This Iago Guy Seems Like Bad News

Iago is immediately introduced as the villain, and garners no sympathy from the audience. Whereas Roderigo has some kind of sense of empathy that he expresses in his love for Desdemona, justifying his ill-will toward Othello, Iago is mostly just bitter. In the very first scene, he puts down Cassio, believing that he should have been made Othello’s officer, rather than “God bless the mark! — his Moorships’s ensign.” Iago immediately expresses his resentment for Othello, for reasons with which the audience can’t immediately sympathize with, and wishes he could achieve a promotion or some kind of social mobility.

Iago is a schemer. From the beginning, it is obvious that he is sort of the “Puck,” or the “Don John,” — the chaotic element that will progress the plot and ignite its conflicts. He convinces Roderigo to yell to Brabanzio that his daughter has been married, and has left him. Roderigo, a love-stricken pawn, is like “yeah mean, I’ll totally yell at the sleeping father of the married girl I’m into from outside his window. Great idea!” And then Iago is like “yeah, and make it a really scary yell.” In this way, it is immediately obvious that Iago has a negative power over the other characters, a villainous manipulation of the sequence of events.

Iago’s instigation creates the tension of Othello with the other characters. I’m unsure if the racial undertones are as explicit or intentional as they seem, but it seems as though Brabanzio’s reaction to his Iago’s news of his daughter’s marriage is affected by Othello’s being a Moor. He immediately assumes that magic is the cause of her affection for Othello, and it completely outraged that they could be married. This is partly because she did so without the consent of her father, a very significant issue at the time.  Combined with Iago’s blind resentment and repeated reference to Othello as “the Moor,” as well as other suggestive insults, it seems his being a Moor is part of the controversy.

The first act ends with a blatantly maniacal soliloquy from Iago, that presents the sort of cliffhanger, the scheme of the chaotic character. He presents his plan to exploit Othello’s liberal and trusting nature. In addition to his outwardly villainous characterization, the association of his name made it impossible for me to not hear his lines being read in the voice of Gilbert Gottfried.

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5 thoughts on “This Iago Guy Seems Like Bad News

  1. stanisck1

    You have made some very valid points about this and it’s true that Iago immediately seems like a villain. It’s interesting how you say how he compares to the others. For me, Iago seems like one of those “surprise” villains. He’s one of those people that you know is an asshole from way he speaks and acts. Nice points.

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  2. michaeldrago

    A writer has two choices when writing a villainous character. He/she can either attempt to humanize the villain and make us understand and appreciate the motivations behind his/her immoral actions or embrace the pure viciousness of the character. Shakespeare tends to choose the latter option, as we see with characters such as Don John, Edmund in King Lear, and Iago. These characters are not quite as complex as some other Shakespeare characters because of this approach, but it does result in some terrific soliloquies, such as Iago’s at the end of Act I.

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  3. cmstewart024

    Timothy,
    I noticed your bring in the ideas of racism in terms of Othello in your post and it definitely sparked my thinking on the subject. In my opinion, the racial slurs thrown at Othello in Act I are definitely of racist tendency. I truly feel that no matter how many battles he wins or how well he can protect Venice, none of his peers will view him a fellow peer. Now, this is not to say I think Shakespeare is a racist, I do not think that these ideals that he connotates in the play are some that he believes in himself. I think that similar to his other plays, he using these characters create a statement about the society that he lives in. He wants to subtly tell everyone who thinks like a bigot that they are should not, and maybe be more open to different times of people. I predict as we move on in the play that this idea will become more evident. Great thought provoking post!

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  4. Diana

    I like your interpretation of Iago. To me, he is the most interesting character. I agree with what you said about Iago as the chaotic element that furthers the plot. He IS indeed a catalyst in this play. It’s interesting that you relate him with previous characters in the other play. I hadn’t noticed that, but it is intriguing to see such a pattern of “mischievous” characters in Shakespeare’s plays. As for what you say about Othello, I agree that he is looked down upon because he is a Moor. Social status/racial background seem to be of high importance in this time period.

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  5. Michelle Cavitolo

    At least with Iago, he has a semi-valid reason to get back at Othello–no one likes being passed over for a promotion. Not that his revenge is justified, of course, but he has the motivation to do it, whereas Don John was an asshole and Malvolio was a pain in the ass. Iago is very childish, though. If he was mature about the situation, he would either talk to Othello about his decision or work harder so that he can earn the promotion some other time. Instead, he is the instigator, and will only go further in his quest to make Othello pay.

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