Nature of Man by William Shakespeare
Though the reasons for William Shakespeare creating such sinister character as Iago is unknown, it can be seen as commentary on the inexplicable evil that exists in the world and how good and innocent men can fall victim to it. In Othello, Shakespeare creates a psychopathic character named Iago that visits the extremes of man’s depravity, fueled by sordid emotions whilst adhering to no morality who commits reprehensible and inscrutable actions often with little to no reason other than his own pleasure of manipulation of innocents and blind vengeance.
Roderigo, upon Othello’s marriage with Desdemona, is blinded by his jealousy which Iago wields to manipulate him in promise of his own chance at Desdemona; however, it is readily apparent that Iago, in actuality, holds no concern for Roderigo and instead only uses him for his own purpose and pleasure, showing how psychopaths manipulate everyone they encounter. Though it seems Iago has developed friendship with Roderigo on common grounds of getting revenge against the Moor, this sentiment is quickly dismissed by Iago ridiculing him behind his back and entertaining himself as if he “would time expend with such snipe, /if not for my sport and profit” (1.3.376-377), highlighting early into the play just what kind of man Iago is before the audience fully see the extent of Iago’s deceptiveness. Capitalizing on Roderigo’s jealousy and naivete, Iago is able to exploit him as a pawn purely for his revenge against Othello and to fill his own pocket in the meantime.
Later into the play, Roderigo gets a sense of Iago’s manipulation and goes to confront him, only for Iago to sway him once more by exploiting his weakness, promising “If thou the next night followings enjoy not Desde-/ mona, take me from this world with treachery and/ Devise engines for my life” (4.2.215-217), again, using Roderigo’s blind want of Desdemona for his own use, this time going so far as to convincing Roderigo to kill Cassio by “knocking out his brains” (4.2.230) in order to prevent Othello and Desdemona from leaving Cyprus. Through this action, Roderigo retains his chance and Desdemona; moreover, Iago upholds his promise to kill Cassio, but does so through a proxy to which all blame would go in order to raise no suspicion, showing how Iago considered Roderigo a dispensable tool for his retribution and how quickly Iago was ready to dispose of him. The same relationship of feigned interest and ultimate betrayal parallels that of Iago and Cassio, establishing that Iago has no true allegiance but to himself.
Although Iago seems incapable of real emotion, his jealousy is what fueled him to destroy the life of Cassio by exploiting his weakness, because of his belief that he was more deserving of the title of lieutenant instead of Cassio, to which the title went to instead, following Shakespeare’s theme of jealousy, showing that not only does Iago exploit the jealousy of others, he himself is dictated by it. He first show his jealousy of Cassio when he talks of his military career as “Mere prattle without practice, / Is all his soldiership” (1.1.23-24), saying that he is undeserving of the title of lieutenant due to the fact that Cassio has never been a military leader before, unlike Iago who has been in charge of a multitude of deployments and is therefore an obvious better pick for the rank.
Although his jealousy played a big part of his intention to undermine Cassio, given his pattern of apathy and underhandedness, it is almost certain that Iago would have ruined Cassio’s life regardless of his emotions towards him. When planning Cassio’s downfall, Iago mentions that “He hath a person and a smooth dispose/ To be suspected — framed to make women false” (1.3.388-389), turning his closeness with Emilia and Desdemona against him, enforcing the idea that Iago would have destroyed Cassio’s life regardless of his connection with him seeing as how he puts his own wife in the cross hairs in order to seek vengeance through an innocent woman. Furthering Iago’s display of immorality, he is shown exploiting Cassio through his friendship of Emilia and Desdemona, showing the extent of his psychopathy as he jumps at any chance to seek revenge on both Cassio and Othello with absolutely no repentance for any possible repercussions to those around him. Although Iago may be jealous of Cassio receiving the rank of lieutenant, the jealousy also translates to anger towards Othello for overlooking him.
The ultimate goal of all Iago’s actions was the complete destruction of Othello’s life, which comes to fruition as Othello realizes his mistakes in light of the recent revelation of the extent of Iago’s deceptiveness and unscrupulousness in which everyone becomes privy to the shocking level Iago is willing to sink to, exploring his complete lack of morality and empathy as he indirectly killed four people and has to be subjected to torture before he will even suggest a motive. As touched on previously, Iago hates Othello for overlooking him in promotion of rank; however, another reasoning for Iago’s indignance towards the Moor arises when “it is thought abroad, that ‘twixt my sheets,/as done my office” (1.3.377.379). Iago’s psychopathy is never more apparent with this display of a burst of irrational anger and jealousy: he predicates his entire endeavor to destroy the lives of Othello and those around him based on a baseless accusation.
The amalgamation of all his reasons for vengeance shows that he too is controlled by jealousy, and his evil intentions reveal the depth of his villainy unfounded by rationality, showing that Iago operates without reason. Though Iago does have reason to harbor hatred towards Othello, he had no reason to go so far as he did, and despite any attempts to force reason for his actions, at the end, the series of events where Othello tells Iago that “If that thou be’st a devil, I cannot kill thee.” (5.2.283) then proceeds to stab him, only for Iago to respond, “I bleed, sir, but not killed” (5.2.284) definitively shows the audience that Iago will never rationalize his actions no matter how much it is tried. The comparison of Iago to the devil, along with showing that he is unwavering in his stance on silence when he tells Othello, “Demand me nothing. What you know, you know. / From this time forth I never will speak word” (5.2.299-300), shows the audience that Iago would never be able to be forced into saying and thus will never rationalize his actions to anyone.
The play of Othello introduced a physical manifestation of unscrupulous immorality through Iago with his psychopathic tendency of manipulation without second thought. Through the development of Iago’s plan to sabotage Othello’s life by any means necessary, the audience is exposed to the extreme depths he goes to with his displays of analyzing the weaknesses of each characters then exploiting it. The monstrous nature of Iago, that of remorseless cruelty fueled by his own jealousy of Cassio and Othello, goes beyond Shakespeare’s theme of the play which is that good men can be blinded by the nature of jealousy, and instead shows that everyone, good or bad, can be manipulated by the nature of man.
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