Complex & Intriguing Villain in “Othello” By W. Shakespeare
Shakespeare is a playwright who knows how to make a villain complex and intriguing. This can be seen from the play ‘Othello’. Iago is a character who has many layers to him, which can be especially seen in act 2 of Othello. This essay will explain why act 2, scene 3 of Othello is highly important in the play as it is the section which allows the readers to understand Iago and shows us his observant nature which allows him to be a master of manipulation and a good villain.
This scene is particularly important as it shows the reader more about what type of character Iago is and his qualities as a villain. The scene starts with Iago saying, “And what’s he then that says I play the villain? When this advice is free I give and honest.” (II iii 245-246). He knows that he is the villain and still asks that question, the use of this rhetorical device is to produce an effect of doubt. From the start of the scene Iago is seen justifying himself. He states that no one can call him evil as he has given Cassio good advice. This in itself is a form of irony as it is shown in the play that Iago does not have good intentions when he gives advice to other characters.
Throughout the scene, different aspects of Iago’s villainy are clearly displayed. Firstly, we can see his ability to manipulate others and present a duplicitous face to the readers and his victims. The use of the word “honest” by Iago clearly demonstrates his ability to keep his true self hidden and earn the trust of others which he will ultimately abuse. Although the readers first reaction may be to despise Iago for his tricks. The reader also feels an uncomfortable sense of admiration from the scale and skill of his manipulation of others. His word play leaves the reader astounded like when he says, “divinity of hell!” (II iii 259). He is comparing something divine to hell which is the opposite. This can be easily overlooked by the reader but it is important, as he himself is seen as a good man but he is the villian. His public and private persona opposites just like being divine and hell is.
To further prove this, he then states something similar later in the scene, “How am I then a villain. To counsel Cassio to this parallel course. Directly to his good?” (II iii 257-259). Iago is not only tricking the characters in the play, he is tricking the readers themselves. He repeats the word ‘villain’ numerous times and keeps claiming that he is not one, but the word villain itself means, “A character in a story or play who opposes the hero.” (Marriam Webster). By giving Cassio advice he knows is going to upset Othello he is opposing him which makes him the dictionary definition of a villain. This scene overall is important because it gives the reader an idea about just how much of a good villain Iago is.
This scene not only shows the what type of villain Iago is but also shows his observant nature by showcasing how he is going to use Othello and Desdemona’s weaknesses for his own gain. Iago states, “For ’tis most easy. Th’ inclining Desdemona to subdue. In any honest suit. She’s framed as fruitful. As the free elements” (II ii 248-250). Here, Iago makes a comparison of Desdemona’s generous nature to the free elements that exist in nature. What that means is that if something exists in nature everyone is open to take it with no price. This shows that Iago has a great understanding of how Desdemona is as a person. He has deducted that she is a free spirit who is ready to help anyone that needs it, he uses this to his advantage to create his masterplan. He is like an animal looking for his prey and Desdemona just so happens to fit the bill and he makes her a valuable asset in his plan for revenge against Othello. As he knows Othello thinks the world of her, “His soul is so enfettered to her love. That she may make, unmake, do what she list” (II iii 254-255). Iago makes the use of a metaphor to compare Othello’s entire existence to an item or object that is ‘enfettered to her love’.
Enfettered means that a person is enchained. Othello thinks so much of his wife that he is literally chained to her and hates being away from her. He is madly in love with Desdemona and since Iago knows of that fact he makes usage of it. Iago not only knows the qualities that make Othello a good husband he also knows how to make a plan on how to use those good qualities against him so Othello can be led to his demise, he knows exactly what he’s doing as he even states he will ‘enmesh’ them all in his plot. Enmesh means he will deeply tangle them in the plot of his revenge so he knows he is a good villian. He recognizes his own power over others and this is further proven when he says, “I’ll pour pestilence into his ear” (II iii 265) the noun ‘pestilence’ has connotations of disease, poison and even death (Marriam Webster), further leading the reader to assume this play will end in disaster. This scene overall further proves how Iago’s observant nature is his asset and how he uses it to manipulate others.
Overall, this passage of act 2, scene 3 is an irreplaceable part of Othello as it is a scene which develops Iago’s character as a villain and delves into his master plan. It allows the reader to see what makes Iago a good villain and shows how he is a master of manipulation because of his observant nature.
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