In a spectrum of action, we define an action as either good or bad. There are shades or degrees of good and degrees of bad, sometimes in the middle, sometimes nowhere to be found. The world is a lot more complicated than that and how dull it is to perceive it as "us or them." In this paper, we’ll investigate Iago’s character, his canny ability to manipulate everyone around him, justify his humanity, and what that means moving forward. Thereafter, we will try to parse why it’s so hard to understand him, given that he is not the symbolic representation of evil but simply a human who has gone awry. We will also investigate why we can relate to Othello better and why there is a dichotomy between the two where virtues are more likened than vices. The crux of it all is interpreting Shakespeare’s intentions in creating a character that can smile and laugh and be honest, and be a villain. The reason Iago remains quiet in the end is because there is nothing more to say. The idea that his silence is nakedness opens up for discussion. The idea that at the bottom of it all, there was no justifiable reason for what he did and that attributes to his humanity. The idea that perceiving him as human and not as evil opens up the scope of discussion more.

Iago, perceived as the classical drama villain, succeeds in destroying the protagonist Othello and the curtain falls to a grim ending for both of them. The play Othello shows the true nature of the human character. All humans are evil and good and it is only that sometimes their evil is not exposed. The evil nature of humans is represented by Iago who plots for the fall of Othello because of hatred. Perhaps that too is the reason why Othello is also the simplest of all great tragedies. Iago, derived from the word "ego" and Othello, the Moor of Venice are the two central figures in the play Othello and whilst it is called Othello, it is predominantly Iago-centric. Iago and Othello are two figures who represent virtues and vice. 

The play is excruciatingly simple, compared to Hamlet and Lear, and brings to attention minor details and actions that greatly affect the storyline such as the dropping of the handkerchief. Indeed, Shakespeare acknowledged the persistent nature of cliché plots such as Good & Evil and to the extent that a story should pivot around a traditional moral figure. Nonetheless, the equivocal conclusion is that "Evil is what evil does." When Emilia reveals Iago’s plot to Othello, Othello asks Cassio, "Will you, I pray, demand that demi-devil, why he hath ensnar, ‘d my soul and body?’ The Good asks Evil, "Why" (Shakespeare 35). The premise here is that evil operates without any motives, yet so does good. We assume that both commit actions without an ulterior motive and yet our traditional good figure is asking why? Iago responds, "Demand me nothing, what you know you know. From this time forth I never will speak a word” (Shakespeare 40). If he is a representation of evil, then his only motive is the demise of good or an inclination to bring despair to good. This gray area, a field of ambiguity paralyzes even the audience and leaves a long-lasting impression of not Othello, but Iago in the form of “How could you?”

However, many people criticize the simple plot and character development for Iago without acknowledging the high degree of the evils involved. In this world, murder is the greatest crime that receives a maximum sentence. Critics often criticize Iago’s character development as badly drafted, stupid and dull, for the simplicity in his symbolic representation as evil. Those who commit murder or involvement in murder conspiracies are almost taken with the same weight in the legal context. Crime is the legal term that represents evil. If it were not for Iago, the couple could have led a happy life. Iago’s evil is driven by hatred and it is well-plotted. From the beginning to the end of the play, there are conflicts that were directly or indirectly caused by Iago. All the deaths in the play are caused by Iago directly or indirectly. He is the true epitome of evil. He involves his friends and family in his evil plot. For instance, he involves his wife in the calculated act of taking Desdemona’s handkerchief and places it to where Cassio can find it. All his actions are well-plotted and calculated. For instance, he encouraged Roderigo to pursue his former lover because he was aware of the conflict between Othello and his father-in-law. The hatred toward Othello is motivated by revenge because Othello overlooked him for a military promotion. His evil is so great that he drags other people into it and manipulates them to hate others.

Let us assume, however, that our perception of Iago’s representation is flawed. That Iago’s actions are not all that bad and that he is not evil? Indeed, this proves Shakespeare’s ability to anthropomorphize a character to the degree that we mistakenly do not identify ourselves with, as opposed to archetypes. Shakespeare’s ability to humanize a character and make him troubled by human symptoms is a testament to Iago’s response to Othello’s question regarding his motives. The premise of irrationality turned rational, the good in evil. Iago even knows that he is possessed by jealousy when he says that “O, beware, my lord, of jealousy; It is the green-eyed monster” (Shakespeare 67). It is this jealousy that makes him a bad person in the eyes of the audience. Evil thoughts are always present in humans and it is only a matter of how you handle the evil. People have internal struggles, some motivated by the evil spirit and if people do not succeed in the spiritual warfare, they end up being labeled evil. It is the same case for Iago who is possessed by jealousy and it wins over him and makes him hurt and kill others.

