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The Evil Iago of Shakespeare’s Othello

“How shall I murder him, Iago?” This one line, spoken by Othello, in Shakespeare’s play of the same name speaks volumes of the evil and deceitful nature of the character being spoken to, Iago. The ability to turn a noble, self controlled, respected man such as Othello into a raving, murderous lunatic can only be had by an evil man such as Iago. Iago is conniving, vengeful, vain, ruinous, dishonest, egotistical and paranoid. This makes him one of the most evil men in all of literature.

The first of many examples of Iago’s villainy occurs in scene one of act one. His vain ego has been hurt. Othello has chosen a “bookish theoric” to be his lieutenant instead of Iago. Iago has this to say of Othello’s choice:

Forsooth, a great arithmetician,

One Michael Cassio, a Florentine,

A fellow almost dammed in a fair wife,

That never set a squadron in the field

Nor the division of a battle knows

More than a spinster–unless the bookish theoric,

Wherein the togaed consuls can propose

As masterly as he. Mere prattle without practice

Is all his soldiership. But he, sir, had th’ election;

And I, of whom his eyes had seen the proof

At Rhodes, at Cyprus, and on other grounds

Christianed and heathen, must be beleed and calmed

By debitor and creditor. This countercaster,

He, in good time, must his lieutenant be,

And I–God bless the mark!–his Moorship’s ancient.

This position is one Iago expected, not only because of his seniority in battle, but also because of his seniority with Othello himself.

Iago clearly shows his vengefulness when he tells Roderigo: “Call up her father.Rouse him, make after him, poison his delight…”

Ominous Evil in Othello

Ominous Evil in Othello

In William Shakespeare’s tragic drama Othello the presence of ominous evil is present in the play from opening scene to closing scene. Let us discuss this concept of evil as manifested in the drama.

H. S. Wilson in his book of literary criticism, On the Design of Shakespearean Tragedy, addresses the character of the general’s ancient:

With such a man everything is food for his malice. There is no appeasing him. His ego feeds upon the misfortunes he contrives for others, and what he feeds on only makes him hungrier. He is proof against pity and remorse alike, as his last interview with Desdemona and his sullen defiance of his captors at the end only too painfully show us. In short, he is the demi-devil that Othello finally calls him, half a devil and half a man; yet the littleness in each of his components is formidable, spider-like, and appallingly human besides. (54)

In the essay “Wit and Witchcraft: an Approach to Othello” Robert B. Heilman unveils the evil awaiting the reader in Othello:

Reason as an ally of evil is a subject to which Shakespeare keeps returning, as if fascinated, but in different thematic forms as he explores different counter-forces. ]. . .] Although Iago, as we saw, does not take seriously the ennobling power of love, he does not fail to let us know what he does take seriously. When, in his fake oath of loyalty to “wrong’d Othello,” he vows “The execution of his wit, hands, heart” (III.3.466), Iago’s words give a clue to his truth: his heart is his malice, his hands literally wound Cassio and kill Roderigo, and his wit is the genius that creates all the strategy. (338)

By an extraordinary composition of character Shakespeare has made Iago, literally or symbolically, share in all these modes of evil. And in Iago he has dramatized Dante’s summary analysis: “For where the instrument of the mind is joined to evil will and potency, men can make no defense against it.” But he has also dramatized the hidden springs of evil action, the urgency and passion and immediacy of it. He contemplates too the evildoer’s “potency” and man’s defenselessness: but these he interprets tragically by making them, not absolute, but partly dependent on the flaws or desire of the victims themselves. (343)

First of all, Iago’s very words paint him for what he is.

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