William Shakespeare (1564-1616)
lago is a compelling and sophisticated villain. He is not only inherently vicious and evil and he finds delight in destroying the joy in other and goodness wherever he finds, but he is also cunning due to his ambitions and sense of revenge. This means that there are rational reasons for taking revenge or being jealous on the one hand, and on the other his destructive villainy and evil is simply inborn and simply irresistible.
On the one hand, Iago enjoys in his ability to dissemble and destroy for its own sake, rather than for some reason, benefit or any justification. Tricks seem to come to his mind out of his natural aptitude and ability, though they look like the product of a great training. Some critics have suggested that Iago is a cold-blooded creature by birth. For example, he destroys the happiness of Desdemona not because he thinks he can get her by breaking her marriage (as in the original story which Shakespeare took as the basis of this play), but without any rational reason behind it lago determines to use Desdemona's goodness to 'enmesh them all'.
On the other hand, Iago is motivated by jealousy of Cassio being promoted to the post of lieutenant, which also makes him angry with Othello. He also says at times that he has heard that Othello has committed adultery with his wife, Emilia. Iago's relationship with Roderigo is driven by callous greed for gold and money, and when Roderigo's purse becomes risky, he kills him. There may be a mixture of misogyny (hatred of women) and racism in addition to lago's sexual jealousy. His extremely low opinion of women and outsiders (like the black Moor), which comes across in many of his speeches, suggests that lago wants to degrade those he hates. Many critics have also noted that lago is propelled to revenge by feelings of frustration and loathing; he can't tolerate the very sight of those who have status and happiness (Cassio and Othello). lago's hatred, jealousy, ego helps him in his villainous quest.
lago plays the role of a successful director of a whole dramatic series of disasters in the lives of several other characters because he can play a number of roles convincingly, and is able to adapt his tone and style to suit any occasion. He has a superb ability to fool others into believing he is honest. With Cassio, he is informal and friendly, and he pretends to offer him practical advice: with Desdemona also, he adopts a similar sympathetic approach when she seeks help from him to "win back my lord" after he beats her: with Othello, he evolves from the role of a loyal servant to the role of an honest and sympathetic friend who is immensely touched by the wrong of his 'friend': and with Roderigo he plays the role of an accomplice and clever diplomat who can seduce a general's wife to make her elope with a dunce. lago is worldly wise: he tells Othello about the adulterous (immoral) nature of Venetian women and the presence of many cuckolded men; he also suggests that Desdemona might have betrayed as easily as she had betrayed her father. And that she might have lost interest in the black man after a short period due to the allure of a white man, Cassio; and he also tells a cunningly weaved story Cassio's dream to Othello. These suggest how skillful and talented lago is in speech, actions, and persuasion. The way he can manipulate his gestures — as when he frowns and "contracts and purse thy brow together, as if thou then had shut up in thy brain some horrible conceit". This suggests that lago is also brilliant in using his body language along with his verbal skills. He convinces everyone that he is honest: it is shocking that Othello calls him "honest" more than a dozen times, until the end of the play. !ago can so wonderfully disguise his real personality that even his wife knows nothing about his evil plans and machinations. He does tell Roderigo much of his plans, but if we see that carefully, we find that he tells Roderigo only the false side of his plans. He is the only one to know the reality of his plans. We find the actual reality of his plans and his personality only in his soliloquies.
The most dramatic kinds of skills in lago are seen in the way he deals with Othello. His relationship with the general is complex and fascinating. We see that Iago has tried to show 'brotherly love' to Othello, which is the most damaging because the emotionally weak Othello needs exactly that friendly support when his beloved wife seems to him to have betrayed him and disregarded his passionate love. Gradually, the mere servant of the general assumes the control and power over Othello so successfully that the Moor even begins to speak and think like this petty and evil inferior. How does the 'inhuman dog' (Roderigo calls Iago) destroy the mind, soul and body of the noble, valiant Moor? For one thing, the ensign makes his general believe that he is loyal, conscientious and noble minded (these are of course ironically, Othello's best qualities). He pretends that he would like to kill Othello's enemies, including his father-in-law for talking bitterly against him; he pretends to be a best friend of Cassio, but would not hesitate to kill him because Cassio has betrayed the general. He pretends to be unwilling to tell the secret he knows in the temptation scene.
Another superb ability of Iago is that he has an acute eye for his victim's weaknesses and exploits them mercilessly: he is the puppet master, Iago's role-playing enables him to become stage manager and dramatist, controlling his victims' fates increasingly effortlessly, until he is unmasked by his wife, whose Obedience he (ironically) took for granted. A good example of his making up a drama and directing it successfully for his victims occurs in Act IV, Scene 1, when Iago persuades Othello to eavesdrop on his conversation with Cassio. The Moor is not only told what to do; he is also told how to interpret Cassio's looks and gestures. He is gleeful and determined as he tortures Othello with the details of Cassio's supposed liaison with his wife; he explores Desdemona's supposed infidelity as carefully and thoroughly as he, describes his motives; every fictional look, word, gesture and meeting is relayed in detail by Iago during Acts III and IV. He is a supremely effective storyteller, as we see in his description of the night he pretends to have spent sharing a bed with Cassio in Act III Scene 3. Gradually, Othello becomes Iago's unwitting audience as well as his puppet. Iago is garrulous when necessary, as when he deals with Roderigo; but he also makes effective use of brevity, misrepresentations and implications, as we see in his early dealings with Othello.
In inventing Iago, Shakespeare has invented a dramatist as skillful in evildoing as he is in presenting all kinds of human beings.