In William Shakespeare’s Othello, Iago, the antagonist of the play, devises a plot to destroy Othello, the protagonist, a general in the Venetian army. The drama of the play begins with Iago being rejected the job of his dreams, the general Othello’s lieutenant. In a fit full of rage, Iago sets out to destroy Othello and everyone he holds dear. As jealousy and anger overwhelms him, his plot results in his own downfall. In an Elizabethan Tragedy, just as this one, the winding plot leads to the death of the unfortunate protagonists. Every character carries a fatal flaw that eventually leads to their demise. Iago, the typical folklore villain, brought out his own demise as a result of his fatal jealousy, pride and pure, untarnished evil.
In the article entitled “Iago Character Introduction” by Fanny Ragland, Iago portrays pure, and terrible evil. Iago demonstrates throughout the book his atrocity toward others and his plans to destroy them. Iago is very secretive with his motives and insists against opening up to people. Ragland theorizes that Iago lusts for Desdemona, Othello’s newlywed wife. Love can make the strongest men crumble, and the wittiest minds confused. Iago uses manipulation to get what he wants. Whether this is all in spite of Othello or a trek for Desdemona’s love, he will take advantage of them for his own benefit. Iago’s evil and manipulative nature gets the best of him, controlling his every move from the inside. He becomes neither man nor beast. He is the personification of evil and torment; what literary historians would call the devil himself. The raw bane of his treachery changes how Iago thinks. In Ragland’s article, she explains, “To lago and in an intensified sense, ‘Fair is foul, and foul is fair.’ The very quintessence of his nature is the consummate power which he possesses of reversing the order of good and evil so as to make the good appear the evil. (Ragland)” Iago’s confusing plot corrupts his sense of morality; what is good and evil. This causes his merciless serial murder of the majority of the protagonists. Throughout the book, it is evident to the audience that Iago is in a war with himself, attempting to uncover for himself his own morality.
Although Iago is a generally secretive and mysterious figure, he allows one person to know his real plan. Throughout the book, Iago speaks to Roderigo as an equal, giving him equal opportunity to become part of Iago’s plot. With obvious intent, Iago manipulates Roderigo for his own personal gain. In Act 1, Scene 1, Iago speaks to Roderigo for the first time about his plot. Iago says:
“It is as sure as you are Roderigo,
Were I the Moor, I would not be Iago.
In following him, I follow but myself;
Heaven is my judge, not I for love and duty,
But seeming so, for my peculiar end;
For when my outward action doth demonstrate
The native act and figure of my heart
In complement extern, ’tis not long after
But I will wear my heart upon my sleeve
For daws to peck at. I am not what I am” (Shakespeare,1.1.56-65).
Iago admits to Roderigo that he is not what he seems to be to the people he seems to be loyal to. Iago believes that to open up your true self would make you a victim. Seeing Roderigo as his brainless minion of sorts, he cares not what he finds out, because Iago knows that at some point, he must get rid of him. He explains to Roderigo that to open yourself up is to become weak, letting nature eat away at you. Iago thinks that a strong person is a man with many personalities, isolated from all other people. Iago strives on independence and manipulation. Iago’s wit makes it easy for him to manipulate. As an example of this, in Act 4, Scene 1, after Iago convinces Othello that Desdemona is committing adultery, Othello tells Iago to bring him poison with which to kill her. WIth this, Iago answers, “Do it not with poison, strangle her in her bed, even / the bed she hath contaminated” (Shakespeare, 4.1.207-208). In this scene, Othello tells Iago to bring him poison, to kill Desdemona with. Iago recommends strangling her in her bed. Iago cares not about the people that he committing these evils against, but if he is doing them, he might as well do them to the fullest. Iago knows that if Othello kills Desdemona with his raw brutality, brutality that he learned from the army, Othello will witness with barbarism and his own evil, that he will have no choice but to take his own life. Iago is clever, no matter how he seems to different people. He has a bundle of frustration toward Othello that has to be brought out, and Iago only takes pleasure from seeing Othello suffering from his doings. At the precipice of Othello’s death, dagger in hand, Iago explains his motives to Othello. “Demand me nothing: what you know, you know: / From this time forth I never will speak word” (5.2.303-304). This is the last time Iago speaks in the book. Othello asks why Iago betrayed him and did the things he did, but Iago only responds that he feels more comfortable not telling him. We would expect someone like Iago to gloat after something like this. Iago finishes his masterpiece, leaving Othello with his last living moment of anguish; mystery. Iago’s true motives will forever be unknown to Othello, for the rest of his short-lived life. Although Iago had some faults in his plan near the end, he prides himself with his final blow to the general. Although he he accomplishes what he initially set out to do, he failed in his attempt at social dominance and authority. He was so caught up in the moment of his success over Othello, that for the first time, he does not care for what happens afterwords. In the end, pride got the best of our antagonist. He lived for this moment, where he stood over his enemy’s body with a glorious finale. Iago’s desire was not to be authorized over everyone else, but to simply be right and victorious. After a thread of trembling events, he can now have this moment to emphasize himself and what he has done. Within all these quotes, Iago manipulates and plays with people to his own advantage. All these quotes work together and unify to form this humanoid creature who only desires the worst for everyone; a monster who desires nothing but self-righteousness and greed.
By the end of Othello, although Iago’s plan is successful, but he is taken away by the police. Iago’s desire of dominance of society and supreme control was interfered by his arrest. Although he did not assume his position as general, his plan worked successfully, and everything that needed be done, was done. His desires were fulfilled. His long lived dream sprouted and worked to its full potential. Iago is evil by every definition. He is too devoted to his mischievous plan too look around and see what is happening. Iago never knew love and never knew how it feel to have it taken away. He became weak during the middle of the book, and the rest of his plan since then was him trying to prove to himself that he is as evil as he sees himself to be. Therefore, the reactions of others to his plan had no meaning to Iago anymore, and that eventually gets him caught. With his attempt of killing Emilia, his own wife, Iago is found out for what he really is. Othello describes Iago as “Janus”, the roman god with two faces. In Act 5, people finally see Iago’s true face out of many. Othello is defined as a tragedy, because it explains the deaths or downfalls of its main characters. Iago became nervous and suspicious of his plan and other people, and his haste got him figured out.
Othello is possibly the best definition of tragedy, as all the characters of the book bring out their own demise from their fatal personal flaws. Because the book explains how demented Iago is, it is evident that he is destined to bring about his own tragedy. Othello is a timeless play, telling the story of the evils of humanity and the fragility of love and human compassion. The characters of Othello are trapped within a web of lies and conspiracy which gives them no choice but to induce their slip into sweet, eternal slumber. We can only learn through our faults. Unfortunately for our late antagonist, pride and jealousy occupied his very thought and stole that opportunity. Shakespeare writes about the true face of humanity and the grim truth about life. The human journey for happiness and peace is futile. We are forever doomed to become what we were always destined to become; Iago.
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