Shakespeare’s Iago is one of Shakespeare’s most complex villains. At first glance Iago’s character seems to be pure evil. However, such a villain would distract from the impact of the play and would be trite.
Shakespeare to add depth to his villain makes him amoral, as opposed to the typical immoral villain. Iago’s entire scheme begins when the “ignorant, ill-suited” Cassio is given the position he desired. Iago is consumed with envy and plots to steal the position he feels he most justly deserves. Iago deceives, steals, and kills to gain that position.
However, it is not that Iago pushes aside his conscience to commit these acts, but that he lacks a conscience to begin with. Iago’s amorality can be seen throughout the play and is demonstrated by his actions.
For someone to constantly lie and deceive one’s wife and friends, one must be extremely evil or, in the case of Iago, amoral. In every scene in which Iago speaks one can point out his deceptive manner.
Iago tricks Othello into beleiving that his own wife is having an affair, without any concrete proof. Othello is so caught up in Iago’s lies that he refuses to believe Desdemona when she denies the whole thing. Much credit must be given to Iago’s diabolical prowess which enables him to bend and twist the supple minds of his friends and spouse. In today’s society Iago would be called a psychopath without a conscience not the devil incarnate.
Iago also manages to steal from his own friend without the slightest feeling of guilt. He embezzles the money that Roderigo gives him to win over Desdemona. When Roderigo discovers that Iago has been hoarding his money he screams at Iago and threatens him. However, when Iago tells him some fanciful plot in order to capture Desdemona’s heart Roderigo forgets Iago’s theft and agrees to kill Cassio.
Iago’s keen intellect is what intrigues the reader most. His ability to say the right things at the right time is what makes him such a successful villain. However, someone with a conscience would never be able to keep up such a ploy and deceive everyone around him. This is why it is necessary to say that Iago is amoral, because if you don’t his character becomes fictional and hard to believe.
At the climactic ending of the play, Iago’s plot is given away to Othello by his own wife, Emilia. Iago sees his wife as an obstacle and a nuisance so he kills her. He kills her not as much out of anger but for pragmatic reasons. Emilia is a stumbling block in front of his path.
She serves no purpose to him anymore and she can now only hurt his chances of keeping the position he has been given by Othello. Iago’s merciless taking of Emilia’s and Roderigo’s lives is another proof of his amorality.
If one looks in modern day cinema, one will see the trite villain, evil to the core. Shakespeare took his villains to a higher level.
He did not make them transparent like the villains of modern cinema. He gave his villains depth and spirit. Iago is a perfect example of “Shakespeare’s villain.” His amorality and cynicism give, what would be a very dull character, life.
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