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 serve his purposes. But for all this, as his plot against Othello starts moving and gathering momentum, he loses control of it and must take real risks to prevent it from crashing. Iago is a man with an obsession for control and power over others who has let this obsession take over his whole life.
Necessity forces his hand, and, in order to destroy Othello, he must also destroy Rodrigo, Emilia, Desdemona, and ultimately himself. The one man who survived Iago’s attempt to kill him, Cassio, is the only major character left standing at the end of the play. For someone to constantly lie and deceive one’s wife and friends, one must be extremely evil or, in the case of Iago, amoral. In every scene in which Iago speaks one can point out his deceptive manner. Iago tricks Othello into believing that his own wife is having an affair, without any concrete proof.
Othello is so caught up in Iago’s lies that he refuses to believe Desdemona when she denies the whole thing. Much credit must be given to Iago’s diabolical prowess which enables him to bend and twist the supple minds of his friends and spouse. In today’s society Iago would be called a psychopath without a conscience not the devil incarnate. Iago also manages to steal from his own friend without the slightest feeling of guilt. He embezzles the money that Rodrigo gives him to win over Desdemona. When Rodrigo discovers that Iago has been hoarding his money he screams at Iago and threatens him.
However, when Iago tells him some fanciful plot in order to capture Desdemona’s heart Rodrigo forgets Iago’s theft and agrees to kill Cassio. Iago’s keen intellect is what intrigues the reader most. His ability to say the right things at the right time is what makes him such a successful villain. However, someone with a conscience would never be able to keep up such a ploy and deceive everyone around him. This is why it is necessary to say that Iago is amoral, because if you don’t his character becomes fictional and hard to believe.
At the climactic ending of the play, Iago’s plot is given away to Othello by his own wife, Emilia. Iago sees his wife as an obstacle and a nuisance so he kills her. He kills her not as much out of anger but for pragmatic reasons. Emilia is a stumbling block in front of his path. She serves no purpose to him anymore and she can now only hurt his chances of keeping the position he has been given by Othello. Iago’s merciless taking of Emilia’s and Rodrigo’s lives is another proof of his amorality. |
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