Iago in Othello
In William Shakespeare’s tragic drama Othello we see a morally depraved character, perhaps a very mentally sick individual, named Iago. His personality and development during the play is the subject of this essay.
In Shakespeare’s Four Giants Blanche Coles comments on the mental illness that appears to afflict the despicable Iago:
When such old time critics as H. N. Hudson, who wrote nearly a hundred years ago, saw that Iago was not acting from revenge, one is more than surprised to find modern critics, who have had the advantage of the progress that has been made in the study of abnormal psychology, accepting Iago for anything but what he is, and what ...view middle of the document...
She concludes that he is a “slanderer” and that he is full of “old fond paradoxes to make fools laugh in th’ alehouse.”
His clever machinations cause grief for every character who has continued contact with him. He deceives Roderigo about the affections of Desdemona: “Desdemona is directly in love with him [Cassio].” He deceptively lures Cassio into drunkenness where he is vulnerable to taunts and thus loses his officership. He further lures him into Desdemona’s presence so that Othello can find him there and be more suspicious: “Was not that Cassio parted from my wife?”. Iago misinforms Montano regarding Cassio (“And ‘tis great pity that the noble Moor / Should hazard such a place as his own second / With one of an ingraft infirmity.”) Iago uses Emilia to pass the kerchief, which “so often you did bid me steal,” to him rather than to its owner. He manipulates the Moor into incorrect views about Desdemona, about Iago himself (“Iago is most honest.”), about Cassio’s relationship with Desdemona, etc. Iago even diverts suspicion of the ambush against Cassio against his prostitute-friend Bianca. In cold blood he eventually murders his gift-giver, Roderigo, so that the wealthy playboy can’t discover that Iago has been stealing the jewelry rather than giving it to Desdemona. Likewise, in cold blood he stabs his wife of some years because she stands up for the truth. His psychopathic behavior has disastrous consequences for those who listen to him.
Iago’s treachery is initially repulsed by Othello and his young wife in the council chamber at Venice before the duke as judge. From the episode there is one casualty, Brabantio, who remains a lifelong enemy of not only the Moor but also of his own daughter, denying her permission to live temporarily in his home during the campaign against the Otomites. Later in Cyprus, it seems that Iago’s treachery against Cassio might be cancelled out by the efforts of Desdemona (“I do beseech you / That by your virtuous means I may again / Exist, and be a member of his love / Whom I with all the office of my heart / Entirely honor”), but no, Iago has already influenced Othello too deeply, converting him to a strong suspicion against Cassio and Desdemona: “I’ll tear her all to pieces!” The wife’s appeals for Cassio only work to further enrage the general and drive nail after nail into her own coffin. The ancient’s psychopathic plan comes unhinged because of her change in...