Iago is William Shakespeare’s most elaborate evil villain. In William Shakespeare’s Othello, Iago plays a masterful role in the destruction of all the major characters, truly making him one of the most infamous evil villains. His cruel, coldhearted manipulation is primarily directed towards the innocent; this exploitation of the good by evil ultimately causes the downfall of Roderigo, Cassio, Desdemona, Emilia, and Othello. Iago’s ability to understand human nature makes him evil because he uses his knowledge of human nature to manipulate others to his advantage. This manipulation is primarily acted out on the good, which are the most gullible to evil.
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Evil can be characterized as a person who causes ruin, injury, pain or harm for their own satisfaction; Iago, undoubtedly, fits this description. Throughout his soliloquies, Iago reveals his true evil nature as well as how he will cause the downfall of other characters. “Hell and night / Must bring this monstrous birth to the world’s light” (I, iii, 394-395). This clearly illustrates Iago’s obsessed driven dominance. He will do anything to destroy Othello, and nothing is going to prevent him from achieving his goals. Iago’s evilness undeniably coincides will his ability to understand human nature. Without his understanding of human nature, Iago would not have been able to manipulate the other characters. A prime example of how Iago’s understanding of human nature extends throughout the play is how he is able to acquire Othello’s trust. “This fellow’s of exceeding honesty, / And knows all qualities, with a learned spirit, / Of human dealings” (III, iii, 260-262). Othello requests Iago’s help in dealing with the matter of Desdemona’s infidelity because he knows that Iago is an expert in the understanding of human nature. Othello’s trust in Iago demonstrates Iago’s ability to mask his true identity of evil, further illustrating his deceptive, evil nature. After Othello discovers Iago’s plot, Othello realizes that Iago truly is evil. “I look down towards his feet; but that’s a fable / If that thou be’st a devil, I cannot kill thee” (V, ii, 283-284). Iago justifies Othello’s accusation by stating: “I bleed, sir, but not killed” (V, ii, 285). This statement by Iago shows his belief in evil and that it will always prevail. In manipulating the goodness of Othello, as well as the goodness of the other characters Iago is able to gain a secure advantage in creating the downfall of the other characters. Iago’s dominance in determining the outcome of others’ downfall is predominantly attributed to the innocent, gullible nature of the other characters.
The good are easy prey for evil because they truly believe that there is goodness in each person. This misconception makes the good, naпve and blind to the workings of evil. Evil is clever in manipulating others and itself in order to accomplish its goal, or goals. Good is not able to distinguish evil because evil is clever enough to mask its true identity. An ideal example is that of Iago. When he states: “I am not what I am” (I, i, 66), it is understood that Iago is able to disguise himself (as being honest and sincere) when in reality he is a ruthless, conniving villain devoted to his evil methods. It is this mask of honesty that allows others such as Roderigo, Cassio, Desdemona, Emilia and Othello, to fall victim to his malevolence.
Roderigo’s gullible nature is illustrated through his infatuation with Desdemona. “I confess it is my shame to be so / fond, but it is not my virtue to amend it” (I, iii, 313-314). Desdemona captures his inner most feelings and he is helpless to do anything about it. Iago brilliantly capitalizes on Roderigo’s flaw by promising him that in the end Desdemona will be in love with him. Roderigo’s submission to Iago serves to profit Iago in achieving his plans. “Now, my sick fool / Roderigo, Whom love hath turn’d almost the wrong side out” (II, iii, 44-45). The more Iago fails in securing Desdemona’s love for Roderigo, the more desperate Roderigo becomes. Eventually Iago successfully manipulates Roderigo to his purposes, and he and Cassio fight, leaving the gullible Roderigo dead. As a result, evil had claimed an innocent character whose only flaw was the fact that he loved too much.
Iago also exploits Cassio into achieving his goals. He uses Cassio’s weak tolerance for alcohol and the importance of reputation against him in great success. Iago succeeds in reducing Cassio to a pathetic state where he is highly gullible due to his grief. Since Cassio is in a vulnerable state it will be easier for Iago to manipulate him. The approach in which Iago uses to torment Cassio is truly evil at its peak; however, this is not enough for Iago. He states: “If Cassio do remain / he hath a daily beauty in his life / that makes me ugly” (V, i, 18-20). Therefore Iago is so motivated to his evil plot; he assumes that if Cassio still remains to live he will continue outshine him. This causes Iago to become insecure; therefore plan for Cassio’s death.
Iago’s manipulation of Desdemona occurs through Cassio. He exploits Desdemona’s natural tendency to help others, toward his evil purpose. “I will turn her virtue into pitch” (II, iii, 338).
This further demonstrates Iago’s due to the fact that he enjoys damaging that which is pure and good. Through his manipulation of Cassio, Iago can now be certain that Cassio will request Desdemona to plea for him with Othello. Cassio does request Desdemona for her help. “Be thou assured, good Cassio, I will do all my abilities in thy behalf” (III, iii, 1-2). With great skill, Iago is able to arrange a conversation between Cassio and Bianca so that Othello thinks Cassio is discussing his wife. Thus Iago has planted a shadow of doubt in Othello’s mind, therefore achieving his evil plan in the destruction of the innocent Desdemona.
Iago also manipulates the unworthy devotion that his wife Emilia shows him. At the end of the play it is discovered that Iago told Emilia to steal the handkerchief that Othello gave to Desdemona: “that handkerchief thou speak’st of / I found by fortune and did give my husband…with solemn earnestness… He begg’d me to steal it” (V, ii, 223-227). Iago’s manipulation of his wife is very tragic; she clearly sees his cruel nature, and yet she still remains obedient. Emilia’s pain and her willingness to die for the truth illustrate that her rough first impression has hidden a good and generous heart, thus making her a prime target for evil to manipulate.
Iago’s most destructive manipulation of the all the characters is his manipulation of Othello. If Othello, who is “not easily jealous” (V, ii, 341) can fall, this emphasizes how powerful Iago’s feelings for revenge and hate must have been. While Othello is an expert at war he greatly misunderstands people and human nature. The fact that Othello himself views Iago as trustworthy and honest gives the evil within Iago a perfect unsuspecting victim for his plot. Iago uses Othello’s race: “Whereto we see in all things nature tends – / Foh! one may smell in such a will most rank, / Foul disproportion, thoughts unnatural”(III, iii, 233-235); as well as his insecurities of being an outsider to create doubt in his mind that Desdemona does not really love him and is cheating on him. These insecurities ultimately lead to Othello’s downfall and the destruction of a good, noble character.
Iago’s function in William Shakespeare’s Othello is truly evil. His ability to find and exploit the weaknesses of the other characters makes him an expert in human nature. The personality traits in which Othello, Cassio, Rodergio, Desdemona and Emilia have in common are their innocence and gullibility. Throughout the play, Iago is able to uses this character flaw to his advantage by slowly planning his own triumph of evil and watching the demise of these other characters. He principally achieves this goal due to his understanding of human nature, which allows him to play on the gullible nature of the good.
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