Character of Iago in Othello

“He may be the villain of the tragedy, but there is in Shakespeare’s presentation of Iago a character whose dark artistry attracts and enthrals us.” Explore your response to Iago in light of this comment.

Within Shakespeare’s plays there is always a villain, but arguably none as complex as Iago. His motives for ruining Othello have sparked many a critical debate amongst modern day readers and similarly the presentation of his character causes even todays audience to experience sympathy towards him. Iago’s use of language, intelligent manipulation and his Machiavellian tendencies may attract certain readers or repel the audience away from him as he seeks to destroy a once proud hero for immoral reasons; Samuel Taylor Coleridge describes Iago as “a being next to devil, only not quite devil.” It is entirely possible for the audience to either be enthralled by Iago’s character or for them to be completely repelled by him.

It may be possible for the audience to feel sympathy for Iago throughout the play. In Iago’s opinion, he is unfairly denied the promotion which Cassio gains in his place. Iago is considered to be malcontent as he deems Cassio not worthy of gaining the promotion due to the fact he is merely an “arithmetician,” someone who only knows the theories of war in comparison to himself who fought alongside Othello in battle. Neville Cighill states that: “Iago is a slighted man powerfully possessed by hatred against a master who (as he thinks) has kept him down, and by envy for a man he despises who has been promoted over him.” Cighill appears certain that these are the only reasons for Iago’s actions, however there may be a few more.   Iago also hints at the fact that he believes Othello has slept with his wife Emilia: “for that I do suspect the lusty moor hath lept into my seat,” causing him great anger and willingness for revenge. The idea of being a cuckhold haunts Iago and the thought of the possible mockery that would occur if it were true causes him...