what is happening and leaves the rest up to Othello till the point where Othello breaks and is totally under Iago’s control and is asking Iago what he should do. The critic S.T. Coleridge’s believed that Iago was;
‘An accomplished and artful villain who was indefatigable in his exertions to poison the mind of the brave and swarthy moor.’ **
*W. von Schlegel, Lectures on a Dramatic Art and Literature, 1801-1811 **Samuel Taylor Coleridge 18/8/99 ‘Marginalia on Othello’, report at lecture in Bristol
Iago reveals a lot of his ideas in his soliloquy showing he has pre-calculated his plan and made future arrangements of how he will manipulate the characters around him, this shows that his plan was not just a spur of the moment idea and that through skill, not luck, was able to make Othello believe that Cassio was having an affair with him. He reveals that he is not just doing this for revenge, but for ‘sport and profit’,(I, iii, 384-385) indicating his Machiavellian side.
The term Machiavellian Villain comes from the writer Niccoi Machiavelli after writing one of his most famous works, ‘The Prince’, in which he describes the arts by which a Prince can retain control of his realm After writing this book the term ‘Machiavellian’ was born and is used to describe someone who deceives and manipulates others for either personal or no relevant gain.
Iago can be seen as a Machiavellian villain because he reads people character and uses there weaknesses against them as when shown using Othello’s trust against him, also they are usually paranoid, like Iago, who thinks that both Othello...
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