In the play “Othello” Iago is seen as a malign metaphor for all that is obscured within the play. During the course of this essay I intend to investigate many aspects and viewpoints of Iago form both the perception of characters in the play and the audience. Because of the masked instinct of Iago as a person, the audience often just see his humorous and openly malevolent sides. I however believe there are many masked faces and complexities revealed by Shakespeare’s dramatic presentation of Iago purely due to the fact that almost every line Shakespeare writes has an intention.
The first glimpse that the audience get of Iago is of him in Venice. In many ways this connects what has made Iago how he is, the exact product of Venetian Society. The alleyway in which “Othello” starts reflects the obscured view of Iago and connects it with Iago’s ironically “honest” persona. For example, the light/dark imagery of the scene suggests secrecy and obscured events, yet Iago proclaims his open honesty with the fact he will “wear his heart on his sleeve for daws to peck at”.
This quote shows us that Iago is so comfortable in his surroundings; he can allow this interpersonal intimacy yet has no vulnerability with it. However, in the true style of Venetian society, the warm honesty disguises something much more sinister as Iago reveals when he proclaims “I am not what I am”, our introduction to his honesty is unmasked. Dramatically, the idea that Iago belongs to this scene is chilling because it’s so naturalistic compared to the starts of plays such as “Hamlet”.
The audience is able to relate both the scene and character to what they have encountered, much of the malignity of Iago is based on a form of physiological fear implied by the dramatic presentation. In fact throughout the play Iago’s words like “Hell and night/ must bring this monstrous birth to the world’s light. ” Exaggerate the idea that he is a fearful, supernatural being brought into a normal world. The light/dark imagery mentioned above is used as an extended metaphor throughout the play and frequently is spoken by or towards Iago.
For example the quote “an old black ram is tupping your white ewe” which talks of Othello and Desdemona. Othello is an outsider, he is dark and different so is perceived as a threat by the people of Venice, Iago cleverly contrast the purity of Desdemona with the darkness of Othello making it seem as is Desdemona is about to be tainted. The contrast of “ram” and “ewe” evoke a feeling of disgust in the reader as an image of bestiality is conjured up. All of this contrasts that Iago highlights he has cleverly identified because it is much of what Venetians fear.
Othello is shown as the old, sexy hungry man who corrupts the young Desdemona, and in a society where prostitution is rife, would any father want his daughter corrupted? This shows Iago’s imposing knowledge of the psychology of those around him. One extremely prevalent quotation related to Iago’s physiological understanding of those around him is within the image “There’s many a beast in a populous city/ and many a civil monster”. Firstly this quotation relates to Iago himself and the masked “monster in this thoughts” disguised with the stereotype of any Venetian man.
It shows Iago recognises what is hidden within the human mind, but typical to the play he shows no recognition to another character that he himself is this. On another level it suggests a fear of Iago’s, he understands intricately what provokes fear in Othello, an understanding that surely stems from his own fear that there really is nobody he can truly trust. The other side of the quote of course is the way Iago uses this to milk Othello’s paranoia. Iago identifies Othello’s insecurity about being an outsider and intimidates him with insights like this making Iago out to be the all-seeing insider.
The repetition of the devilish vocabulary of “beast” and “monster” links throughout the play and dramatically instils the sense of foreboding and inevitable destruction in Iago’s intentions. As shown above Iago knows how to control Othello, but the perception of Iago from other characters is also interesting. He uses each character’s perception of him and the world to govern their emotions for his benefit. Firstly one of the most poignant of these is his wife Emilia. Highlighted to the audience is the fact that throughout the play she distrusts Iago, he knows this yet can still find ways to manipulate her.
Emilia distrusts Iago because he shows no love or regard for her. Her insecurities about what Iago does behind her back lead her to want to please Iago at every turn in vain effort to win him back. This is proven with the quote “I do nothing but to please his fantasy” which ironically points to Iago’s intentions for Emilia. The word “fantasy” shows she is merely a pawn in Iago’s monstrous thoughts, he cleverly has told her about the handkerchief, as he knows what she will do to gain his love.
Often in plays Iago obtains the handkerchief with the trick of a kiss. This is then effectively contrasted as Iago commands “Go, leave me” and the audience can clearly emphasise with the pain that he causes her. There is also an element of dramatic irony, the audience know they weight of the handkerchief, yet Emilia is innocent. Emilia is the only character in the play that Iago manipulates through the use of mistrust, this relationship is perhaps the most frightening psychotically as its incredibly realistic and shows the true power of Iago’s command.
Portrayed in the right way dramatically, this is the relationship which is most likely to turn the audience away from the perception of the comedic Iago and towards the perception of Iago as truly heartless. Roderigo is another interesting character to look at in terms of how Iago’s manipulates, as Iago seems to have to do so little manipulation towards him. (DO MORE “jewels you have from me…. ” “Put money in thy purse” hypnotic, subliminal) A lot of the effect of Iago comes from the way that he uses language.
Prominently, there is the use of light/dark imagery, which I have mentioned before, that continues throughout the play, especially in Iago’s soliloquies. The quotation “hell and night/must bring this monstrous birth to the world’s light. ” Is a brilliant example because the dark proportion of it, blown up with the use of horrific imagery like “monstrous” and “night”, mirrors Iago. The enjambment of the line contrasts to the two short statements that come before it and this brings an element of conclusion to the soliloquy, leaving it on a cliffhanger.
The effect of the cliffhanger on the audience is that we want to take in more; we want more insight into this confusing and obscured situation. In his next soliloquy Shakespeare demonstrates the effective use of similes in unmasking the confusion of Iago’s mind. When talking about his jealousy Iago says “Doth like a poisonous mineral gnaw my inwards”, this shows the huge power of jealous on Iago and helps to explain perhaps why Iago knows exactly how to make Othello jealous.
The use of “poisonous” emphasises the fact that jealousy is like a sickness in Iago’s brain. This is again used later with the use of “burn like the mines of sulphur”, another toxic poison, consuming those involved in Iago’s plans. Another instant of jealousy is Iago’s metaphorical reference to the “green eyed monster which doth/ mock the meat it feeds on”, showing again a great understanding of the effects of jealousy on the human mind. The use of “mock” suggests hatred at the way jealousy makes Iago act and feel.
The powerfulness mentioned before is echoed here with the use of “feeds”; Iago understands the consuming feeling now that he is immersed in his plans. Another light/dark image is used in Iago’s third soliloquy, as he talks of his plans he declares “I will turn her virtue into pitch” contrasting the light, innocent idea of “virtue” with the black weight of the stone “pitch”. In fact this soliloquy seems to act as Iago convincing himself of Desdemona’s infidelity.