How is it that a man who has built a reputation for "honesty" can be so villainous? (Some critics see Iago as Shakespeare's most purely evil character.)
How is it that a man who has built a reputation for "honesty" can be so villainous? (Some critics see Iago as Shakespeare's most purely evil character.) Iago has fascinated critics from pretty much the premiere of Othello. What motivates him, do you think?
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Iago has a dual motivation. Cassio has received a promotion that Iago has depended on for himself. Iago has even spent money in anticipation of a raise in pay that he now has to account for. Because Cassio, according to Iago, is not as experienced as he is in the arts of war and military service, this passing over stings. Also he suspects that Othello has slept with his wife, Emilia. While he admits that he has no proof, he says that suspicion serves for proof when one is jealous. Thus to get revenge for both slights, Iago sets out to destroy Othello's new marriage. It must be noted, however, that Iago is never extremely explicit about his motivations. He states at the very beginning that "when my outward action doth demonstrate The native act and figure of my heart In compliment extern, 'tis not long after But I will wear my heart upon my sleeve For daws to peck at: I am not what I am." He vows he will not reveal the contents of his heart to anyone. When he is captured in his plot, his silence regarding his motivations proves his vow.
Iago should serve as a warning to everyone. Villains do not go around with signs on their shirts reading: "I am a villain." Instead, they try to appear friendly and honest in order to disarm people they are plotting against. However, Iago's motivation has never been successfully explained in spite of the fact that you can find many thousands of pages of books and articles trying to do so, even using racism as an explanation. Iago is totally dependent on Othello. If he succeeds in destroying Othello, he will be out of a job himself. We can understand why he would plot against Cassio, but no really good reason for Iago's hatred of Othello is ever given. The business about suspecting that Othello committed adultery with Iago's wife never seems the least bit convincing. When Iago speaks of it, it only seems as if he is just trying to find some excuse for his villainy. At the very end of the play Iago is refusing to explain why he plotted against Othello even though he is going to be tortured. He can't explain why because he doesn't have any good reason.
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