Villainous Iago of Othello
Who can compare in depth of evil to the villainous Iago in William Shakespeare’s tragic drama Othello? His villainy is incomparably destructive on all of those around him.
Iago’s very language reveals the level at which his evil mind works. Francis Ferguson in “Two Worldviews Echo Each Other” describes the types of base, loathsome imagery used by the antagonist Iago when he “slips his mask aside” while awakening Brabantio:
Iago is letting loose the wicked passion inside him, as he does from time to time throughout the play, when he slips his mask aside. At such moments he always resorts to this imagery of money-bags, treachery, and animal lust and violence. So he expresses his own faithless, envious spirit, and, by the same token, his vision of the populous city of Venice – Iago’s “world,” as it has been called. . . .(132)
Iago is the “perfect” bad guy in the sense that his type is just what the audience of 400 years ago expected. Louis B. Wright and Virginia A. LaMar in “The Engaging Qualities of Othello” comment on how the character of Iago is the wholly expected type of villain for an Elizabethan audience:
Iago at once captures the attention of the spectator. He is the personification of the villain that Elizabethans had come to expect from Italian short stories and from Machiavellian commentary. Villains of this type, as well as those of domestic origin, had long been popular on the stage. From the days of the mystery and morality plays, the characters personifying evil invariably had gripped the attention of audiences, for iniquity always stirs more popular excitement than virtue. (127)
First of all, Iago’s very words paint him for what he is. Robert Di Yanni in “Character Revealed Through Dialogue” states that the evil antagonist reveals his character quite plainly through his speech:
Iago’s language reveals his coarseness; he crudely reduces sexual love to animal copulation. It also shows his ability to make things happen: he has infuriated Brabantio. The remainder of the scene shows the consequences of his speech, its power to inspire action. Iago is thus revealed as both an instigator and a man of crude sensibilities. (123)
David Bevington in William Shakespeare: Four Tragedies enlightens us on the ancient:
Iago’s machinations yield him both “sport” and “profit” (1.3.387); that is, he enjoys his evildoing, although he is also driven by a motive. This Vice-like behavior inhuman garb creates a restless sense of a dark metaphysical reality lying behind his visible exterior. Even his stated motives do not always make sense. When in an outburst of hatred he soliloquizes that “I hate the Moor; / And it is thought abroad that twixt my sheets / He’s done my office,” Iago goes on to concede the unlikelihood of this charge. [. . .] The charge is so absurd, in fact, that we have to look into Iago himself for the origin of...