Essay on Iago: Shakespeare’s Most Brilliant Creation
Number of words: 1202
Throughout the play, Othello: The Moor of Venice, written by the famous dramatist William Shakespeare, Iago, the mastermind of the play, uses his intelligence to plot an intricate plan against Othello. Iago depicts himself as an honest man, but behind that mask is a nefarious person who uses lies to deceive others. Iago never fails to show that he is one of Shakespeare’s most intellectual characters, notably when he demonstrates his perfect sense of timing, his ability to execute plans flawlessly and his capability of manipulating characters.
Timing is essential for a clever villain to make the right move at the precise time. During the play Othello, Iago always manages to find the ideal moment to use to his advantage. For instance, Iago says, “ You see this fellow that is gone before? He’s a soldier fit to stand by Caesar And give direction; and do but see his vice. ’Tis to his virtue a just equinox, The one as long as th’ other. ’Tis pity of him. I fear the trust Othello puts him in, On some odd time of his infirmity, Will shake this island.” (Othello. 2.3. 125-136). Iago remarks that Cassio is drunk and grabs this opportunity to lie to Montano, stating that Cassio is addicted to liquor. This statement makes Montano believe that Cassio may not be suited for the title of lieutenancy. Another example is when Iago utters to Othello, “Look to your wife; observe her well with Cassio; Wear your eyes thus, not jealous nor secure… Look to ’t. I know our country disposition well. In Venice they do let God see the pranks They dare not show their husbands. Their best conscience Is not to leave ’t undone, but keep ’t unknown.” (Oth. 3.3. 228-236). Iago notices that Cassio departs Othello’s chamber without acknowledging Othello’s presence. He then seizes this magnificent opportunity to lie to Othello, saying that women of Venice tend to cheat on their husbands. This brings in a hint of suspicion into Othello’s mind that Desdemona may be having a liaison with Cassio. Iago manages to exhibit his impeccable sense of timing, however two pieces of evidence are missing to substantiate his intelligence. One of the two pieces is Iago’s competence to execute plans flawlessly.
Being able to execute a plan flawlessly is a skill that villains should possess. Iago, being the mastermind, never fails to execute his infallible plans faultlessly. To illustrate, during the party in Cyprus, Iago sees Cassio consuming liquor excessively and comes up with an idea to ravage Cassio’s reputation. So he decides to use trickery to force the characters in the party, including Cassio, to swill more liquor by saying, “I learned it in England, where indeed they are most potent in potting. Your Dane, your German, and your swag-bellied Hollander—drink, ho!—are nothing to your English.” (Oth. 2.3. 79-82). Iago additionally mentions, “Why, he drinks you, with facility, your Dane dead drunk. He sweats not to overthrow your Almain. He gives your Hollander a vomit ere the next pottle can be filled.” (Oth. 2.3. 85-88). Iago’s plan works like a charm and Cassio becomes completely inebriated. Eventually, he picks up a fight with Montano and as a result, Cassio is removed from the rank of lieutenant. Another example is when Othello demands genuine evidence of Cassio and Desdemona’s affair. So, he persuades Othello to hide to overhear Cassio’s words when he reveals his feelings for Desdemona. During the discussion Iago utters, “Ply Desdemona well, and you are sure on ’t. Now, if this suit la y in Bianca’s power, How quickly should you speed!” (Oth. 4.1. 125-127). Iago talks about Bianca and makes jokes about her, which makes Cassio crack up. Iago furthermore says, “She gives it out that you shall marry her. Do you intend it?” (Oth. 4.1. 136-137), causing Cassio to laugh even more and talk in a vulgar manner. Cassio’s laughter and the language he uses infuriate Othello. Consequently, Iago’s plan succeeds as Othello is convinced that Desdemona is unfaithful towards him. Iago illustrates his ability to implement plans impeccably, hence only one piece of evidence remains, which is Iago’s ability to use manipulation.
Manipulation is like a game of chess that is only played by cunning knaves. Iago easily manipulates the characters of the play, using them to his advantage. Iago smartly uses a character’s emotions, feelings and insecurities to control them. In particular, when Iago suggests Cassio ask Desdemona to help him get back his title of lieutenant. Iago utters, “Our general’s wife is now the general … Confess yourself freely to her. Importune her help to put you in your place again. She is of so free, so kind, so apt, so blessed a disposition she holds it a vice in her goodness not to do more than she is requested.” (Oth. 2.3. 333-341). Iago talks about Desdemona’s kindness and willingness to help. He ingeniously uses flattery to present Desdemona’s personality, which assures Cassio that she would definitely help him. Iago manipulates Cassio to go to Desdemona, so he could convince the King (Othello) that the Queen (Desdemona) is having a liaison with the Bishop (Cassio). Another instance is when Iago commands Roderigo to kill Cassio. He exclaims, “O, no. He goes into Mauritania and takes away with him the fair Desdemona, unless his abode be lingered here by some accident—wherein none can be so determinate as the removing of Cassio.” (Oth. 4.2. 257-260). Seeing that Othello and Desdemona will soon leave Cyprus and Cassio will be assigned as the governor, Iago decides it is the right time to use the Pawn (Roderigo). Iago comprehends that for a checkmate to transpire, the Bishop had to die. So, he manipulates Roderigo by assuring him that he still has an opportunity to get Desdemona, but he has to slay Cassio first. Iago mentions that if Cassio dies, Othello and Desdemona will have to tarry in Cyprus. “Why, by making him uncapable of Othello’s place: knocking out his brains.” (Oth. 4.2. 262-263). Finally, Iago displays his capability of manipulating characters, which is the last piece of evidence that proves his brainpower.
With all the evidence provided within the essay, it is fair to say that Harold Bloom’s statement about Iago’s intellect was indeed correct. During the play Othello, Iago proves that he is one of the most brilliant and intellectual characters created by William Shakespeare. He demonstrates that it requires a vast amount of thinking, planning and plotting to be the villain in a story. Ultimately, Iago shows that an intelligent person is one who never loses hope, keeps on planning and working on his goals, and persists until he achieves his goals.
Shakespeare, William. The Tragedy of Othello: The Moor of Venice from The Folger Shakespeare. Ed. Barbara Mowat and Paul Werstine. Folger Shakespeare Library, August 1, 2004. othello_PDF_FolgerShakespeare.pdf