Othello A Villainous Tragedy Essay Research Paper

Othello: A Villainous Tragedy Essay, Research Paper

Throughout all of literary history there have been two basic types of characters the

protagonist, or hero, and the antagonist, or villain. Perhaps the greatest villain of all time is most

greatly expressed in Shakespeare s tragedy Othello. The villain, Iago, would hold a place in any

dictionary, next to the word villain better than any antagonist in the history of all written or

spoken word, rivaled only by Satan himself. He expresses evil, deceit, and wickedness in the

purest of forms. These are the qualities that make Iago the total antithesis of heroism.

From the very beginning of the play it is clear that Iago is an evil figure. He clearly states

in the first scene his undying hatred for the hero, Othello. At first glance such hatred seems

unfounded. The only explanation that he gives in the beginning to the rather rubish character

Roderigo, is that he wants revenge for being passed over for a promotion to lieutenant by his

commander, Othello. We later find that he has an underlying, ridiculously unfounded jealousy

that Othello has slept with his wife, Emilia. Those are only superficial reasonings for his hate,

though. The real characteristics that make up his depravity and keep his machination of revenge

alive are as innumerable as they are evil. An entire essay could be written on that subject alone.

The most obvious characteristic keeps him going is his ability to uphold a facade of being honest

and trustworthy. This is done mostly by playing a role as a reluctant truth-teller. Through this,

he gains the blind trust of Othello, Roderigo, and almost every other character in the play. This

makes him very convincing, which is another characteristic that is so vital to the success of his

plot. The ease with which he convinces Roderigo to play along in his scheme is one of the most

essential elements in that scheme. The complete control over almost all of the characters in the

play that he exerts makes the entire play, the title notwithstanding, his own. Another principle

that keeps the corrupt blood flowing through his plot is the element of chaos that is so violently

played out. The total breakdown of civic order that occurs at Cyprus, but was impossible in

Venice, allows his artistically constructed scheme to come into being. Without this chaos, Iago s

cunning, ruthlessness, and total lack of conscience would be suppressed and his evil plan would

be unable to unfurl. He is the total antithesis of the absolute love between Othello and his wife,

Desdemona. What Iago represents is nullity, chaos, and nonbeing. He uses Othello s trust and

Desdemona s purity to not only defeat his victims, but to unmake them. There are also several

instances where Iago happens upon pure, blind luck. In these instances Iago s plot would

certainly crumble if it had not been for his good fortune. In one instance where he is running an

extremely high risk of a meeting between Othello and Cassio, the man who obtained the position

of lieutenant that Iago so desperately desired, Othello just happens to fall faint as Cassio

approaches. A meeting between these two would have surely brought Iago s plot crashing down.

As it can be inferred, Iago is the most essential character in this literary work. This is a

work of purely domestic tragedy centered around three principle characters, of which Iago has

complete control. There are no counterplots against Iago to be spoke of, because no one but he

and the audience is aware of his terrible machination. This brings about an astounding swiftness

in the development of the plot. Because he is the central character, Iago is the character that

brings about the most development of the plot. To get his scheme started, the actions of which

are basically the plot itself, he enlists the help of the melodramatic fool Roderigo. Roderigo

follows Iago s orders with the blind incentive of Desdemona s love that Iago assures him can be

won. This following of orders is what incites the development of the plot. Iago moves the plot

even further along by abusing the trust of Othello and convincing him that his wife is sleeping

with Cassio. Iago s un-self-concious evil is displayed as he invites the audience to witness his

project as if it were, and in a sense, is, a work of art. Iago also uses keen observation of

seemingly ineffectual events to play an important role in his scheme. In the end, it is a gathering

of these presumably insignificant occurrences that makes the entire plot. Who would think that

an item as petty as a handkerchief could drive a man to madness? Iago s observation of the

importance of Othello s gift of a handkerchief to Desdemona played one of the most essential

roles in the play. Noticing this, Iago enlisted his wife and Desdemona s handmaid, Emilia, to

obtain the object. He then uses it to incite an outrageous jealousy in Othello by planting it in

Cassio s room. Othello witnesses Cassio in possession of the handkerchief and infers that it was

Desdemona that gave it to him as a gift. This drives Othello stark-raving mad with a jealousy of

infidelity. The plot and Othello s relationship with Desdemona spiral downward into madness

from that point on.