Iago is just another human being who displays emotions when he is not content or satisfied with his life. Humans are emotional beings and when provoked, they can commit the unthinkable. Iago is a victim of circumstances inspired by jealousy when he did not receive the promotion he was eyeing. It is not the first time Iago is jealous. It is only this time around that he dealt with his jealousy in a manly way. He decides to take revenge on the people whose actions led to his self-doubt (Alkoli 418). The only bad thing that Iago did was a failure to admit he has negative emotions. The humanistic emotions trouble Iago and he does not admit what he feels. Humans deal with their emotions and frustrations differently. Others are bold enough to let others know what they feel and if possible they get help. However, Iago decided to deal with his emotions secretly and in the end, it consumed him. It is the evil inside him that makes him look bad. It could be a different ending if Iago sought help for his troubles.

Is it possible for a person to pretend as a good person for so long without raising suspicion? Other people including Othello describe Iago as an honest man. It is because of the good reputation that has earned him his previous promotions to the position of ancient. A man of good reputation involved in evil plots indicates that something is responsible for the changed man. Someone builds his reputation over a long time and good people are ambitious that the world will turn good for them (Alkoli 420). However, it is the opposite because too much expectation leads to disappointments. This might be the case for Iago because all through his life he has been honest and in this perspective, he may have expected to earn him the promotion. Iago was the best-positioned man for the lieutenant position and this but instead, Othello overlooked him for Cassio.

In the end, it is difficult to agree whether Iago is a devil. It is also possible to argue that Iago does not fit well in the extremes of good or evil. In simple terms, he can be described as an unresolvable character before the audience. In the beginning, the audience feels that Iago is evil and they read the whole play with that perspective even when they discover his good qualities. The other version of Iago does not resonate well with the audience because they already understand he is evil and do not want to change their position. Shakespeare tries to raise some sympathy in the audience but all are in vain because they have a predetermined position, created in the introduction. Iago indeed committed evil by lying, manipulating others, and killing but that does not make him the devil. He is just another human being possessed by the evil emotions of jealousy.

Shakespeare used two opposing characters to teach about jealousy. It was supposed to show that all people are prone to jealousy sometimes. If people do not control their jealousy and tame it, they may end up doing the unthinkable. People think that Othello is not evil because he murdered his wife because of jealousy. Why do people have this same perspective towards Iago? Iago and Othello are not different because they commit bad things because of jealousy (Oliven 194). Apart from his evil plans towards Othello, Iago is a decent man. He only committed bad things only after he was provoked by being deprived of what he deserved. His reputation for honesty is overshadowed by his secret plans for revenge. He does not show emotions for others yet he supposedly loves his wife. He does not show concern for anyone but he is concerned for his lack of advancement.

In conclusion, Iago’s character is a puzzle to many because what he claims to be is not what he does.  His silence in the end implies nakedness and that there is nothing he can say to justify his actions. After all humans are emotional and if provoked they can do the unthinkable. Just like many of Shakespeare’s plays, Othello is no less than a tragedy inspired by lies and manipulation. Iago is the man behind the curtains, to blame for all the killings that happened in the play. He possesses both good and evil. For the rest of his life, he has been a good person. But he turns out to be a liar and manipulator. Many people died because of him. He succeeds in his mission of bringing down the man who overlooked him for the supposedly deserving promotion. However, he remains a murder suspect and conspirator. Humans should learn how to control their emotions because they can fall into the pitfalls of desire for revenge. We should not expect too much because it leads to disappointment.

Works Cited

Alkoli, Hind Abdullah, and Shi Ji. "An Analysis of Power Desire of Iago in Shakespeare’s Othello From Psychological Perspectives." Journal of Literature and Art Studies 8.3 (2018): 417-421.

Oliven, Rafael Campos, and Sandra Sirangelo Maggio. "The philosophy of evil: considerations on why we love Shakespearean villains." Cadernos do IL 58 (2019): 191-206.

Rudnytsky, Peter L. "“I Am Not What I Am”: Iago and Negative Transcendence." Formulated Experiences. Routledge, 2019. 187-204.

Shakespeare, William. Othello, the Moor of Venice. Vol. 10. G. Bell, 1875.

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