Othello: Lago's Character Analysis example

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Character Analysis of Iago

The Tragedy of Othello, the Moor of Venice, is one of Shakespeare’s most recognized tragedies. It tells a story of Othello, who is seduced into believing that his wife, Desdemona, is unfaithful to him, by his standard bearer Iago. Manipulated by Iago’s schemes as well as his own fears and insecurities, Othello kills Desdemona, only to find out his suspicions have been groundless. Iago is infamous for being one of the most sinister literary antagonists, partially because of his ability to appear honest while manipulating others to achieve his vengeful goal. His soliloquies are the only times when Iago might be suspected of being truthful. They reveal a gap between how the character is presented and how he sees himself. In his own mind, Iago sees his actions as justified and not villainous; while other characters, as well as the audience, might be of different opinion on this matter.

In particular, soliloquies are used to reveal Iago’s plans to the audience. In Act 1 Scene 3, he proclaims his plan to use Cassio’s familiarity with Desdemona to plant seeds of jealousy in Othello’s heart and drive him mad with it. His actions do not correspond well with his motives: “I know not if't be true; but I, for mere suspicion in that kind, will do as if for surety” (Shakespeare, trans.1903, 1.3.394-396). He shows cold-hearted ruthlessness in his plans, gladly sacrificing others in order to get to Othello, in whom he sees his offender. The language Iago uses to describe others is often derogatory: “And will as tenderly be led by the nose as asses are” (Shakespeare, trans.1903, 1.3.405-406). Researcher Marcia Macaulay notes that “Iago represents himself as someone who has been poisoned psychologically by fear, a sense of inadequacy, and hate” (2005, p.264).

Iago’s soliloquy in Act 2 Scene 1 reveals more about his motivation. Before, he acted as if lieutenant’s position has been stolen from him, although it was never promised to him in the first place. Now, he shows the same attitude towards Desdemona, despite having no claims on her as well: “For that I do suspect the lusty Moor hath leap'd into my seat” (Shakespeare, trans.1903, 2.1.304-305). However, his true interest slips between the lines: “Make the Moor thank me, love me and reward me for making him egregiously an ass” (Shakespeare, trans.1903, 2.1.318-319). He manipulates people for the thrill of it, like a sport. Every motivation he claims to have for his revenge plot is but an excuse.

The soliloquy in Act 2 Scene 3 is probably the most revealing of Iago’s own self-image. Despite being honest to himself about the immorality of his actions, he does not believe himself to be inherently wrong. The opening lines say: “And what's he then that says I play the villain?” (Shakespeare, trans.1903, 2.3.335). Questions play an important role in Iago’s rhetoric. It is most obviously used during the “seduction scene” in 4.1. Katalin Tabi comments on this specific of his …

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