“Iago is the essential element in Othello. Without him the play is nothing. ” Task: How far has your reading of the play led you to agree / disagree with the above statement? When reading the play, one is struck most forcibly by the brilliance by which Iago orchestrates the demise of those around him. Shakespeare uses him as a means of influence and plot progression within the play, making him present in all areas, and thus making him the essential element. I will demonstrate how Shakespeare achieves this throughout the main body of my essay, referring closely to the text.
Upon our first exposure to Iago, we are almost immediately, with almost suffocating pace, plunged into the darkness of his character. His opening words: “‘S blood”, given the strength of blasphemy at the time, quite befits a man of such character. He immediately offers a negative view of Othello: “loving his own pride and purposes”, an opinion that smacks of betrayal and deceit when one considers Othello’s view of Iago: “most honest Iago”, perhaps one of the most ironic remarks of the whole play.
The opening can also be seen, therefore, to foreshadow the major themes of the play, and for this reason gives evidence to support Iago’s immense significance. The success of Iago is not to be attributed to his darkness however, but as we shall come to see, instead to the way in which he becomes almost invisible through his unrivalled talent for exploitation, using the credulity of others to make it entirely inconceivable that he wants nothing but the best for them: “Others… keep yet their hearts attending on themselves… throwing but shows of service on their lords… And when they have lin’d their coats do themselves homage.
Thus, his use of Roderigo to provoke Brabantio is our first example of such talent. Iago must, of course, also be merited as an incredible actor. After having enlightened Brabantio with the knowledge of his daughters marriage to The Moor, and thus being present when Brabantio then arrives to arrest Othello, we see this ability put to use. He turns on Roderigo in such a way that, had we not just been present at the converse between the two, one could be forgiven for thinking them enemies: “Come sir, I am for you. ” This almost schizophrenic change of character is so seamless that it is undetectable to others.
Of course, this is a trait of Iago’s that owes most to his success as a villain. Another example of this can be found in Act Two: Scene Two. Iago works hard to persuade a reluctant Cassio to join him in a drink. “I dare not trust my weakness”, Cassio explains, to which Iago responds: “‘Tis a night of revels, the Gallants desire it”. Again, if we did not know better, we could be again excused for thinking that Iago’s is a harmless invitation. He plans to get Cassio into a drunken brawl, but it is not until Cassio leaves that these true motives are revealed: “He’ll be… full of quarrel and offence.
He will then have made Cassio look negligent of his position of responsibility, “That may offend the Isle. ” For me, when looking back at such scenes as this, Iago’s brilliance is demonstrated in the way the audience assumes his motives are far less calculated than they actually are. For instance, one would assume Iago manipulating Cassio in this way is to gain some sort of revenge for him being of higher rank than Iago. However, this is only half the truth as in hindsight we see that Iago is positioning Cassio for the next part of his ‘master plan’, creating a means of connection between Cassio and Desdemona.
The way in which Iago plays chess with the other characters, moving his pieces with such masterful precision, is indeed that which makes him the fundamental component of the play. Iago here, after having succeeded in having Cassio stripped of his rank, then moves to establishing the basis of stage two of the operation. It is here that we see Iago’s cunning in full sway, as he persuades Cassio that the only way to regain his rank and favour with Othello is to talk with Desdemona: “Our General’s wife is now the General.
This is indeed very true, as the audience have already seen that Othello cares immensely about her, yet we are still filled with apprehension as they have by now learnt to be wary of all that Iago says and does. With Iago, one may argue that Shakespeare demonstrates his utter mastery of character development at its pinnacle, indeed in a dramatic sense – a villain so sly and cunning that the audience cannot help but feel the greatest sense of unease whenever he is involved.
Wilson Knight, in his essay, ‘The Othello Music’, offers a slightly different view of Iago when he writes: “the very presence of the concrete creations around, in differentiating him sharply from the rest, limits and defines him. ” One may argue however, that in creating such a central and fundamental character, Shakespeare has indeed made him limit less, in that all plot progression lies with Iago and thus grants him the ability to shape it however he sees fit.
His true motives become slightly less obscure in the eyes of the audience in the aforementioned scene and open the door for what is to follow. The way in which he manipulates Roderigo into starting the fight with Cassio and thus is seen to manipulate Cassio himself, can be seen to foreshadow the way in which Iago manipulates Othello, and through him manipulates the fortune of Desdemona, This also can be seen as further suggestion towards Iago’s essentiality, in that, via means of unparallel deceit and betrayal, he is able to guide all the characters to his desired resting place for them.
By far the most blatant example of Iago’s ability to deceive and cheat the other characters is found in his utter manipulation of Othello. Here Iago, however, also brings into play the brilliant cunning Shakespeare has granted his character. He knows that Othello cannot be guided simply by bare faced lies the way Roderigo can. Thus, in Act Three: Scene Three, we see Iago begin to construct the basis of Othello’s jealousy by firstly forming doubt in his mind.
