Give examples of Iago's two-faced behaviour. How might an actor convey this?

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droxonian eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Iago's two-facedness is the essence of his character. We see this from the first scene, which suggests that Iago may confide in Roderigo—"Thou told'st me thou didst hold him in thy hate," Roderigo says, and Iago confesses his duplicitous plan: "I follow him to serve my turn upon him." As time goes on, however, it becomes clear that even Roderigo does not receive the truth from Iago, nor his trust; although Iago has, in fact, told him true—"I am not what I am." Only the audience knows the whole of what Iago is doing, the extent of his scheming and the machinations he has set in place to achieve his ends.

One of the most important elements to capture in an actor playing Iago is charm and persuasiveness. From the very beginning, we know that Iago is "two-faced" in his every dealing with Othello, but we also know that Othello is believed to have an unshakeable and respectable nature by the people of the city, which is how he has reached the status he has. Othello is not a stupid man, and Iago must be played with sufficient guile, sympathy, and charisma to make it seem plausible that Othello would believe him, without this indicating that Othello is, himself, an idiot. Rather than casting an actor who generally plays villains for Iago, an effective means of making Iago more convincing through casting would be to cast the sort of open-faced actor who would normally play the hero, and whom the audience—and the characters—would naturally be inclined to trust.

Iago is able to carry out his acts of deepest secrecy exactly because he seems as if he is a loyal and faithful "ancient" with no secrets to hide. Oaths like "By Janus, I think no," could easily be overplayed by Iago for "wink wink" humor, but the best Iago will hold back from trying to engage the audience in his plot when speaking to his on-stage victims, remembering that the audience will not believe him if he seems anything less than genuine.

iambic5 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Iago is “two-faced” at almost every moment in the play. We see him lie outright to practically everyone in the play; in fact the only people who hear the unvarnished truth from Iago is the audience. The audience is in a very uncomfortable position: we see Iago, we hear him lie, and then he turns to us and conveys the simple truth – and then he turns back to the other characters and starts lying again. We see both of his faces at all times, though the characters don’t. Any audience member who shouted what she knows about Iago could stop the play in its tracks…but no one ever does. We are in a way complicit in his behavior, and almost admire his ingenious way of giving legitimately good advice to people in a way that still entraps them.

As far as an actor’s performance, one of the great traps of playing Iago is conveying too strongly how two-faced he is. If Iago seems obviously duplicitous, scheming and stroking his beard in the shadows, then all the other characters suddenly become stupid. An Iago who is obviously scheming and manipulative derails the play, because we wonder why anyone trusts someone so clearly slimy. Better to make Iago the most helpful, most kindhearted person on stage, and let the knowledge of what he really is be shared only with the audience and only when he’s otherwise alone. The mustache-twirling villain isn’t scary, but the best friend who literally stabs his buddy to death at a party sure is.

kiwi eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Iago managed to deceive each of the major characters at some point in the play.

 Firstly, I would use Act II scene 3 where Iago dupes Cassio into drinking himself beyond sense. The actor playing Iago would be able to indicate to camera his contempt for Cassio’s confessed weakness-

 …I have very poor and unhappy
brains for drinking. I could well wish courtesy would
invent some other custom of entertainment

As the carousing continues it would be possible for Iago’s duplicity to be demonstrated by the actor feigning intoxication for Cassio and the others, whilst showing how he is clearly in control to the audience as he engineers Cassio to his downfall.

As Cassio fights with Roderigo, Iago as catalyst for the battle could be portrayed in the ‘darkness’ of the scene – the audience may clearly see Iago provoking the action he then reports to Othello.