William Shakespeare’s Othello encompasses the essence of true tragedy. Filled with controversial ingredients such as Desdemona’s disobedience to her father, slurs of racism regarding Othello, and treachery in its purest form at the hands of Iago-who by some is said to be Shakespeare’s greatest villain. In a metaphorical sense, Iago can be compared to the sun and the other characters and elements of the play to planets- for the characters and their actions all orbit around Iago.
Fueled by jealousy and vengeance, Iago takes on the world as if it were a game of chess, stepping on others and using them as pawns in order to obtain his ultimate goal, overthrowing Othello. At the beginning of the play, we are made aware of Iago’s anger at not being chosen to be Othello’s lieutenant. Instead, Michael Cassio is named lieutenant and Iago is named as the Moor’s ensign (third in command). In Act I Scene I, we are also introduced to Roderigo, who is in love with Desdemona. Roderigo has been paying Iago to help him win Desdemona’s affection.
However, Iago has been embezzling the money and Desdemona has fallen in love with and married Othello. In response to Roderigo’s persistence, Iago informs him of his hatred of Othello and his plans of overthrowing him in the following lines: “I follow him to serve my turn upon him. We cannot all be masters, nor all masters Cannot be truly followed …. Were I the Moor I would not be Iago. In following him I follow but myself” (1. 1 42-58). Throughout the course of the play, it’s clear that Iago is different from other villains of his kind. Iago acts without conscious, as if possessed or psychotic.
He will let nothing get in his way be it a friend of even his own wife. In Act II Scene I after arriving in Cyprus, Iago constructs a plan to overthrow Cassio. Iago pulls Roderigo aside and convinces him that Desdemona will grow tired of Othello in the following lines: “When the blood is made dull with the act of sport, there should be again to inflame it, and to give satiety a fresh apatite, loveliness in favour, sympathy in year, manners, and beauties, all which the Moor is defective in. Now, for want of these required conveniences, her delicate tenderness will find itself abused, begin to heave the gorge, disrelish and abhor the Moor” (2. 220-227). Iago goes on to convince Roderigo that Desdemona will move on to Cassio next. Iago gets Cassio drunk and ignites a brawl. After witnessing Cassio’s actions, Othello strips him of his title. The wheels of Iago’s dastardly plan are now set in motion. He tells Cassio that he should have Desdemona speak with Othello about forgiving him and reinstating his position, all the while fabricating an affair. When Othello and Iago see Desdemona and Cassio depart after speaking, Othello asks for clarification if it was in fact Cassio he saw and Iago replies by saying “Cassio, my lord?
No, sure, I cannot think it, That he would steal away so guilty-like Seeing your coming” (2. 3 37-39). Iago fully convinces Othello that Desdemona and Cassio are having an affair and has his wife, Emilia, obtain Desdemona’s handkerchief so that he can plant in Cassio’s chamber as evidence. Iago tells Roderigo to kill Cassio but Roderigo fails and ends up getting wounded himself. Fueled by jealousy and anger, Othello suffocates Desdemona who in death claims to have committed suicide in order to secure her honest obedience to her husband.
Witnessing Desdemona’s last words, Iago’s wife Emilia tells Othello about her husband wanting Desdemona’s handkerchief. Othello realizes that he has been a victim of Iago’s treachery. Without thought, Iago kills Emilia and flees but is eventually captured. Iago’s plan becomes a success when Othello kills himself in the final scene. The way William Shakespeare crafted his characters is second to none. In most tragedies, the villains are typically one dimensional. Whereas in Shakespeare’s Othello, Iago is multidimensional. Iago is not only a treacherous villain but also a genius in his own right.
Iago is able to convince Roderigo, a wealthy Venetian to pay for assistance in courting Desdemona, he causes Cassio to be demoted from his lieutenant position, gets his own wife (though unaware) to partake in his plan in stealing Desdemona’s handkerchief, and achieves his ultimate goal in Othello’s destruction. The play revolves around Iago’s words and actions because he’s ruthless, he pushes everyone out of his way for his own goals. Iago is a villain, pure and simple, and is the reason Othello continues to be read today.