In Shakespeare’s play “Othello”, he conveys sheer wickedness through the character Iago and a certain willingness to be led by Othello. Both the characters have different roles to lead in the play. Iago is an extremely subtle character in the play. Comparing him to an iceberg is an excellent analysis because only a tiny part of his personality is above the surface on view to all. His true self is kept hidden and is only known by himself. He is a mysterious person who works on the inside and keeps his true thoughts to himself in order to conceal his wickedness.
He admits to himself that he is two-faced as he says “By Janus I think so”. Janus is the God with two faces and Iago swears on him. Also, he even says at the beginning of the play “I am not what I am”, admitting that he is two faced. As the play gets underway with scene 1, the situation in Venice is explained as the characters are introduced to the audience. Rodrigo and Iago are seen talking to Brabantio, Desdemona’s father, at his house. Right from the word go, Iago’s first incident of wickedness is shown as he stirs trouble by attempting to break up the marriage between Othello and Desdemona.
Iago is extremely annoyed because he missed the promotion in the dividing force. Othello gave the promotion to Michael Cassio, making Iago very jealous. He succeeds in tipping off Brabantio about the secret marriage between Othello and Desdemona. Brabantio immediately thinks that Othello has forced Desdemona into it. This belief is helped along by Iago as he uses some very racist comments towards him, such as “that black ram has been tupping your white ewe” and “he has worked black magic upon her”. He distorts the language of love to that of lust.
This persuades Brabantio to take Othello to court, but it doesn’t fully disrupt the marriage. This is a very beneficial example of Iago’s wickedness and persuasion right from the very beginning of the play. Iago’s soliloquies are a very constructive way to divulge the audience in his plans. Shakespeare uses this to keep them incorporated and informed because Iago lies and deceives all the time. His first soliloquy is used as the basis of his plan for revenge. He says, “Cassio is a proper man”, which tells the audience that even a proper man who is described as a “great mathematician” can fall victim to his power.
As he starts to pace up his ideas a bit towards the end, he says, “This monstrous birth must bring to the world’s light”, using images of the natural world. This is an atmospheric way of saying that his terrible plan has been born and is ready to set foot on the Earth causing emotional destruction. The audience have revealed to them his wickedness and the extent of it when he speaks in soliloquies because he is speaking like his true, evil self and not hiding it away as an act. His second soliloquy is there to remind the audience that his motive for the plan is that he is so jealous.
He says “Doth like a poisonous mineral gnaw my inwards”. This is his evil way of saying that he is extremely jealous and actually has a reason for causing emotional breakdown. He says, “Make the Moor thank me, love me, and reward me”, which proves that Iago is turning into a control freak and wants “the Moor” to look up to him as a sovereign. He is clearly drunk on his sense of domination over the helpless Othello. He has to provide a cause to convince the audience that he is at least sane.
In his third soliloquy, he talks about the way he totally warps the truth and turns it black, evil and detestable. He says “virtue into pitch” to represent the way he turns positive incidents into negative ones and messes with Othello’s mind to confuse him. He sustains the black and white imagery as used earlier in the play by saying, “When devils will the blackest sins put on”. He also says “And out of her own goodness make the net”. He is basically saying here that he is so terrible and that he’ll take Desdemona’s innocence and use that as a way of distorting the truth to Othello.
Some other examples of Iago’s wickedness are when he distorts the truth. He is given the handkerchief by Emilia after Iago has asked for it for a very long time. He plants it himself on Michael Cassio, and tells Othello that Desdemona gave it to him as a gift of love. Othello originally gave the handkerchief to Desdemona as a symbol of love. Iago tells this straightforward lie to Othello as an aid to convince him that an affair is happening between Michael Cassio and Desdemona. Iago lies straightaway by making up a foolish story to Othello about a dream that Cassio has.
Iago makes up “Cursed fate that give thee to the Moor” and makes Othello believe that Cassio is having sexual intercourse. Also, when Othello overhears Michael Cassio talking about his love for Bianca, Iago is immediately there to convince him that Cassio is indeed talking about Desdemona. This intensifies Othello’s insecurity and slowly but surely sends him emotionally crazy. Iago’s wicked power can be seen when Othello first comes up with the idea of murder; “How shall I murder him”. This tells us that Iago has manipulated him so much that he has started to think like Iago.
Othello is described as “hugely brave”, “intelligent”, and a “hero”. As a warrior, he is used to seeing things clearly and making quick decisions. The values of the battlefield cannot be brought into sophisticated Venetian society. He is very highly thought of and respected by all at the beginning of the play. He is the general of the Venetian army and has travelled the world, savouring a great deal of memories from each battle he has fought. “Wherin I spake of most disastrous chances,” tells us that he told Desdemona stories.
When he says “She gave me for my pains a world of sighs”, it is proven that he wins over Desdemona by telling her his elaborate stories. The amazing thing about the play is that despite Othello’s colour, he is still a general of the army. Because he is black, Othello is presented as an outrider primarily, but he has it all under his belt and is very confident when Brabantio approaches him about his love for Desdemona. When Brabantio questions him about Desdemona, he simply admits to it and says, “It is most true; true I have married her”.
This displays his rank and makes sure that the audience is with him and thinks of him as the greatest hero. However, Iago is very much against Othello for the jealous reasons mentioned earlier. He illustrates his wickedness through racism throughout the whole play, by simply referring to him frequently as “the Moor”. Iago follows in his two-faced morals and talks diabolically behind his back, but face-to-face he pretends to be his friend. When he tells him of his suspicions about Desdemona and Michael Cassio’s affair, Othello gets angry with Iago, but Iago simply says “(quotation)”.
Othello trusts Iago blindly, as he says “Occular proof”, and believes everything Iago says as he “pours pestilence into his ear”. The reason Othello has such a willingness to be led is because he tells Iago how to manipulate him by saying, “I’ll see before I doubt – I doubt proof”. Outwardly, Othello is all man but he is inexperienced with women and socially very much an outsider. It is likely that he is sexually vulnerable. This is what Iago plays on.
Iago mocks Othello’s manhood so that he gives into his own security, because it says “I mock you? No, by heaven! Would you bear your fortune like a man! Iago feeds Othello negative incident after negative incident, which starts off a chain reaction in his mind that leads to him turning insane due to his dominated emotions. The saddest thing ever is that Othello trusts Iago blindly and he still thinks that Iago is a friend, which reveals his fragility. The point where Othello starts to lose his mind and turn crazy is when Iago starts to deny his suspicions to dig them deeper. He says “Cassio, my Lord? No, sure I cannot think it”. As he turns mad he lets Iago dominate him even more until the end when the extremely tragic scene happens.
As Othello commits murder and suffocates Desdemona, his approval rating by the audience soars back up, leaving Othello in a grand light. “Blow me about in winds! Roast me in sulphur! ” This tells us that Othello has reflected his actions and looks forward to the punishments of hell. Raving this gives him his status of “tragic hero”. I think that the tragedy is more dependant on Iago’s wickedness than Othello’s willingness to be led because Iago is such a clever, devious character who is a genius. Othello is totally influenced by Iago’s power, which in the end pulls him down.