The play s protagonist and tragic hero, Othello, is a Moor, which suggests an Arabic

descent, but in context it is suggested that Othello is black. It was unusual at the time for a hero

to be of a race that in Elizabethan England was generally characterized as being lecherous,

cunning, and vicious. Othello, when we meet him, is none of these, he is actually noble and

heroic figure. His very nobility and honest nature actually turn out to be his flaws that allow

Iago to skew his love for Desdemona into a maddening jealousy. There is never a question of

Othello s greatness. He and Desdemona share a love that is absolute and true. He is also a

figure of great importance in Venice despite his race. He has the ability to appoint military

officers, converse freely with high-ranking officials, and marry a Senator s daughter. Even with

all his power, in a white society, his race leaves him vulnerable. With this vulnerability, Othello

is a very insecure man. This allows Iago to plant seeds of doubt that readily grow into plants of

fruition and jealousy. Once the jealousy is fully developed in Othello he is a very changed man.

We see once noble and trusting man turn into an extremely volatile and vicious monster.

Othello abandons all reason for infuriating jealousy. His fall into savagery parallels him to the

Elizabethan stereotype of the classic Moor. Iago has perverted his mind so much that he will not

even listen to truth when it presents itself to him. He doesn t even speak in the same manner as

he did at the beginning of the play. He has traded in a noble dialect for savage, tourette-esque

outbursts. By the end of the play, Othello has regained some of his nobility, but has allowed

Iago to pervert his thoughts. We witness this when he is in the bedchamber with Desdemona and

he is speaking, once again, in a noble tone, but his reasoning is obscured. He believes that he

has to kill Desdemona as a being of divine justice. He reasons that he must not let betray other

men. He is so deluded that he actually believes that he is being merciful by allowing her a last

prayer and by not scarring her body. At this point, Othello has been pushed so far over the edge

that all hope of returning to his once-noble self is lost. When he is made aware of the true

situation he cannot bare it and he ends up taking his own life.

Up until the end of the play, it seems that Poetic justice will not be brought about for the

evil Iago. Poetic justice, in this case comes from and unlikely source, Iago s own wife, Emilia.

At one point in the story Emilia is actually Iago s accomplice; she obtained the handkerchief that

allowed so much jealousy to be set ablaze. Her role as Iago s accomplice ends, and her role in

his destruction begins when Othello comes to her to question his wife s infidelity. She gives a

spirited defense of her mistress which gives her a prominent stand on the side of the forces of

right. She begins to instill justice when she enters Desdemona s room after Othello has

strangled her. She tells Othello that Roderigo has died and that Cassio has only been wounded

where Othello thought he had been slain. Desdemona revives for a short while to declare her

husband innocent of her murder. Othello then tells Emilia of how her husband had told him of

his wife s infidelities. Emilia then calls for a crowd to be gathered in the bedchamber where she

denounces Iago with having lied to his master. Emilia goes on to explain Iago s deception.

Othello does not realize how he had been tricked until Emilia reveals how Iago used the

handkerchief. Enraged by this he lashes out at Iago but is disarmed. In the following confusion

Iago stabs his wife and flees. He is captured a short time later and Lodovico, Desdemona s

kinsman, then reveals letters that he found on Roderigo s body that further incriminate Iago and

he decrees that Iago be tortured to death. In the end, when Iago lashes out at his wife, he is in

essence, unleashing a fury at himself. He has deceived everyone else in the play, and in the end,

it is the one who is least expected that asserts justice upon him: his wife.

Iago is a master of deception and manipulation who masterfully brought about the

uncreation of his rival through ingenious techniques. He not only uses his powers to bring about

destruction, he uses his victims own strengths against them. He is also the centerpiece of this

tragedy that conveys the plot and he does so very well. He is a multi-faceted and masterfully

created character, and it goes without saying that Iago is one of the greatest villains in literary



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