HOW ARE THE VILLAINS FROM “OTHELLO” - IAGO & “THE DARK KNIGHT” - THE JOKER SIMILAR? By Palak Gupta
“Iago is a portrait of a practical joker of a peculiarly appalling kind, and perhaps the best way of approaching the play is by a general consideration of the practical joker.” A practical joker is someone who “likes to play God behind the scenes.” Was once quoted by W.H Auden. The similarities between the Joker from The Dark Knight and Iago from Othello are striking. It would seem that, Worthen and William Shakespeare, found similar meanings when crafting their villains. Early on in The Dark Knight, as the Joker holds a Gotham mobster at knifepoint and asks, “Wanna know how I got these scars?” he then proceeds to tell a horrific story about his abusive father, “my father was a drinker and a fiend,” who one day takes a knife and carves ‘smiling’ scars at the ends of the Joker’s mouth. Despite the heartless villainy on display, for a moment, the audience feels sympathy for the Joker. Jump ahead a few scenes to when the Joker crashes Bruce Wayne’s fundraiser for Harvey Dent and this time holds Rachel at knifepoint. Looking straight into her eyes, he once again talks about his scars and asks, “You wanna know how I got ‘em?” Prepared for a rehash of the abusive father story, the audience is surprised when the Joker tells a completely different story, this time about the Joker’s supposed ex-wife, who possesses similar scars and leaves him after he gives himself the scars as an act of love and empathy. Clearly, the stories do not line up and both are probably false. Now, for Iago, in the opening scene of Othello, he tells Roderigo that he hates Othello because he chose to promote Michael Cassio instead of Iago. The reader believes him and feels some sympathy for him, despite his villainy. Two scenes later, in one of his many monologues directed to the audience, Iago states “I hate the Moor, and it is thought abroad that ‘twixt my sheets/He has done my office. I know not if’t be true, But I, for mere suspicion of that kind, Will do as for surety” (1.3.368-372) Suddenly, presented with a completely different motive that Othello slept with Iago’s wife. It becomes very clear that Iago’s reasons for ruining Othello lack substance. He becomes the “motiveless malignant”. The practical joker has no motive. The only normal motive he seems to possess early on is a desire for money, when he requires half of the mob’s money to kill Batman; however, he later burns this same money in front of the mob to show them that it means nothing to him. Later, when speaking to Harvey Dent, he addresses his lack of a motive, “Do I really look like a guy with a plan? I’m a dog chasing cars. I wouldn’t know what to do with one if I caught it. I just do things.” This falls right in line with Alfred’s earlier assessment of the Joker. When asked by Bruce why the Joker would do the things he does, Alfred responds, “Some men aren’t looking for anything logical, like money. They can’t be bought, bullied, reasoned, or negotiated with. Some men just want to watch the world burn.” It seems that Iago, also, wants to “watch the world burn.” While he constantly requires money of Roderigo, he never actually uses it. His goal is simply to further manipulate Roderigo. He says that he desires to sleep with Desdemona, “Th’inclining Desdemona to subdue/In any honest suit. She’s framed as fruitful” (2.3.305-310), but he never attempts to seduce her. He says that he desires glory through a military promotion, but this motive is quickly contradicted by his story of Othello sleeping with Emilia. A practical joker manipulates others but, his victims learn nothing about his nature, only something about their own; they know, not why he chose to deceive them. This is true of the Joker, when, as he hangs upside down over the edge of a building at the end of the film, he reveals to Batman how he manipulated Harvey into becoming Two-Face, but gives no reason why. This is also true...
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