English 4140 – Shakespeare Later Works
30 September 2012
Beyond Good and Evil
In the tragedy of Othello, the plot is driven by the relentless revenge of the antagonist Iago. His hatred of the main character Othello causes him to weave a tangled web of lies that ultimately leads to the demise of four characters and secures a fate worse than death for himself. Using his power of manipulation, Iago plants the seed of deception that Othello’s new bride has been unfaithful to him thus plunging him into a jealous frenzy “so strong that [not even] judgment can […] cure” (2.ii.298-299).
Furthermore, Iago’s revenge scheme is so powerful that it manifests itself in Othello. Upon hearing of his wife Desdemona’s alleged infidelity with his right hand man Cassio, Othello constructs a revenge plot of his own involving their deaths.
The fact that both these characters are eventually driven to murder to satisfy their vengeance is only one of the many similarities shared by Othello and Iago; however the differences in their execution of those plans depicts their character to the audience. Iago is aware of his jealousy and he accepts that it has become the cause and the motive behind what he does. On the other hand, Othello lives in the delusion that his actions are based on duty and righteousness stating that what he did was not “in hate, but all in honour” (5.ii.294).
In creating these similarities between the antagonist and protagonist, Shakespeare blurs the line between hero and villain; showing that the complexity of humankind cannot simply be characterized to extremes such as good or evil.
... secret which becomes the crucial issue and redeeming factor for Othello s character: Iago is evil, and admittedly so. Others there are/Who, trimmed ... innate evil contrasted with Iago's free-flowing and early- established taste for revenge and punishment, alleviates Othello from responsibility. Surely, Othello has wronged and ...
Shakespeare tries to convey that Iago and Othello are concerned with their appearances with respect to the other characters. At the start of the play, Othello is portrayed as an impressive figure, respected by many in high society for his rank as a General in the Venetian army and his exotic background. Initially the audience sees Othello as an eloquent leader of men, with poise under pressure. However, as he becomes Iago’s victim he loses all control and delves deeper into irrational behavior. Shakespeare paints Othello as a victim in order to incite an emotional response from the audience with the intention of them overlooking his offenses. Before he commits suicide, Othello asks Lodovico to remember in his report to Venice to “speak of me as I am. Nothing extenuate, nor set down aught in malice” (5.ii.342-343) in an attempt to preserve the public’s image of him as an admirable person and furthermore justify his misdeeds.
Contrarily, Iago’s strengths are not shown to the audience due to the fact that when he is first introduced he is already in a state of unending jealousy. Hence his weaknesses outweigh his strengths. One such strength is Iago’s good judge of character, but as a result of his cynicism he only sees their flaws. Iago uses this to his advantage by using the flaws to easily manipulate them as if he was a contemptuous puppet master. Consequently the other characters believe him because of his persuasive speech. He gains their trust and uses his victim’s motivations (Roderigo’s desire for Desdemona) and weaknesses (Othello’s pride) to finally achieve his ends. It can be inferred that he enjoys being in control not only because it is fun for him, but because Iago is trying to compensate for being in a position completely devoid of power.
Through the use of his asides and soliloquies, Shakespeare carefully constructs Iago as an articulate, devious, villain resentful of his superiors whom he regards as inferior in comparison to himself. Yet the other characters (with the exception of Emilia) in the play continuously assert that he is an honest man. In order for his scheme to work, Iago must keep up with this façade so that the other characters will confide in him and follow his seemingly useful advice. Iago main goal of this plan is to make Othello suffer from the pain of jealousy that he feels and bring him down to his level or lower. Moreover, he knows it will work stating that Othello “holds [him] well, the better shall [his] purpose work on him” (1.iii.397-398).
In the play “The tragedy of Othello,” written by William Shakespeare, it can be seen that several of the main characters involved are subjected to the trials and tribulations in the spectrum of emotions experienced by human beings. The overall theme is a brilliant yet down to earth portrayal of frailties and strengths in the human condition–a condition that runs the gamut from a ...
At the very end of the play when asked why he chose to ruin the lives of many people, he simply states “demand me nothing. What you know, you know. From this time forth I will never speak word” (5.ii.303-303).
Iago accepts his fate and does not attempt to justify himself or his actions as Othello does. Therefore, the audience sees the full extent of Iago’s “double knavery” (1.iii.392) and condemns him as a ne’er do well allowing him minimal sympathy for the consequences that his actions have wrought.
One of the many questions brought to light during the play is how Othello is so easily led astray by Iago. Initially, he showed such grace in stressful situations: as Othello is charged for using witchcraft to win the heart of Desdemona he calmly recounts the tale of how he wooed her with his tales of adventure. In this scene he seems level-headed but later, without proof he takes the bait Iago laid to ensnare him. In fact both he and Iago act irrationally without tangible proof. Although he fervently demands “ocular proof” (3.iii.365), Othello is frequently convinced by things he does not see: he strips Cassio of his position as lieutenant based on the story Iago gives him. He also believes Iago’s story of witnessing Cassio with Desdemona’s sanctified handkerchief (3.iii.437–440).
Meanwhile, throughout this lengthy conspiracy, Iago does not have any proof of Othello and Emilia having an affair: “It is thought abroad that ‘twixt my sheets he’s done my office. I know not if’t be true but I for more suspicion in that kind will do as if for surety” (1.iii.385-386).
Shakespeare dramatizes these characters to show the audience what he wants us to see: that despite all evidence, or lack thereof, people will always perceive what they want to. In showing Othello’s fall from grace, the audience experiences how these two characters were eventually consumed by their jealousy and their thoughts of revenge. He also presents the audience with the fact that these both Iago and Othello possess similar abilities and courses of action yet one is seen as a villain and the other a hero. Even though both are equally at fault and should be held accountable for their actions. Shakespeare shows that occasionally there are no heroes, no matter how much the audience wants one to exist.
Shakespeare's Antagonists and "Honest" Iago James L. Gillis IV Essay- Knaublauch During this most recent semester we, as a class, have waded through a sufficient sampling of works by the good bard. During this experience, a plethora of characters have successfully held the spotlight, evoked aspects of the nature of man, and twisted the extremes of human emotions into knots. By retreating to ponder ...