In the play Othello by William Shakespeare, Act I and II show the development of the character of Iago and his manipulative and treacherous deeds. It is through Iago and his ways that he works gradually at destroying Othello, defaming Desdemona and deposing of Cassio. In this, we are able to see Iago’s spiteful scheme in which he creates havoc and seeks motives for his malice. A famous English poet, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, depicts Iago’s actions as “the motive-hunting of motiveless malignity This is seen in Act I and II as Iago seeks reasons, motive hunting to justify his evil deeds. In personal suit to make me his lieutenant, I am worth no worse a place”. (Act I, scene I). This said my Iago, acknowledges the idea that Iago wanted to become lieutenant but the job was given to Michael Cassio “A Florentine, the bookish theoric”. In this first reason, Iago uses this as motivation to destroy Othello. From the beginning it is clear that Iago hates the “Moor“and so is keen on ruining his life. However, it does not prove a solid reason to destroy Othello and so his act is seen as motiveless because of the weakness in his reason to demolish Othello.
Iago’s second reason in which he blames Othello for is the fact that “its’ thought abroad that twixt my sheets; He’s done my office”. For this reason, Iago cunningly plans on the ruination of Othello. However, it is not a sufficient reason which warrants the death of several characters. A possible reason for Iago’s action is that Iago’s deeds are so extreme that he needs some justification to back up his malice. Through this, it is then possible for Iago to justify his wicked actions through this jealousy and his motive-hunting ways which are manipulative and foreboding.
We as readers can also contemplate the idea that Iago’s motives are simply based on the idea that he enjoys watching other people’s spiral out of control as he feeds them poisonous thoughts. This then introduces the ideology for readers of Iago’s demonic like image. Iago’s manipulative and demonic like ways can be similarly described like Mephistopheles (Mephisto). Mephisto is one of the 7 princes of hell and is a version of the devil himself in the Faust legend. Like Mephisto Iago roduces a deadly coldness and enjoys bringing about destruction and the ability to control other people’s lives. This is shown in his soliloquy in Act 1 the legendary speech in which Iago declares ‘I am not what I am”. Through this epic speech in Act 1, Iago tells the audience as well as Roderigo the truth about himself. “I am not what I am”. He explains his plans to Iago saying that he follows the “Moor, Othello’ not because of his love or duty for him but simply because he is able to exploit his master for his ‘peculiar end’.
This showing that Iago will quietly seek revenge upon Othello by appearing to be someone he isn’t. Iago’s cynical view of life and ability to judge people allows him to take advantage of the naive and virtuous characters using them for his own benefit. When Iago decides to publicly display his inner feelings will be the day that his is most vulnerable. “I will wear my heart upon my sleeve, for daws to peck at”. In this, Iago implies that such a day will never come because he will always be on top of the ‘game’ so to speak.
A world of interpretation is able to be extracted through a mere sentence or gesture of Iago. It is within these words and gestures that Iago’s speech represents a riddle which expresses Iago’s emblematic power throughout the play. It is through these characteristics of Iago, that the characters within the play are easily able to believe in the ‘Honest Iago’ because ironically he is anything but honest. His ability to twist words in his deceptive manner makes Iago a true Machiavellian villain in Shakespeare’s play. In Act 1 we grow to understand Iago’s cunning and manipulative ways.
This is when Iago uses Roderigo to accomplish his dirty deeds. He uses Roderigo’s weakness to his advantage making Roderigo like his puppet by duping him royally. However, we realize that Shakespeare’s most evil figure has the capability to manipulate all around him effortlessly and not just Roderigo. He makes the most noble of generals (Othello) and gentile lieutenant (Cassio) become reliant on Iago as they place their full trust in him. Hence, he uses their trust and his victim’s own motivations as well as their weaknesses to achieve his end successfully.
And once again, Iago’s ‘motiveless malignity’ becomes evident as he seeks to destroy two profound men by justifying himself through minor evidence. This is that Othello ‘twixt his sheets’ and Cassio was made lieutenant. For the Jacobean audience and readers in the 21st century Iago appeals to both audiences. This is because in reality there is always an Iago lurking around the corner. While they may not be a noble warrior or fair maiden a manipulative person whose needs are always dominant exists. It is the type of person who can possibly be your best friend or your next door neighbor.
In society, the ability to trust is an important aspect which helps us to have people in our life who are important to the wellbeing of ourselves as individuals. However, there are always ‘Iago’s’ in our life who await a chance to destroy peoples dignity by simply putting their needs first making the world a more dangerous and frightful place for the naive and honest people. In Iago, Shakespeare develops a unique character which goes against the norm of Shakespeare’s usual ending of the villain. In most of Shakespeare’s tragedies the recurring theme of the restoration of good and evil is evident.
The villain usually ends up dying the hands of the oppressed. However, Othello’s Iago differs in this matter as he does not die but is taken away for sentencing. As readers we can only speculate that Shakespeare has created this ending to make readers aware of the fact that the Iago’s of today are not dead but still walk the earth. We can also ponder on the idea that Iago’s death is the ruination of his career as a lieutenant as he will be taken away and sentenced. This being a torturous and life long sentence in prison.
It is possible then to believe that Shakespeare found it apt to allow Iago to slowly die away which would be his punishment for the ruination of innocent lives. So, Act I and II develop the manipulative and evil character of Iago. His deeds are seen purely to benefit himself by using other people such as Roderigo to his advantage. His ‘motiveless malignity’ is seen through his weak justifications of hatred towards Cassio and Othello. In this, Iago finds pleasure and comfort in constructing the ruination of another person’s life.