Nature of Evil in Othello

Category: Evil, Iago, Othello
Last Updated: 13 Apr 2020
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The Nature Of Evil In Othello The Nature of Evil in Othello William Shakespeare’s Othello uses different and unique techniques in his language to express the nature of evil throughout the play. Verbal twists and the characters most importantly stress the act of evil. Iago, most of all is portrayed as the “villain” or “protagonist in the play. Shakespeare uses this character to set the basis of evil. Each plot point is spiraled further into tragedy due to the nature of Iago and his manipulative language towards the other main characters.

Corruption overcomes the Venetian society as Iago uses his crafty skills of deceit. The plan to have Othello turn against the ones he loves is the perfect example of evil’s nature. The power struggle is evident between these two. This situation is the start to Iago’s plan to corrupt the society and take Othello’s place. The root of Iago’s “evil” is jealousy indeed, in turn changing into a power hungry manipulator. Iago is tired of acting like one "courteous and knee-crooking knave" like he always appears to be [I. i. 46].

Since Iago is reluctant to choose to be a master, he is the servant that bites off the fame and "keep yet their hearts attending on themselves," still showing his service to his master but instead is more self-preserving with no attachments at all towards the master [I. i. 52]. Irony is used diligently in Shakespeare’s unique language style. Referred by Othello as “honest Iago”, the irony is very evident in this title. Iago is everything but honest but this proves how easily led and manipulated Othello is. The traits Iago possess are unexpected to a normal villain.

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He comes across as charming and smart, he can also be referred to a wolf in sheep’s clothing. For example, he knows Roderigo is in love with Desdemona and figures that he would do anything to have her as his own. Iago says about Roderigo, "Thus do I ever make my fool my purse. " [I iii. 355,] By playing on his hopes, Iago is able to conjure money and jewels from Roderigo, making himself a profit, while using Roderigo to further his other plans. He also thinks stealthy on his feet and is able to improvise whenever something unexpected occurs.

When Cassio takes hold of Desdemona's hand before the arrival of the Moor Othello, Iago says, "With as little a web as this will I ensnare as great a fly as Cassio. " [II, i, 163] This language demonstrates the evil inside Iago’s goals of retrieving absolute power. He actually even says of himself, "I am an honest man.... " [II, iii, 245]   Iago slowly corrupts the character’s thoughts, creating ideas in their minds without implicating himself. His "medicine works! Thus credulous fools are caught.... " [II, i, 44] "And what's he then that says I play the villain, when this advice is free I give, and honest," [II, iii, 299] says Iago.

In turn, people rarely stop to consider the fact that old Iago could be deceiving and manipulating them; yet they are convinced that he is "Honest Iago. " From these quotes from “Othello” it is proven that the dialogue used between Iago and the others is manipulative causing an evil outcome. Iago’s complexity in character grows as the play comes closer to a conclusion. The tricky and crafty way Shakespeare uses the evil in Iago is to make him seem amoral as opposed to the typical immoral villain. At the climactic end of the play, Iago's plot and plan is given away to Othello by his own wife, Emilia.

Iago kills his wife seeing her as a non entity to his vicious foresight. He kills her not out of anger but for more pragmatic reasons. She served no purpose to him anymore and she can now only hurt his chances of keeping the position he has been given by Othello. Iago's black hearted taking of Emilia's and Roderigo's lives is another proof of his amorality. The root of all evil stems from some would say money, but in this case it is power. To drive Iago to get the power he wants, he is fueled by jealousy. The way jealousy affects the other characters is uncanny.

Othello is led down the same path as Iago which is exactly what he wants. The other characters all play off Iago’s misfortunes in turn making Iago’s manipulative plan a success. “Divinity of hell! When devils will their blackest sins put on, they do suggest at first with heavenly shows, as I do now. ”(II, iii, 348) This is the first quote that it is evident Iago is jealous. He is the voice of jealousy in its entirety, giving way to the evil deeds that drive the play. There is a counter argument to the fact whether Iago is truly “evil.   In Richard Grant’s, Studies in Shakespeare, describes the dual aspects of the character of Iago, whose external demeanor is characterized by warm sympathy for his friends and apparent trustworthiness among his peers, but whose real and inner nature is amoral, heartless, and entirely self-interested. The fact that Iago was the youngest out of the group of characters, Grants theory on Iago’s evil nature is that he adapted it by consciously adopting it. “Brave, and a good soldier, he was also of that order of ability which lifts a man speedily above his fellows.

