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Iago’s Role in Othello

Surely Othello possesses base characteristics–jealously, self-pity, murderous intent–but they are not presented as central or inherent to his character. They are not symbols of his otherness. “Othello’s belief is not caused by jealousy; it is forced upon him by Iago, and is such as any man would and must feel who had believed in Iago as Othello did. His great mistake is that we know Iago for a villain from the first moment. ” This is the crux of the issue of sympathy for Othello’s other status.

In his own words, Iago presents the secret which becomes the crucial issue and redeeming factor for Othellos character: Iago is evil, and admittedly so. Others there are/Who, trimmed in form and visages of duty, /Keep yet their hearts attending on themselves,/And, throwing but shows of services on their lords,/Do well thrive by them, and when they have lined their coats,/Do themselves homage . . . /As such I do profess myself. (I. i. 46-53) Somehow, portrayed as the innocent other who is duped by the conniving ways of an envious compatriot, Othello’s character is relieved of responsibility.

It seems that no matter how lunatic he may become, and murderous even, he will not be blamed for the murk of Iago’s manipulations will overshadow all of Othello’s indiscretions. A metaphysical transformation takes place within Othello so that he becomes the exact antithesis of what he had been, and Iago is the facilitator. It is Iago’s goal, seemingly, to transform the perception of almost every character in the play–from Cassio to Roderigo–to the opposite of what it had been. Even Desdemona shall not escape his injury, “If [Desdemona] be black, and thereto have a wit,/She’ll find a white that shall her blackness fit. II. i. 130-1)

Desdemona acknowledges the paradoxes in Iago’s words, yet still she is unable to prevent these from becoming the paradox of her life. The universal effect of Iago’s actions furthers the level of sympathy Othello receives in the text. He is not the only one; they are all victims. In this way, Othello’s decline cannot be held up to him because they have all made wine of Iago’s dishonest juices.

Iago’s lures Othello beyond judgment, “I [will] put the Moor/At least into a jealousy so strong/That judgment cannot cure . . . [And m]ake the Moor thank me, love me, and reward me/For making him egregiously an ass/. . practicing upon his peace and quiet/ Even to madness. ” (II. i. 300-310) This is Iago’s formula. In the face of such, there can only be sympathy for the simple, good ‘other’ Othello is in the process of becoming. Iago is able to play so well on Othello’s insecurities for they are his own. Again, we return to the idea that Othello and Iago are indeed different sides of the same destructive coin.

Iago knows just what to feed Othello because their hungers are the same. As Robert B. Heilman asserts in his “Wit and Witchcraft,” the two characters share ” . . an inadequate selfhood that crops up in self-pity and an eye for slights and injuries, an . . . instinct to soothe one’s own feelings by punishing others (with an air of moral propriety)–Othello warns, “Perdition catch my soul/But I do love thee! And when I love thee not,/Chaos is come again. ” (III. iii. 90-2)–, [and] the need to possess on one’s own terms or destroy. ”

Acknowledging this, Iago knows precisely how a misplaced sigh or a particular batting of an eye will propel Othello from the dutiful husband–“I will deny thee nothing. (III. ii. 76)–to the self-doubting ‘other’ who feels unworthy of Desdemona’s love, and thus decides that he could have never had it: Haply for I am black And have not those soft parts of conversation That chamberers have . . . I am abused, my relief Must be to loathe her. O curse of marriage That we can call these delicate creatures ours, And not their appetites! (III. iii. 262-9) Othello’s breakdown into self-questioning mirrors that of Richard III who became entangled in the oppositions of his character: what to believe about others and himself as well.

Finally, Othello becomes the enraged other who seeks to destroy those who have made him feel as such–himself included–“Arise, black vengeance, from the hollow hell . . . O, blood, blood, blood! ” (III. iii. 444; 448) In the course of one scene, the calm, gentle Othello has moved beyond demands for ocular proof to those for blood and vengeance alone. Othello’s unfortunate psychological movement coincides with his actual journey to Cyprus, which becomes a metaphorical representation of the transformation Othello endures, leaving what he always was to become who he should never be.

Iago’s poison does not work more powerfully through his images than through a corrosive habit of abstraction applied in those unique relations of love and faith where abstraction is most irrelevant and most destructive. ” This is just how Othello is lured in. Iago appears to be honest in such a way that his words are no longer the key. To Othello, even the spaces between the words of his loyal Iago, are proof enough, ” . . .

T]hese stops of thine fright me more;/For such things in a false disloyal knave/Are tricks of custom; but in a man that’s just/They’re close dilations, working from the heart/That passion cannot rule. ” (III. iii. 120-4) The character of our patient, slow -moving and -thinking hero becomes an accelerated persona whose anger, jealousy, and activity strike his two-sided coin of destruction into motion. Here a madness envelops Othello so that is judgment is not his own, but Iagos and his ocular proof is nothing more than the finely-painted dramas Iago creates for him.

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