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Iago, the Two-Faced Snake

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by David Liang


In William Shakespeare’s tragedy, Othello, the antagonist Iago plays a major role in driving the play forward. Using deceit and treachery, Iago is able to spin a web of lies to ensnare his prey, while still retaining the outward appearance of a virtuous person. This duality is able to create the perfect Two-Faced villain, and Iago uses this to his advantage to achieve his own sinister ends.

In the beginning of the play we can see how Iago is already ‘playing’ a love stricken character by the name of Roderigo, pretending to be his friend and accomplice “I have professed me thy/ friend…” (I.iii.) while actually only “… would time expend with such a snipe / But for […] sport and profit” (I.iii ). In essence, he only keeps Roderigo around for his own gains, not caring about Roderigo or his own struggles. The advice he gives to Roderigo, while occasionally helpful, (“… this advice is free I give and honest” {II.ii}) is never sincere.

Iago is not only capable of of using the skill of deception to fool Roderigo, but he is able to exact his own revenge on Othello, the Moor of Venice as well. Throughout the play, we get a hazy sense as to what is driving him to exact revenge. In the first act he complains to Roderigo that he has been snubbed for lieutenancy, but even when he is able to remove Cassio from his office, he still continues to torture Othello with rumors of Desdemona’s infidelity. We get the sense that this could be because of racism “… an old black ram…” (I.i), or possibly because Iago believes Othello has had an affair with Emilia “… ‘twixt my sheets/ He has done my office…” (I.iii). But either way Iago is able to manipulate and torture Othello, while the latter recognizes him as “…good Iago,” (II.i) and “Honest Iago…”(II.iii). Even at the very end, when Iago’s plot is complete, Iago swears that he will “never speak word.” (V.ii), shrouding any explicit motive in darkness.

But it is Iago’s moving of his ‘pawns’, Desdemona, Emilia and Cassio, that make him such an interesting villain. With skill and manipulation, Iago is able to set the stage for a perfect storm. His is able to turn the smallest mishap, ie. Desdemona’s drop of the handkerchief, into binding evidence of an affair by planting it on Cassio using his wife as the unwitting middleman. “O thou dull Moor! that handkerchief thou speak’st of/ I found by fortune and did give my husband;/ […] He begg’d of me to steal it.” (V.ii) He is able to convince Othello that his lewd conversation with Cassio about Bianca is about Desdemona, stirring Othello into an inconsolable rage. It is Iago’s use of Desdemona’s virtue against herself, that truly shows how dexterous Iago is in exploiting others. “And by how much she strives to do him good,/She shall undo her credit with the Moor./So will I turn her virtue into pitch,/And out of her own goodness make the net/That shall enmesh them all.” (II.iii) For a while, Iago’s net is carefully spun, each piece put into an exact position, ready for the finishing move.

In the end, however, it all falls apart. Iago is revealed as a two-faced liar, and is sentenced to be tortured and killed. His wife dead, his commander slain, and his fate sealed, it truly shows that deceit and treachery will only get one so far.



1 Comment

  1. Paul Thompson says:

    Amazing Title


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