In Shakespeare’s play Othello, the character Iago is the most well-known and multifaceted. To the characters in the play, he is a trustworthy and honest person who everyone in the community is willing to confide in. The audience on the other hand can note that he is the evilest, malicious and cruel character. His versatile characters enable him to manipulate others for his gain. Generally, Iago’s evil ways do not satisfy his ego but go ahead to make him suffer even more. In this paper, I will argue the point that Iago was an honest man only that situation forced him to adopt his dubious ways.
From the beginning of the play, Iago can win the trust of all people in society. This is one point that proves indeed Iago is not a bad person he is only pushed by his ambition to execute the evil acts. We see him confiding to himself about trust and honest when he states “O wretched fool, That lov’st to make thine honesty a vice…To be direct and honest is not safe. I should be wise, for honesty is a fool And loses that it works for” (III. iii. 391-98). Iago is a good adviser and a very attentive listener. This makes him win the hearts of his village mates who are quick to confide in them their fears and distress.
As the play progresses we see how Iago changes from an honest and sincere person to become evil. One of the reasons that anger him to an extent of changing his behavior is the fact that he is not appointed as a lieutenant. He is sure that he is the best man for this job as he says “I know my price, I am worth no worse a place” (I. i. 1129). He fails to understand why Othello has ignored him and appointed Cassio as a lieutenant instead of him. He is very baffled by how Othello would look down on him to extend of turning him down after being so true to him. This is evident when he tells Roderigo “Now, sir, be the judge yourself whether I in any just term am affined To love the moor” (I. i. 1130). He desperately needs this position and is quick to make the statement “Make the Moor thank me, love me, and reward me for making him egregiously an ass” (II. i. 310). He believes it is his rightful time to go up the ladder on his career. His dream is cut short and this aggravates his anger resulting in him coming up with a plot of vengeance.
In the play, it is proof that Iago is the envy of Cassio and Othello. He is also the envy of Othello for the position he is holding. Casio and Othello have authoritative positions and thus enabling them to enjoy a luxuriant life while he lavishes in poverty (Honigmann 47). This jealous trait provokes him to set out to revenge on Othello and Cassio. The first man on his list is Cassio for taking his place. Cassio is unaware of the evil plans that his enemy has in store for him to fall into Iago’s trap. Iago is well aware that if Othello becomes angry with Cassio he will demote Cassio and place Iago in his place. His desire is not for Othello to kill Cassio but to make him lose his job. He has already set his plan to destroy Cassio by planting Desdemona’s handkerchief in Cassio’s room to anger Othello.
To back up that Iago was a sincere man all his life and vengeance pushed him to commit the vices. In the play, we see the fact that Othello plans and murders his wife. He goes ahead and plans the death of Casio. These two action marks him as a villain something that was only provoked by Iago. This is a character trait that was in Othello but required a little of speck to evolve. Iago’s backstabbing helps the audience to discover another side of Othello. It is clear now that Othello is a villain he commits the murders without investigating and confronting his wife and Cassio about the rumor he has heard. If only he was an honest person he would have got the information and taken the time to establish the truth. We get to see the side of him that was hidden. Iago is a very important character and through him, we get to know the evil hidden inside Othello. Iago is well familiarized with Othello’s personality. He knows his weakest point and he only has to ignite a little spark of fire for the hidden evil in Othello to be exposed.
It is evidence that Iago is blinded by the desire to revenge on Othello and Cassio that he goes on suspecting that Othello is having an affair with his wife. He has no true and compatible evidence to back up his claims as he states “I know not if’t be true, but I, for mere suspicion in that kind, will do as if for surety” (I. iii. 1148). This conviction is plain and without any base. Part of him knows that he should not continue with his revenge being an honest man as he was but his pursuit of revenge cannot let him stop thinking about planting evil on other people.
In the play, we get to understand that Iago is not a villain but a man in love. This desire to have Desdemona induces envy in him. Desdemona is young and beautiful. Thus, Iago cannot comprehend that she is the wife of his greatest enemy. This is a weakness that Iago has and cannot fathom the fact that she is destined to be with Othello. At the same time, Iago thinks highly of himself and thinks that Othello is a lesser man for such a beauty as he says “…And I dare think he’ll prove to Desdemona a dearest husband. Now, I do love her too…” (II, i. 1154). He confesses his love to Desdemona who rejects him. Iago is not pleased as he says to her “o gentle lady, do not put me to‘t” (II, i.1552). By this, he is trying to plead with her lest he falls into temptation. Iago’s rejection by Desdemona gives him another reason to be spiteful hence continuing with his vengeance against Othello. Iago has been an honest man from the beginning. The change of course in his life forces him to turn evil. His intention to turn wicked is all through the effort to straighten his life which seems to have lost direction. His wish is to be as successful and of high importance as Othello, Cassio and Roderigo. To him, backstabbing and witch-hunting prove the only things that can set him back to track. He commits the evils but still feels guilty for his actions. Without knowing the consequences of his acts he ends up suffering at the end at the same time causing a lot of suffering to the people in the village.
In this play, we see Shakespeare’s quest to reveal the hidden evil of the people in the society. By introducing Iago’s character the evils in the society are brought to light. Generally, the people seem to be honest a true to each their but deep within them lies evil thoughts and motives that need the pressure to be brought out. The only way to bring out these social evils, Shakespeare had to use the most honest man who was liked by everyone to expose the vices. Iago is therefore blameless in the murder and crime that has occurred in the play.
Honigmann, E. A. J. Othello. London: Thomas Nelson, 1997.
Shakespeare, William. Othello. Literature Structure, Sound, and Sense. Ed. Laurance Perrine. 3rd ed. New York, N.Y: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc. 1978. 1129 – 1220.