He has already demonstrated his powers of persuasion by persuading Cassio to drink, but here allows Othello to persuade himself. Iago begins by raising the point of Cassio’s relationship with Desdemona: “Did Michael Cassio, when he woo’d my Lady, know of your love? ” This is of course relatively ‘out of the blue’ for Othello, an effect that Iago utilises well here, and thus cannot be left alone by Othello when Iago tries to drop the subject.
In this way Iago has most cleverly succeeded in arousing Othello’s suspicions: “Nay, there’s more in this? he then proceeds to tell Othello of his worries, while constantly working to assure Othello of his sincerity: “My Lord, you know I love you”. One can see that he does this, not only to assure Othello, but also to assure himself that his lies will succeed in fooling his master. We know how much Othello cares for Desdemona, and thus Iago knows he must produce a first class performance in order that this man believes him. It is here then that Iago tells Othello of his suspicions, not outright, but instead by allowing Othello to draw his own conclusions and to deliberate further.
He shows his soldierly attitude in response to Iago: “to be once in doubt, is once to be resolved”, as he cannot bear not knowing. He must have proof: “I’ll see before I doubt”, a point Iago, knowing the man so well, will have foreseen, and thus is able to use in his further pollution of Othello’s mind, arranging the harmless encounter between Cassio and Desdemona. We also find examples of Iago’s skill of preying on other people’s weaknesses, in this case, Othello’s social unawareness.
He qualifies this before hand with: “I know our countries disposition well. ” Of course it does not matter how well he actually knows the country, for Othello is an alien in this world and Iago a native. This is what binds them through Othello’s trust, and typifies the way, information is channelled. Iago is indeed linked to all the major characters of the play, and thus offers more substance to the argument in favour of his centrality. The scene continues as Othello brushes away Desdemona as she tries to comfort him with the handkerchief he has given her.
Emilia finds this, and notes: “My wayward husband hath a hundred times woo’d me to steal it. ” This is an important statement, cleverly placed by Shakespeare, as it then draws immediate significance to the handkerchief. It also begs the question, of why Iago would be so interested in it and thus of what use it could be to him, a detail of great significance to the plot of the play and a question the audience will soon have answered. As is most common in the play, Iago’s soliloquy offers explanation as to his true motives: “I will in Cassio’s lodging, loose this napkin… s proof of holy Writ. ” Whether it be Shakespeare trying to add depth to his work by adding such details as the handkerchief, or in order to demonstrate the way in which Iago is able to adapt his plans to suit the ever changing environment, one may feel that it adds a different dynamic to the plots progression. The significance of the handkerchief is so quickly built up and, through use of Iago’s character, so quickly pounced upon, that it adds great strength to his lies and great realness to Shakespeare’s plot.
Small details such as this, whether they are important to the plot or not, go great lengths to increase the enjoyment of the play, in their ability to utterly submerge the audience within the world of Othello. William Hazlitt echoes such feelings when he talks of how the play: “makes man a partaker with his kind. ” Throughout the play, Iago is obviously viewed as the dark, evil character. His motives can at times seem very obscure, almost as if he simply enjoys the suffering of others.
One of course can appreciate that, with such a bleak inner landscape as his, making those around him feel equally as miserable may do something to make him fell better about himself. This is no more apparent than during Othello’s fit, when we see Iago take on arguably his darkest form. He has succeeded in bombarding Othello with tales of deceit and infidelity, and has single – handedly torn his world apart. In Andri?? Green’s essay, ‘Othello: A tragedy of conversion: Black Magic and White Magic’, he talks of the character of Othello’s inability to bring together: “power and pleasure… wo extremes which for him, are as far apart as heaven and earth. ” One may then be compelled to agree that this scene epitomises such torment, showing full well Othello’s soldierly mentality, a power that, with increasing ferocity, has lead him further and further from the “pleasure” he once felt with Desdemona. In Act Four: Scene One, we see this angst, passion and fury consume Othello and throw him into a “trance”. Iago has stripped away Othello’s armour, piece by piece, and qualifies his success with: “My medicine works”.
When one considers that this man is literally watching Othello squirm and writhe on the floor, one begins to fully appreciate. Hazlitt also talks of the way in which tragedy can pang at our senses, offending the humanity found in each of us. This, the audience may agree, is very true, yet it is indeed made all the more powerful by Iago’s lack of feeling towards his fellow man found at its most potent, within this scene. One may also feel that it is at this point that Iago has totally achieved his goal.
He has taken the self assured general, and warped him into that which now lies at his feet. He has inflicted upon Othello his first and possibly most prolific defeat signifying, most overtly, the beginning of the end. He, with the possible exception of Roderigo, is the only character with a true purpose throughout the play: the demise of Othello. Although the other characters can obviously be seen to have their own lives and tasks, it is ultimately Iago who sets the stage for others to act upon, thus this is again evidence to support his vitality to the play.
The brilliance of Iago, and for that reason the fuel behind his fundamental role within the play, lies most in his ability to make others believe they are thinking for themselves, whilst manipulating their thoughts. It is this skill that positions him so that he is able to have an effect on the lives of everyone he wishes. Throughout the play the audience see this entire thought process take shape and has it played out before us. It is this which makes him arguably one the most accessible character, while remaining Shakespeare’s most labyrinthine.