E. E Stoll comments that ‘Iago is one of Shakespeare’s most consistent characters; unlike most of them he has a philosophy. ‘ This ‘philosophy’ of Iago’s is one of broad ambiguity – perhaps it is in his nature to constantly evoke dibasic imagery in challenging, manipulating, narrating the will of the cast; or is it his ‘philosophy’ to be simply evil? This is a question that Shakespeare leaves unanswered in Othello, allowing it to carry through the narrative, rebuking our inability to comprehend a character as complex as Iago.
Far from being ‘consistent’, Iago remains never static in the play – instead, he is a dynamic force, able to understand and essentially control the desires of those around him. We see this constant alteration in his character embodied too in his diction – all of this enabling him to remain as this masterful, central force in the play, sowing his seeds of ‘poison’ into the ‘garden’ that is the narrative; allowing them to blossom, to become a part of his own wishes.
Nevertheless, Stoll’s argument of Iago being ‘consistent’ could equally be perceived as valid, for what distinguishes Iago apart from the dramatis personae is his ability to remain as himself – never does Iago change within his own character: be it arousing lust, pity or anger in those around him, Iago is consistent in his own characterisation – consistent in his own self in remaining the ‘narrator’ of the play. Iago, I believe, is both a ‘brilliant’ and foolish character; both a manipulator and one of the manipulated – with all of this resounding all of the antitheses and dichotomies that Iago himself emblematises.
Indeed, though we may argue that Iago belongs to a certain category of character, I instead believe the contrary: he is too complex a character to be fully understood, a character whom is the very embodiment of ambiguity. The question of Iago’s motives is a challenging one. Perhaps Othello’s appointing of ‘one Michael Cassio’ as his lieutenant spurs on his ‘hatred [of] the Moor. ‘ Equally, it could be argued that Iago’s doubts of Othello ‘do[ing]’ Iago’s ‘office’, in this case, Emilia, is enough a motive to lead onto the latter action of the play.
Iago himself comments ‘I know not if’t be true, but I for mere suspicion in that kind will do as if for surety. ‘ Here, we are quick to learn of the destructive power of ‘thoughts’ and Iago’s tainting of them. Though he is suspicious of Othello’s adultery, Iago unravels his every doubt as being truthful – highlighting the constant struggle of appearance versus reality within the play, with Iago caught between this dichotomy.
Expanding on this further, another of Iago’s motives may well be his own inability to love. Perhaps motives for Iago do not exist at all – but it is instead he who creates them. Iago is driven by evil that he may not be able to control, to comprehend; thus, in narrating the play, in his lustful desire to escape from his own insecurities, he creates motives to prompt, and to become a part of, his schemes. Indeed, Iago comments that he ‘will wear [his] heart upon [his] sleeve for daws to peck at; I am not what I am.
This notion of him revealing his heart to be attacked by ‘daws’ evokes powerful metaphorical imagery – Iago is apart from the cast in his heart being numb from not simply human emotion, but human constraints and limitations too. Iago alludes to God’s ‘I am not what I seem1’ – with this biblical reference again, tying into this concept of appearance versus reality; truth versus deceit. Biblical connotations run throughout the play, Iago talks of how ‘our bodies are gardens’, perhaps denoting the Garden of Eden; we also later learn ‘that with the little godliness’ Iago has, he ‘did full hard forbear’ Roderigo.
Here, ……………….. Iago declares: ‘hell and night must bring this monstrous birth to the world’s light. ‘ The hellish, derogatory imagery that his lexis exudes is all too prevalent here; he himself sets up the opposition between ‘night’ and ‘light’, with the contrast and antitheses that Iago brings to Othello being portrayed as ‘monstrous’. His diction is markedly reductive and evocative throughout the play.
Indeed, he cries: ‘an old black ram is tupping your white ewe’; with his speech here littered with enjambment, evoking this sense of flow, embodying perhaps the concept of him being able to connect all of his ideas and merge them into this river of uninterrupted thought that literally, and symbolically, breaks up Brabantio’s lamenting with frequent dashes and caesura, disrupting the pentameter, forcing his thoughts to become disjointed and thus enabling Iago to penetrate through this broken narrative and thought and effectively manipulate Brabantio’s will to his own advantage.