Iago From 'Othello' Character Analysis

Johnathan Summers plays Iago The English National Opera perform 'Othello'


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Iago from Othello is a central character and understanding him is key to understanding Shakespeare's entire play, Othello - not least because he holds the longest part in the play: 1,070 lines.

Iago’s character is consumed with hatred and jealousy. He is jealous of Cassio for obtaining the position of Lieutenant over him, jealous of Othello; believing that he has bedded his wife and jealous of Othello’s held position, despite his race.

Is Iago Evil?

Probably, Yes! Iago has very few redeeming qualities, he has the ability to charm and convince people of his loyalty and honesty “Honest Iago,” but for the audience, we are immediately introduced to his vitriol and desire for revenge despite his lack of proved reason.

Iago represents evil and cruelty for its own sake. He is deeply unpleasant and this is revealed to the audience in no uncertain terms in his numerous asides. He even acts as an advocate for Othello’s character, telling the audience that he is noble and in doing so, comes across as even more villainous, now that he is prepared to ruin Othello’s life despite his acknowledged goodness.

“The Moor – howbe’t that I endure him not- Is of a constant, loving noble nature, And I dare that he’ll prove to Desdemona A most dear husband.” (Iago, Act 2 scene 1, Line 287-290)

Iago is also happy to ruin Desdemona’s happiness just to get revenge on Othello.

Iago and Women

Iago’s opinion and treatment of women in the play also contribute to the audiences’ perception of him as cruel and unpleasant. Iago treats his wife Emilia in a very derogatory way, “It is a common thing…To have a foolish wife” (Iago Act 3 Scene 3, Line 306 and 308). Even when she pleases him he calls her “A good wench” (Line 319).

This could be due to his belief that she has had an affair but his character is so consistently unpleasant that as an audience we do not assign his malignancy to her behavior.

An audience may even collude in Emilia’s belief that if she did cheat; Iago deserved it. “But I do think it is their husband’s faults If wives do fall” (Emilia Act 5 Scene 1, Line 85-86).

Iago and Roderigo

Iago double crosses all the characters who consider him their friend. Most shockingly perhaps, he kills Roderigo, a character who he has colluded with and been mostly honest with throughout the play.

He uses Roderigo to perform his dirty work and without him, would not have been able to discredit Cassio in the first place. However, Roderigo seems to know Iago the best, possibly having guessed that he may be double-crossed by him, he writes letters which he keeps on his person which eventually serve to discredit Iago’s character and motives completely.

Iago is unrepentant in his communication with the audience; he feels justified in his actions and does not invite sympathy or understanding as a result. “Demand me nothing. What you know, you know. From this time forth I will never speak a word” (Iago Act 5 Scene 2, Line 309-310)

Iago’s Role in the Play

Though deeply unpleasant, Iago must have a considerable intellect in his ability to devise and deploy such a plan and to convince the other characters of various deceptions along the way.

Iago’s character is, as yet, unpunished at the end of the play. His fate is left in Cassio’s hands. It has to be believed that he will be punished but it is possibly left open for the audience to wonder whether he will attempt to get away with his evil plans by concocting some other deception or violent act.

Unlike the other ​characters in the plot whose personalities are transformed by the action (Most notably Othello, who goes from being a strong soldier to an insecure jealous murderer) Iago’s character is unchanged by the action of the play, he continues to be cruel and unrepentant.