How Does Iago Inspire Fear and a Looming Sense of Tragedy?

Category: Fear, Iago, Othello
Last Updated: 02 Aug 2020
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Iago, in his soliloquies, informs the audience of his plans to deceive Othello and bring about his fall from grace. It is his use of language, rhythm, length and delivery that cause the greatest impact, instilling fear into the audience and creating a sense of tragic inevitability as Iago’s plans will come to fruition, with no one to stop them. The dangerous thing about Iago is that he not only brings down Othello, but he also wrecks anyone else that he can along the way.

A soliloquy is when a character is alone on stage and projects their true inner thoughts or feelings to the audience. This is the case for Iago, as he shows his true state of mind in his soliloquies. It is what he says in them, which create such an overwhelming amount of fear for the reader, with his plans to corrupt and deceive various characters along the way in order to abolish Othello. Many critics also agree that Iago is a character full of pure evil. Shakespearean critic A. C.

Bradley said that “evil has nowhere else been portrayed with such mastery as in the evil character of Iago. ” in “Shakespearean Tragedy” (p. 169). Iago’s soliloquies are where he reveals how dishonest he is, creating anxiety in the audience, as we are unable to interrupt what Iago plans to do. Moreover, Iago tells the audience of his scheme which involves arranging for Cassio to lose his position as lieutenant, and gradually insinuate to Othello that Desdemona is unfaithful with Cassio.

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The horrifying thing about Iago is that he is able to talk of carrying out such horrifying events such as sabotaging Othello and Desdemona’s marriage, and the fact that he relishes the moment when he formulates his plan, truly shows his malicious nature, making the audience fear him. We see the lengths Iago will go to destroy Othello. He knows that Othello is a man “That thinks men honest that but seem to be so”, so he is willing to abuse Othello’s trust and poison him until he loses his mind. There are many references in the play to sacred teachings; mainly on heaven and hell. In Act III, Iago is scheming about Othello’s downfall.

When he says “How? How? let’s see:”, the atmosphere is extremely tense as the caesural pause shows that he is planning, and the audience is terrified as Iago is so into his plan that we know he will come up with something immensely evil. His capacity for cruelty seems limitless, and that is what makes him so frightening. Rebecca Warren has said from the York Advanced Notes of Othello that “his pride is laced with sly vindictiveness” (p. 60). His qualities seem to be like that of the devil. Very suddenly, he says “I have’t, it is engendered! Hell and night/Must bring this monstrous birth to the world’s light. The juxtaposition between “Hell and night” and world’s light” shows Iago as being linked with hell and Othello as being linked with heaven, whilst the rhyming couplet and the reference to the “monstrous birth” draws attention to the unnaturalness and evilness of his plans, which instils fear in the audience and a looming sense of tragedy, as now Iago will bring his plan into action. The broken up iambic pentameter shows how much he relishes his moment. In Act V, Iago tries to show the justification of his actions. He believes that because Othello slept with his wife, he is acceptable in cuckolding Othello.

This is shown when he says “Till I am evened with him, wife for wife…” Here, he is showing the audience that he is so immoral, that he is willing to go as far as corrupting biblical terms, with his play on the teaching “an eye for an eye”, which he exchanges with “wife for a wife... ”, the ellipsis showing the pace of his speech as he gets worked up into a frenzy. The ellipsis also shows that he is in the thinking process, which also inspires a sense of tragedy as he will come up with more evil plans. In Act VI, Iago has been given the handkerchief and talks of the “holy writ” and of wanting Othello to “Burn like the mines of sulphur”.

This line is emphatically stressed to show how badly he wants to punish Othello and this will inevitably end in tragedy, and so makes the audience nervous. Another way that he creates fear in the audience is by mocking the audience. In Act V, Iago says of Cassio: “And what’s he then that says I play the villain? /When this advice is free I give and honest”. Iago enjoys ruining people's lives. He does it with a sense of craftsmanship, as he appreciates the cleverness of a particular step in his scheme as much as its final result: incredible suffering for the people he has chosen.

Here he is mocking the audience, by saying that he told Cassio the truth. He is reveling in his Machiavellian role. In Act III, just after he persuades Roderigo to sleep with Desdemona in order to do himself “a pleasure, (Iago) a sport”, Iago immediately reveals that he is only hanging around “with such a snipe/But for (his) own sport and profit”, the sibilance here drawing attention to the evil, mocking tone that Iago uses. The prominent Shakespeare scholar Harold Goddard called Iago a man always at war, "a moral pyromaniac," in his book ‘The Meaning of Shakespeare’, which shows that Iago almost has a disorder.

Using the length of his soliloquies, Iago manages to keep the audience captivated as to his next vindictive plan. The length of his soliloquies could perhaps shows his growing sense of influence and authority within the play, which creates a sense of looming tragedy for the audience as only they know of Iago’s cruel plans. Language can change the mood instantly, and Iago has a very violent tone. This is shown in Act V1 when he uses ‘s’ sibilance throughout the soliloquy, and the repetition of “poison” shows that he enjoys corrupting Othello, which scares the audience as this is very immoral.

In Act V, when he says “Divinity of hell”, the audience is terrified, as it is unclear whether he is calling the devil or possible saying that he is the devil, as he says that when devils are plotting, they cover up their evil side “with heavenly shows/As (he) do(es) now. ” What is dangerous about Iago is that he doesn’t have a real motive. His motivations are never very clearly expressed and seem to be just an obsessive delight in manipulation and destruction. This view is shared by the critic E. H. Seymour in his remarks... upon the Plays of Shakespeare, where he says “there are no sufficient motives apparent for this excess of malignity”.

However, in Act II, Iago claims that his reason for this cruelness towards Othello is because Othello “Hath leapt into (Iago’s) seat. ” and this very thought “Doth like a poisonous mineral gnaw (his) inwards” This is only a rumour, but Iago treats it as if it is completely true. His lack of motivation, or his inability or unwillingness to express his true motivation, makes his actions all the more terrifying. He is willing to take revenge on anyone—Othello, Desdemona, Cassio, Roderigo, even Emilia and what alarms the audience more is that he enjoys the pain and damage he causes. He also seems to have a very misogynistic view on women.

Rebecca Warren says from the York Advanced Notes on Othello (p. 60) that “he never says explicitly that he hates women or foreigners,” but seems to have an “exceedingly low opinion of them, which comes across in many of his speeches”, showing that he is racist and also quite sexist. This is shown in Act III, when he says to Roderigo that Othello is an “erring Barbarian” and Desdemona, “a super-subtle Venetian. He is very stereotypical and believes Othello to be a savage because he is black and Desdemona promiscuous because Venice had a “reputation for sexual licentiousness”, in the Arden Shakespeare version of Othello (p. 1). This makes the audience fear Iago as he is willing to base his plans on these stereotypical views. To conclude, I believe that, in his soliloquies, Iago inspires fear in the audience by the use of violent, negative language such as “poison”, “blood”, and “jealousy”. As well as this, it is the fact that he seems to have no real motive for his actions that truly scares the audience, as he goes to such extreme lengths to ruin Othello, just because of a rumour that the audience has only heard of from Iago himself, or just because Othello appointed Cassio as his lieutenant, instead of him.

What additionally adds fear in the audience is his use of vivid imagery of hell and the devil, and also evidence for him actually calling himself the devil. The content of Iago’s soliloquies is what inspires a looming sense of tragedy as only the audience knows what he is plotting and so nothing can be done to stop Iago from implementing his cruel plan.

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How Does Iago Inspire Fear and a Looming Sense of Tragedy?. (2017, May 03). Retrieved from

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