Iago’s Success as a Villain in Shakespeare’s Othello
Shakespeare’s plays mostly end in the tragedy of the protagonist due to forces outside himself or due to his own undoing. The Tragedy of Othello is one of these plays. It tells the story of Othello who is a Moor soldier in the service of Venice. He marries Desdemona but kills her because of jealousy and later he kills himself after knowing he has done wrong. Iago, the villain in the story has successfully deceived Othello to believe Desdemona’s infidelity which caused Othello’s ultimate downfall.
Iago’s vengeful attitude motivates him to carry out his plans of destroying Othello, Cassio and all the others who got involved. His envy, anger, love for money, opportunism, and, unfounded jealousy are added to this negative characteristic which makes him a perfect villain. At the beginning of the play, he cannot accept that Othello chose Cassio who only knows more theory than practice in being a soldier over him who is more experienced to be his lieutenant. He is also envious of Cassio’s position. He also wants to get money from Roderigo so he encourages him to pursue after Desdemona’ s love by conniving with him.
He is opportunistic at the same time. Later in the play, it is revealed that Roderigo has given him some jewels that were meant to be gifts for Desdemona. But these were never received by Desdemona. Lastly, he felt an unfounded jealousy towards Othello for sleeping with his wife when he says these lines: For that I do suspect the lusty Moor Hath leaped into my seat; the thought whereof Doth, like a poisonous mineral, gnaw my inwards; And nothing can or shall content my soul Till I am evened with him, wife for wife.
Or failing so, yet that I put the Moor At least into a jealousy so strong. (II. i. 268-274) In the play, Iago is no longer a rational human being but is like a devil that has come to torment the characters in the story. He is a madman manipulating people to the point of insanity. He does not just deceive Othello but he also deceives Roderigo, and Cassio. He encourages Roderigo to wait until Desdemona gets bored with Othello. He manipulates Roderigo so he can continue to provide him with money.
He also deceives Cassio by trying to help him get back to his position as a lieutenant but he is indeed leading him to greater trouble with Desdemona and Othello. He also lies to Montano and convinces him of Cassio’s character and he lies to his wife Emilia about his plans for the handkerchief of Desdemona. To Desdemona, Iago is a “slanderer” (II. i. 112) and “a most profane and liberal counselor” (II. i. 157-159) when he tries to disturb her with unpleasant descriptions. But she tells Cassio that Iago is “an honest fellow” later in Act III Scene III.
To Emilia’s opinion, Iago is helpful because she says to Cassio: “I warrant that it grieves my husband As if the cause were his” (III. iii. 4-5). Before Iago is discovered, Cassio thinks highly of him. He says to Iago: “I humbly thank you for’t. I never knew A Florentine more kind and honest” (III. i. 36-38). Iago is successful as a deceiver due to his ability to convince and persuade people by his sweet words. He also plans out his schemes. He is pretentious, sly, cunning, imaginative and creative in making up stories such as the alleged dream of Cassio.
He is so successful that Othello brings his own downfall. Though Othello is known to be a good person and soldier but with Iago’s lies, he became an irrational man. He trusted Iago more than he should have trusted his wife. If he confirmed the truth first from Desdemona, he would not have been deceived by Iago to believe Desdemona’s alleged infidelity. In conclusion, Shakespeare’s Othello is a great success as a tragedy because of the character of the great villain Iago. Indeed, Iago has triumphed in causing the failure of Othello.