William Shakespeare is considered a brilliant poet and playwright, not only in the United Kingdom but also worldwide. It is generally accepted that his works are a kind of encyclopedia of human relationships, as if they are a mirror, in which people, both great and insignificant, are presented in their essence. Undoubtedly, Othello is one of the most popular works of William Shakespeare. Shakespeare’s plays differ from the traditional ones due to their profound meaning. He introduced an exciting affair and demonstrated how a situation could change people. He showed that the great man in a new situation might become bad one, and, on the contrary, an insignificant person could rise to doing great deeds. He revealed the moral essence of the characters. Dramatic works of Shakespeare are characterized by the high moral fervor.
Understanding Iago From “Othello”
The names of the main characters, Othello, Iago and Desdemona, have become common nouns. Othello is more close to Elizabethan genre of family tragedy than any other Shakespeare’s play. It reveals the conflict between the individual and the surrounding society, but in a more disguised form. Shakespeare was trying to reveal not jealousy and gullibility, but the tragedy of life: its causes and laws. He was struck by the power of anger and its importance in life. Othello represents a study of jealousy to a much lesser extent than a new and compelling study of malice in all its power. Nutritional thread, which is running from the master to the work, leads to personality of Iago, not Othello. Shakespeare shows the envious malevolence, which is acting as the sovereign power in human life, aversion to strangers’ perfections, which is manifested in the persistent denial of these benefits, in disbelief or dismissive attitude toward them, an instinctive, involuntary hatred of all open, beautiful, bright, good and great things in the great impersonation of Iago.
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Othello is very different from other dramas of Shakespeare due to its compositional structure. While the basic idea is developed in several parallel planes in Hamlet or King Lear, there is only one thematic and compositional line in Othello. The tragedy is built on a single motive of jealousy, on a single intrigue, which is knotted through the machinations of Iago. It is obvious that the characters in Othello are not less developed than in other tragedies. It is necessary to talk about not only a clear motivation, but a single one, not about the integrity of the deployment of the plot, but about the rapid development of the action on a single line, without any deviation from the main plot. This is the main difference between Othello and a number of other plays written by Shakespeare. The characters in the tragedy are properly constructed. They seem to show to the audience only one of their sides. Only one passion possesses a man. However, a man, who is overwhelmed with this single passion, appears in its entirety and versatility in the work of Shakespeare.
The idea of the tragedy will be clear if the proportion of the main characters in the play and their importance for the development of the action are defined. If the idea of tragedy is jealously, as it is used to believe, the image of Iago has a composite value. Iago drives the plot of the play, holds all the parts of intrigue. Then it is easy to imagine that Iago may be replaced by a person with a completely different character or by just a clutch of circumstances that would have made Othello jealous. With this understanding, the whole essence of tragedy is concentrated on the character of Othello and the conflict between Othello and Desdemona. Such an interpretation is deeply flawed. The image of Iago is an organic part of the ideological intent of the playwright. The idea of the tragedy finds a figurative expression in a single line of contrasting the two characters, in a close connection between the images of Othello and Iago.
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Iago is the central character in the tragedy Othello written by William Shakespeare. He is Othello`s lieutenant. Iago is a plebeian, who was forced to serve the moor and hates him for such humiliation. He is unable to witness the serene happiness of Othello and Desdemona. Because of this, Iago weaves monstrous intrigue around them. Iago is the opposite of Othello: cunning, crafty, envious, and ready for any meanness in order to destroy the harmony, which he sees in Othello. Iago is one of Shakespeare’s favorite types of evildoers. However, unlike Richard III or Macbeth, he is shallow and his thoughts and aspirations are not comparable in scale. He is not the embodiment of evil, but its incarnation.
Iago is a typical representative of the period of primitive capitalist accumulation. He is predatory and cynical. His worldview comes down to two rules. The first is “put money in thy purse”. The second is that value of items depends on the viewpoint. This is the ultimate expression of moral relativism and nihilism. Othello is the diametric opposite of Iago. Othello believes in goodness and truth; he is generous and gullible. Although Othello felt victim to his trustfulness, he becomes the winner in a moral sense.
