by Binz DeWalch
Iago In Othello exemplifies an amazingly complex and interesting character. His diabolical plans cause so much suffering and pain, that it’s hard to believe that one man could be evil enough to desire such torture on another person. His plans show that he takes a similar path as Othello not being born cruel but rather a once honest man slowly driven mad and transfigured into a cruel unforgiving man by the thought that his wife could possibly be cheating on him.
Iago on the surface seems helpful and sympathetic to all of the characters (excluding Emilia), but in reality he is a wrecking ball, ready to tear down anything that gets in his way. Most of the characters think of him as one of their closest allies, which leads to their downfall. He holds a grudge against most of the characters in the book, and to the others he is in reality quite unsympathetic. But he may not have always been that way. For someone to gain trust, they must first earn it. Iago throughout the book is described as “A man he is of honest and trust” (I.iii.279) and “most honest” (II.iii.7), by the two men he plots to destroy. Iago must have earned their trust for them to think so highly of him, so Iago was not always evil because he must have been an honest man at one point in his life to gain trust. Iago is changed by the thought that his wife is cheating on him. He devotes what is left of his life to getting revenge on the people he thinks were involved in his wife’s affair. Shakespeare hints at the fact that Othello and Iago are actually a lot alike emotionally, suggesting that Iago could have taken the same steady path to madness. They both think their wife is cheating on them and then react very drastically towards hearing the information, both resorting to violence to restore their honor. Iago can’t even bear the thought that his wife may have cheated on him, as evidenced when he says, “it is thought abroad, that ‘twixt my sheets, He has done my office: I know not if’t be true; But I, for mere suspicion in that kind, will do as if for surety” (I.iii.430-433). Iago was a good man before hearing the rumor that his wife cheated on him. His emotions while stagnant and hidden are as strong as when Othello says this about Emilia, “I will chop her into messes: cuckold me!” (IV.i.152). Iago thinks that his wife Emilia cheated on him with other men including Cassio, and Othello, so he plots their downfalls just like Othello. Not only is it enough for Iago to kill these men, but he wants to take away their honor and make them feel like they were dead. This much hate shows that Iago was severely affected emotionally by the rumors that his wife was cheating on him. We’ve seen both character’s slowly driven mad (starting at different stages) to prove a point. Shakespeare is trying to show that evil people don’t always start out evil. Some may say that Othello isn’t as bad as Iago and that he was tricked, but was Iago not also deceived into doing his dark deeds? They both kill their wives, and both organize the killings of the “wrongdoers” as revenge for the alleged affairs they think their wives committed. Towards the end most everyone takes pity on Othello, but does he really deserve more than Iago? They both acted on poor reasoning and lack of conclusive evidence and did terrible deeds. They both should be punished for their actions, however the only difference in their punishment should be that Iago is punished further for deceiving Othello.
Iago’s slow descent into madness is hard to see at first glance, but is really capitalized when he says “How am I then a villain to counsel Cassio to this parallel course, directly to his good? Divinity of hell!” (II.iii.368-370). In this scene Iago is denying that he is really the bad guy, and then comes to the realization that he knows what he is doing is wrong and accepts that he is truly doing what he is doing for an evil purpose. Finally, at the end they see him for the scoundrel that he is and they sentence him to be tortured for his crime. Shakespeare is trying to teach us a lesson. He is trying to teach us not to judge books by their covers. He uses Iago and Othello as examples of how you can have two different perspectives about two people who commit the same crime, just because you are more familiar with one’s background.