by Julian Fertitta
“Truth is as straight as an arrow, while a lie swivels like a snake.” – Suzy Kassem.
One of the most iconic and well-known characters in Shakespeare’s play Othello is the evil and deceiving Iago. His impressively intricate web of lies and tricks have placed him in history as one of the most devious characters in literature. He interacts in some way with almost every character in the play, and leaves an impact on every one of them, either with his twisted lies or even killing them in cold blood. He starts off the play in dialogue with a man named Rodrigo who is in love with Desdemona, the daughter of the Venetian senator Brabantio. In Act 1 scene 1, we are quickly introduced to Iago and his deceptive and cruel personality when he says “O, sir, content you; I follow him (Othello) to serve my turn upon him: We cannot all be masters, nor all masters/ Cannot be truly follow’d.” (I.i.45-46)
Here he’s talking about how he secretly doesn’t serve Othello, and doesn’t actually respect him as his master. This whole conversation shows what kind of character Iago is, traitorous and a real backstabber. This line encapsulates Iago’s motivation and shows his true colors, giving us an idea of what to expect from him in the future.
Despite his ridiculously over the top idea of revenge, Iago is actually a very smart and cunning man. Even though he has all of this aggression and evil intent inside him, he still manages to give off the impression that he is a kind and honest man who simply wants the best for other people. He really fools the other characters in the play, as they all praise him for his “honesty” until they discover that he has been lying to all of them the whole time. For instance, his nickname is quite literally “Honest Iago”. Othello, and many of the other characters, refer to him as this often. The level of trust that everyone has for him is very impressive, and obviously took years to form in most cases considering it can be difficult to gain someone’s loyalty and respect in the military.
The only character who seems to be catching on to Iago is Emilia, Iago’s wife. However, he still fools her several times as well. She clearly loves him much more than he loves her, but when she finds out that he planted the handkerchief on Cassio, she doesn’t seem to doubt that this was something her husband would have done. “If he say so, may his pernicious soul/ Rot half a grain a day! he lies to the heart.” (V.ii.190-192). She stood up to him and called him out on what he did, despite her love for him. She ends up being killed for standing up to him, but at that point she was the first person to do it. If she had not spoken, Iago might have gotten away with his almost perfect plan.
We can clearly see that Iago is an incredibly deceptive and dark character and is not the “Honest Iago” that most characters thought. He is the only character to have direct dialogue with the audience, which can be a great window into the deep and twisted mind that he has. It’s hard to imagine that anyone could trust Iago, but when we look back at the way he communicates with the other characters, we can see that he is a master of deception and seems to always be one step ahead.