William Shakespeare’s Othello is about the destruction of the title character, Othello, by a cunning schemer named Iago. Through the play, Iago gradually succeeds in turning people against each other. Iago is a very impressive character not only because Shakespeare has written a dimensional antagonist but also because Iago is very menacing and deceitful with his inhumane behaviour.
Language is dynamic. It evolves and develops with human progress. Literature, the product of language is not static either. One can identify the change in a culture’s characteristics through a work written during that very period. When it comes to evil characters, this change can be seen too. With the changes happening in society, the understanding of the good and the evil shows differences as well. Earlier, the physical appearance would mean a lot for an evil character. He/she would be generally hideous and scary. Gradually, this understanding has changed. The intellect of evil characters, the way they hide who they really are, the trust they build, and the tension they bring upon the reader with their cunning schemes have become elements which make them scary. An evil character would now look “normal”, like everybody else. Thus other characters would fail to understand the inner world of the antagonist, and fall for his/her traps. Iago is one of this kind of antagonists. People cannot point him out as evil because he can disguise his true nature (1.1.67), and this makes Iago more dangerous than he already is.
What makes Iago impressive is also the way he scorns others. He is smart and aware of it. He thinks life has not been just to him because people he works for are exceedingly trustful and not very clever (1.1.8-34). So, to avenge his fate, Iago attacks other people’s title, honour, virtue, and belief in goodness. It is interesting that, not only his very motivation is evil, but also his plans are detailed and well-thought. Iago has control on his urge to destroy, but he chooses to strengthen it rather than suppress it. It is probably because he does not care about the consequences his plans may bring upon others, and actually enjoys seeing them suffer.
Besides his disguised arrogant attitude and false identity, Iago manipulates others’ by talking to them, and makes them do what he says. Iago is a loquacious character. He knows how to play with words and people’s trust. Iago does not commit “the real crime” in the play; he makes others do that by tricking them. Despite not getting a good education like Cassio, Iago’s manner of speech is highly efficient, convincing and adequate. Iago keeps it very formal while talking to Othello, or Desdemona, but when it comes to someone who is not his superior, Iago shows a more vulgar side of him. People at top think he is a respectable man, and listen to his “advice”, thinking he is serving them (3.3.198-201). People below him see him as a clever and powerful man who they should listen to in order to get what they want (5.1.8-9).
Another reason to find Iago interesting and impressive is that he is complicated. He may list his reasons to behave in a devilish way, but probably the reason is not only earning more money or gaining a better position. Iago has created different personas for different situations. There is Iago the honest, who he uses as a medium to earn the trust and then to manipulate people. Then there is Iago who is not happy with his position at work or status in society. However, there is still a missing part in his personality. It looks like there is another Iago, the real one, who is seeking a reason to hate and ruin other people. This hatred which almost looks like an instinct urges me to define him as a monster, because it looks like he cannot help it but hate. However, his detailed plans and awareness of the evilness of his deeds bring him closer to the villain category. Iago is a schemer; whatever he does or says is there because of a reason (5.1.11-22). This consciousness suits with villainy more than it does with monstrosity.
Iago is impressive because he is surely a bad character, but the question why is successfully hidden in the play. He is a man who has no boundaries, nothing to lose. What motivates him is something which resides deep down inside him, and it makes him unable to be content with what life has offered him. Iago seeks destruction, and he is not afraid to ruin anyone who steps on his way. For him everyone is expendable, and anything can be done with words, the deadliest weapon one can use.
Shakespeare, William. Othello. New York: Spark Publishing, 2003. Print.