Possibly the most heinous villain in Shakespeare, Iago
is fascinating for his most terrible characteristic: his utter lack
of convincing motivation for his actions. In the first scene, he
claims to be angry at Othello for having passed him over for the
position of lieutenant (I.i.
Iago is often funny, especially in his scenes with the
foolish Roderigo, which serve as a showcase of Iago’s manipulative -abilities.
He seems almost to wink at the audience as he revels in his own
skill. As entertained spectators, we find ourselves on Iago’s side when
he is with Roderigo, but the interactions between the two also reveal
a streak of cowardice in Iago—a cowardice that becomes manifest
in the final scene, when Iago kills his own wife (V.ii.
Iago’s murder of Emilia could also stem from the general hatred of women that he displays. Some readers have suggested that Iago’s true, underlying motive for persecuting Othello is his homosexual love for the general. He certainly seems to take great pleasure in preventing Othello from enjoying marital happiness, and he expresses his love for Othello frequently and effusively.
It is Iago’s talent for understanding and manipulating
the desires of those around him that makes him both a powerful and
a compelling figure. Iago is able to take the handkerchief from
Emilia and know that he can deflect her questions; he is able to
tell Othello of the handkerchief and know that Othello will not
doubt him; he is able to tell the audience, “And what’s he then
that says I play the villain,” and know that it will laugh as though
he were a clown (II.iii.
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