Antonio, the chief villain in William Shakespeare’s play The Tempest, in some ways resembles Iago, the chief villain in Shakespeare’s play Othello. Antonio acts as a tempter to Sebastian in much the same way that Iago acts as a tempter to Roderigo. However, not only does Antonio tempt Sebastian to do evil, but he also, like Iago, concocts evil plans and manipulates Sebastian as Iago manipulates Roderigo. Both villains are skilled at using clever language and false reasoning to persuade the men they tempt. Both Antonio and Iago seem to have contempt for the idea of moral or conscientious behavior, as in the following exchange in The Tempest:
Sebastian. But, for your conscience?
Antonio. Ay, sir; where lies that? if 'twere a kibe,
'Twould put me to my slipper: but I feel not
This deity in my bosom: twenty consciences,
That stand 'twixt me and Milan, candied be they
And melt ere they molest!
Finally, both Antonio and Iago seek to persuade others to commit murder, perhaps the worst of all crimes.
Significantly, however, Antonio fails in his attempts, whereas Iago succeeds all too horribly. Antonio, after all, is a character in a kind of play (a “romance”) that has much in common with comedy. Dead bodies abound at the end of Othello; in contrast, everyone manages to survive by the end of The Tempest. Iago is perhaps the greatest, most frightening villain Shakespeare ever created; next to him, Antonio is a rank amateur.
The same is true of Antonio in comparison with another great Shakespearean villain: the title character of his play Richard III. Richard, like Iago, is shameless in his evil. He is intelligent, articulate, clever, and totally unprincipled. Again, Antonio seems a “piker” compared to Richard III. In The Tempest, Shakespeare created a villain who pales in comparison with some of the villains he had earlier created.