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An “Honest” Liar

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by Addison Spier

Webster’s dictionary defines being two-faced as “ not honest or sincere : saying different things to different people in order to get their approval instead of speaking and behaving honestly.” Iago is an extremely guileful, evil, manipulative and two-faced character in the play Othello, written by William Shakespeare. To other characters in the play, he seems to be a kind and honest man; we the readers know and understand the true, hateful Iago. We quickly see Iago’s two-facedness at the start of the play. Iago explains to Roderigo that he plans to take advantage of Othello, saying, “O sir, content you./ I follow him to serve my term upon him./ We cannot all be masters, nor all masters/ Cannot be truly followed (…) I’m following him, I follow but myself./ Heaven is my judge, not I for love and duty,/ But seeming so, for my peculiar end (…) I am not what I am.” (I.i. 45-68). Iago explains that he acts good to Othello in order to trick him, which sets us up for the rest of the play.

Iago’s manipulative skills show his two sides to the audience throughout the play, while the other characters only get to see is false side; his kind and honest side. Othello grows to love and trust Iago and truly believe he is an honest man. Iago seems so innocent and kind; nobody would expect him to be as evil as he is. Othello repeatedly refers to Iago as honest and good, and this reputation, that Iago made everyone believe, is what really helped him to carry out his plan for as long as he did. Iago, in a way, blinds Othello with his lies. Othello is not able to consider that Iago could be lying because he quickly trusts him so much. At the end of the play, right after he kills Desdemona, Othello explains to Emilia why he did this horrible, sickly deed. He tells her it is because her husband told him what she did; Emilia knows it isn’t true. He tells Emilia, “He, woman./ I say thy husband. Dost understand the word?/ My friend, thy husband; honest, honest Iago.” (V.ii.187-189). As readers who know exactly what is going on, it is hard to understand how people see him as a good man. Iago carries so much hatred towards most of the other characters. We can see his jealous side through the hatred as well. His negative feelings towards the other characters is what causes him to take action the way he does. He hates Othello for allowing Cassio to be lieutenant, and he hates Cassio for taking his spot as lieutenant; he is jealous of him. He doesn’t care about anybody but himself, and will do anything to get what he wants and thinks he deserves.

We as readers are able to see the light, “honest” and “good”, and dark, evil and manipulative, sides of Iago and we know that he is not the honest and good Iago that the other characters see him as. He may be able to fool them, but he can’t fool us. We see his true self as he talks to the audience and lets us in on what is really going on. He is smart with his work, and knows exactly what to do and how to do it in order to reach his goal.



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