The border between tragedy and comedy is easy to confuse. In both comedies and tragedies there is a disruption of order at the beginning of the play; in comedy the disruption ends in a restoration of the order usually through marriage. In tragedy the play ends with death a very different type of restorative order. Othello the Tragedy of the Moor of Venice is the first tragedy we have studied in this class. It starts very similarly to Midsummer Night’s Dream with an uncooperative daughter. Desdemona deceives her father and marries Othello, a moor, in secret. Here is the first disruption; Brabantio is wakened in the night by two men who yell to him from the street revealing his daughter’s misdeeds. They are summoned to the senate and order is restored. Othello and Desdemona marriage is consented by the Duke thereby taking away Brabantio’s authority over Desdemona and giving it to Othello. An entire plot of a comedy is played out in the first few scenes of this tragedy. If it was a comedy the plot would have solely focused on the relationship of Brabantio, Othello, and Desdemona but this is not a comedy. This is a tragedy enacted by the mad dramatist Iago.
From the very beginning of the play Iago is the puppeteer behind the curtain pulling all the strings. Roderigo and Othello are his greatest puppets; both through their love of Desdemona are deceived by Iago. The first scene in the play occurs between Roderigo and Iago within the first thirty lines of the play we understand Iago is not for Othello. He is honest to Roderigo only about his hate for Othello and nothing else. Here is where the real disruption in the tragedy comes from: Iago passed over for lieutenant is fuelled by jealousy and rage toward Othello. From that disruption in Iago’s order and sanity comes the plot of the play. Roderigo’s first lines to him are:
“Tush! never tell me; I take it much unkindly
That thou, Iago, who hast had my purse
As if the strings were thine, shouldst know of this.”
From the first instance Iago is associated with pulling the strings. From the audience perspective it is very easy to distrust Iago because we are behind the scene with him but for the players within the play it must be very hard. He is so talented at portraying the many different roles he needs in order to enact his play. The Tragedy of Othello is Iago’s one man show. He plays the role of friend to Cassio Desdemona and Roderigo, Honest Iago the loyal ensign of Othello, terrible husband to Emila, with many minor roles along the way. He may feel justified in his actions because he was passed over for a position and believes his wife slept with Othello but is he justified? Or does he just want to play a sick game on the players? I argue he is a Mad Dramatist who wants to watch the world burn.
In the beginning we are told he hold the strings. Throughout the play the audience is allowed to play along with Iago as he sickens and undoes numerous characters. And at the end when he is finally ensnared in the last words of the play Lodovico says “Looks on the tragic loading of this bed / this is thy work: the object poisons sight.” The play begins and ends with focus on Iago because he was the sole force of plot behind the play. Iago created by Shakespeare was the force that moved the play. There were other forces at work in the play: Othello’s insecurities and jealousy, Desdemona’s virtue, Roderigo’s stupidity, Cassio’s weakness but all these culminated into tragedy by the hands of Iago. This was no comedy even if certain aspects at the beginning may have been similar it takes a sharp turn south because of Iago’s will.