Iago is evil personified. In the play 'Othello' Shakespeare uses Iago to create dramatic irony. Iago deceives all of the main characters in the play: Othello, Desdemona, Cassio, Roderigo and even his wife Emilia. He is the catalyst for all of the tragic events of the play: he engineers Othello's belief that his wife is unfaithful with Cassio; leads Desdemona to believe she is supporting her husband in the plea to reinstate Cassio; draws Cassio into drunkenness ensuring he loses his position and manipulates Roderigo for money over his unrequited love for Desdemona. Emilia is duped in to giving him the handkerchief which he uses to 'prove' Cassio's affair wirh Desdemona.
Iago shares his machinations with the audience in the form of his soliloquies, and as a result we are able to witness the cruelty of his actions, the sophistication of his evil plans and the gullibility of the other characters.
And what's he then that says I play the villain?
When this advice is free I give and honest,
Iago is one of the worst villains in Shakespeare's plays, perhaps one of the most evil villains in all of literature. Why? Because he is so duplicitious in his evil. So many of the characters in the play Othello trust Iago. In fact, many count him as their good friend, including Othello himself. On the surface, he acts like a friend, ostensibly helping everyone out. Othello depends on Iago as his trusted advisor. Roderigo trusts Iago's plan to get rid of Othello so that he can move in on Othello's wife, Desdemona. Iago's own wife (Emilia, Desdemona's servant) allows herself to be manipulated by him. Iago double crosses them all. What drives him?
In the opening scene of the play, Iago claims that Othello passed him over for a promotion. He vows vengeance.
"Despise me If I do not. Three great ones of the city (In personal suit to make me his lieutenant) Off-capped to him, and by the faith of man I know my price, I am worth no worse a place."
This is not really true, however. Further, Iago is a racist. He hates the fact that the black Moor, Othello, has a beautiful white wife, Desdemona. This hatred also figures into his plan to bring about the downfall of Othello.
Iago's constant scheming against characters that he purports to be helping adds intense drama to the play. Remember that we, the audience, know that Iago is evil, and we keep waiting for the others to figure it out. The play is full of suspense. What is intriguing about Iago is the real reason for his vindictiveness toward Othello. Othello respects and trusts Iago and has given him an important position. Surely Iago's racism isn't what inspires this evil. Many compare Iago to satan, who is evil for the sake of being evil. Satan (who was once Lucifer, the angel of light) doesn't always go around "like a roaring lion." Sometimes he is a wolf in sheep's clothing. If we see a sheep, we don't run away. But if we see a lion, we know we should fear it. Iago is like this - an evil man to be feared, disguised as a friend. Othello is an exciting and intriguing play because of the characterization of Iago.
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