His manners and his guise were of a dashing military sort; and his manner had a corresponding bluntness, tempered, at times, by tact to a warm-hearted effusiveness, by the very tact which prompted the bluntness. ” [Grant: Studies in Shakespeare, Houghton, Mifflin and Company, 1886, pp. 258-79] Grants theory can twist the minds of what Iago has always been thought of to be. The typical villain is taken as something else in this scenario. Being in the military, in is in Iago’s nature to make his way to the top. His actions may not have been particularly “evil”, but yet understood.

Another excerpt from Grants theory, “ All the principal personages of the tragedy, Desdemona and Cassio included, thus regard him; although Cassio, himself a soldier, is most impressed by Iago's personal bravery and military ability. In speaking of him, he not being present, the lieutenant calls him the bold Iago, and in his presence says to Desdemona that she may relish him more in the soldier than in the scholar,” [II. i. 75, 165-66] [Grant: Studies in Shakespeare, Houghton, Mifflin and Company, 1886, pp. 234] further explains how the soldier instinct in Iago has replaced his demeanor rather than “evil. The sheer importance of the character Iago is immense. The theory of Iago being “evil” or just jealous of a military position is up for debate. The interesting fact about Shakespeare’s characters is the relation they have in real life. As Grant explains, “In Iago Shakespeare has presented a character that could not have escaped his observation; for it is of not uncommon occurrence except in one of its elements, utter unscrupulousness. But for this, Iago would be a representative type, representative of the gifted, scheming, plausible, and pushing man, who gets on by the social art known as making friends.

This man is often met with in society. Sometimes he is an adventurer, like Iago, but most commonly he is not; and that he should be so is not necessary to the perfection of his character,” [Grant: Studies in Shakespeare, Houghton, Mifflin and Company, 1886, pp. 205] you can see the relations Iago has to a specific stereotype of a person in the real world. In another excerpt, “Thus far Iago's character is one not rare in any society nor at any time. Yet it has been misapprehended; and the cause of its misapprehension is the one element in which it is peculiar.

Iago is troubled with no scruples, absolutely none. He has intellectual perceptions of right and wrong, but he is utterly without the moral sense. He has but one guide of conduct, self-interest. [Grant: Studies in Shakespeare, Houghton, Mifflin and Company, 1886, pp. 205] Grant explains how Iago is just lacking moral sense. He may not in fact be “evil” at all. He can simply just be greedy and envious in result of not gaining the position in the military. “Iago, however, had no thought of driving Othello to suicide. Far from it.

Had he supposed the train he laid would have exploded in that catastrophe; he would at least have sought his end by other means. For Othello was necessary to him. He wanted the lieutenancy; and he was willing to ruin a regiment of Cassios, and to cause all the senators' daughters in Venice to be smothered, if that were necessary to his end. But otherwise he would not have stepped out of his path to do them the slightest injury; nay, rather would have done them some little service, said some pretty thing, shown some attaching sympathy, that would have been an item in the sum of his popularity.

There is no mistaking Shakespeare's intention in the delineation of this character. He meant him for a most attractive, popular, good-natured, charming, selfish, cold-blooded and utterly unscrupulous scoundrel. ” (pp. 333-34) [Grant: Studies in Shakespeare, Houghton, Mifflin and Company, 1886, pp. 205] This excerpt further explains Iago’s nature being exactly how Shakespeare intended yet a little different than what the average reader would think of him.

The nature of evil is strictly evident as the play comes to an end, yet it is viewed as an opinion or a theory whether Iago is truly “evil. ” Ironically, Iago’s words speak louder than his actions, proving how legitimate Shakespeare’s use of language for the character was. This dynamic use of language is significant because it can alter the thought of the reader whether Iago was truly evil or just using military tactics to better him. Iago and his use of language set the main plot for every characters outcome.

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Nature of Evil in Othello. (2018, Sep 30). Retrieved from

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