The intrigue of Iago subdued and destroyed benevolent Othello and Desdemona; the latter understood Iago’s motives, but was unable to resist him. Hatred that drives all the actions and thoughts of Iago and his rejection of every person, who he sees superior to him, are terrible destructive forces. At the same time, he knows the laws of human psychology, but only those that are driven by the ignoble, unkind actions. High actions irritate him so that he has an instinctive desire to break them. Eventually, being unmasked by his wife, whom he stabbed with a dagger in impotent rage, Iago stayed in anticipation of the trial and execution. In Shakespeare’s plot, Iago is a spring of action, a source of intrigue.
Shakespeare certainly met a person like Iago in his life: he spent his later years side by side with various features of such character, and, finally, he felt and realized, what intelligent, evil, low men could do. He fused all these pieces and cast them into one powerful image. Iago has no other goal, but his own benefit. The fact that Cassio had been promoted to Othello`s lieutenant was impelling his cunning intrigue. He wants to have this position and tries to get it. On the way to it, he picks up every benefit that can only get him in hand. He is constantly covered with lies and hypocrisy, but he chose a different impenetrable mask: bold severity, direct, honest gloom of a soldier. He does not consider what other people think or say about him. Iago is malevolence in a human form. He does evil things for pleasure. He triumphs when he sees other people’s sufferings and tribulations. At the same time, he is envious and his envy is fomented by the benefits and successes of others.
In his monologues, Iago continually indicates the reasons for his self-hatred. He constantly tries to explain his behavior to himself. However, he is constantly fooling himself, imagining half motives, in which he strongly believes. Over and over again, he declares that he believes that Othello is too close to his wife, and he wants to avenge this insult. From time to time, in order to find a basis for his hatred of Cassio, he adds that he suspects his intimate relations with Emilia.
As a side motive, he does not shrink even from a thought of his love for Desdemona:
“Now, I do love her too;
Not out of absolute lust, though peradventure
I stand accountant for as great a sin,
But partly led to diet my revenge,
For that I do suspect the lusty Moor
Hath leap’d into my seat” (Shakespeare, 2002).
All these are dishonest attempts of self-justification. A poisonous envy always has a motive that legitimizes hidden hatred and desire to hurt a decent man. However, Iago, who says that Othello has “a constant, loving, noble nature”, is too smart to think that he is deceived by the Moor, because he sees through him as through a glass.
The opposite properties of Iago and Othello are highlighted throughout the play. Iago’s aphorisms contain a sharp definition of his own character traits. This technique turned out to be necessary because the surrounding people were unaware of his true nature. In response to Desdemona’s request to write her praise, Iago says that he is not accustomed to such things. He also tells Othello that he has a miserable character, because he sees machinations throughout his life.
A universal human ability to love or to hate could diminish and humiliate the excellence that Iago reaches in malice due to some definite reasons. Finally, he is threatened by torture because he does not want to say a word to explain or justify his actions. Unyielding and proud Iago would not probably say a word even if tortured, because he is not able to provide a real explanation. He slowly and persistently poisoned the soul of Othello. The very fact that the process of poisoning persists hardens and inebriates Iago even more. However, it is illogical to ask how the poison got into his soul. Snake is poisonous in nature and produces poison, as silkworm gives its yarn and as violet produces its fragrance.
Shortly before the end of the drama, a few remarks, which are among the most profound remarks of the play, provide the key to the bewilderment of Shakespeare in the study of the forces of evil. The characters of Iago, Emilia and Desdemona are carved in these brief remarks. Iago’s replica is the most remarkable: “Fie, there is no such man; it is impossible” (Shakespeare, 2002). This is an idea, under the shadow of which he lived and lives. Here, Hamlet’s surprise in regard to evil as a paradox can be found. Moreover, there is an indirect appeal to the reader: do not believe that it is impossible. The belief that there are no villains in the world is a vital condition for such officer as Iago.
Iago plays a fateful role in the conflict between Desdemona and the Moor. He is furious because Othello, a warrior and a happy newlywed, considers the world beautiful and people honest and kind. Iago sees the world thronged with abomination and wickedness. He seeks to desecrate the ideals of Othello. He manages to turn them to his disbelief by proving that the woman, whom the Moor saw as ideal, is slutty and sinful. However, the greatness of Othello appears in the fact that he severely punishes himself after he committed the crime.
The struggle between Othello and Iago is not the fight of two giants, titans of good and evil. It is the fight between a big man and a small one. The contrast between the heroes is shown. Othello often doubts, and Iago is always sure. Othello seeks to understand the world, and Iago believes that everything is known in life. Othello is afraid to make a mistake, and Iago considers himself infallible. Othello strives for happiness, and Iago is looking for good luck. Othello is characterized with boundless curiosity, and Iago’s main feature is a desire to use the insight of his mind. Therefore, Othello looks far ahead, and Iago’s outlook is limited by his selfish interests. There are a sufficient number of such people as Iago in the world. The strength of Iago is not exclusive malice, which he endowed, but the fact that the power of all envious, evil things in life is on his side. Sadistic frenzy is only the opportunity to make the character of Iago brighter, more vivid. The murders that are committed by Iago at the end of the tragedy do not define his character. It is only one of the traditions of the last act of Elizabethan plays. Iago is an integral part of the already formed society, where sham, lies, and greed are not the exception but the rule.
The main distinction of Iago is his observation, intelligence and talkativeness. He perfectly hears the progress of a severe mechanism, which controls the movement of society. Such people as Othello are stuck in this mechanism: they can’t figure it out and break it. Such people as Iago are quite satisfied with the progress of this mechanism. They just want to make it work out for themselves. Iago clearly understands everything in the world: the great moor took the bait; noble Cassio drunk two glasses of wine and became a ravaging martinet; fool Rodrigo would do anything to seduce another man’s wife. The Senate did not pay any attention to the cries of Brabantio, because Othello was needed for the protection of the colonial possessions of the Venetian merchants. Thus, Iago becomes a great prophet. Everything occurs as he thought. The confusion with intercepted letters in the last act is no more than an unconvincing epilogue to the previously ended history. Iago won and Othello perished because the era that needed titans had already ended. The titans have to learn to cheat, to hide their thoughts and feelings.
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The collision of two worldviews, which is typical for the era of huge social changes and formation of a new man, becomes the meaning of the contrasting images of Othello and Iago. The images of Shakespeare’s characters find the living expression of the conflict between the ideological tendencies of the age. The struggle between the people, who claimed their humanistic principles, and the bourgeois predators, generated by an epoch of primitive accumulation, constitutes the basic content of the tragedy. Othello and Iago are two faces of the era, two systems of moral and ethical values that reflect social contradictions of the emerging bourgeois society, which found expression in dualism of the philosophical systems of the time. This philosophy summarized the social experience of the era, in which a release was a beginning of a new enslavement. Along with a wonderful man and the beauty of the universe, a traitor and a provocateur continued to exist.
Iago is able to take a sober look at life. He understands people, because he sees the essence of men, which is hidden behind their behavior. He says that people should be what they seem. For Iago, the appearance is just a way to hide the nature. The human mind is the best tool used in his hypocritical game. Here, Shakespeare noted the main feature that determined the whole character of Iago. The mind is the basic and powerful thing, using which he is able carry out his actions and reach his goals. This is the basic contradiction of the Renaissance: mind is freed from the shackles of authoritarian thinking. It penetrates the mysteries of nature and society and thus serves as the great ideal of humanism. However, the individualist-egocentric personality puts mind in the service of evil. Moreover, mind finds compelling arguments to justify evil, to deny all sorts of moral norms. These moral norms were immutable and inviolable.
Iago is terribly wise. He is a man, who is not only devoid of dreams, but also has an ability to instantly destroy dreams of others. He bursts in muddy boots in any crystal palace and transforms it into a barn. As a philosopher of everyday banality, he knows the laws of its movement, norm of its needs, and the level of its desires too well: “there’s millions now alive that nightly lie in those unproper beds” (Shakespeare, 2002). The bawdry of Iago is not a part of liberty scenes of the times of Queen Elizabeth. It is a terrible and disgusting way of evil, hopeless, destructive cynicism, a long, curved tail of curses that dangles over the life. This mud, which crawls from the streets, penetrates through thousands of gaps into men`s souls. Thus, the character of Iago has a great significance due to its ability to reveal hatred and malevolence, which are hidden in people’s souls. Throughout the tragedy, Iago is transforming the idea of “everything is for a man” into “everything is for me”. The success of Iago shows how scary and powerful evil that is hidden in the bowels of the civilization could be.