Othello - Battle of Good vs. Evil


"I am not what I am." What is Iago? -- as distinct from what he 
pretends to be -- and what are his motives?

 In Shakespeare's, Othello, the reader is presented the classic 
battle between the deceitful forces of evil and the innocence of good. 
 It are these forces of evil that ultimately lead to the breakdown of 
Othello, a noble venetian moor, well-known by the people of Venice as 
a honourable soldier and a worthy leader. Othello's breakdown results 
in the muder of his wife Desdemona. Desdemona is representative of 
the good in nature. Good can be defined as forgiving, honest, 
innocent and unsuspecting. The evil contained within Othello is by no 
means magical or mythical yet is represented by the character Iago. 
Iago is cunning, untrustworthy, selfish, and plotting. He uses these 
traits to his advantage by slowly planning his own triumph while 
watching the demise of others. It is this that is Iago's motivation. 
 The ultimate defeat of good by the wrath of evil. Not only is it in 
his own nature of evil that he suceeds but also in the weaknesses of 
the other characters. Iago uses the weaknesses of Othello, 
specifically jealousy and his devotion to things as they seem, to 
conquer his opposite in Desdemona. From the start of the play, Iago's 
scheming ability is shown when he convinces Roderigo to tell about 
Othello and Desdemonda's elopement to Desdemona's father, Brabantio. 
Confidentally Iago continues his plot successfully, making fools of 
others, and himself being rewarded. Except Roderigo, no one is aware 
of Iago's plans. This is because Iago pretends to be an honest man 
loyal to his superiors. The fact that Othello himself views Iago as 
trustworthy and honest gives the evil within Iago a perfect 
unsuspecting victim for his schemes. The opportunity to get to 
Desdemona through Othello is one temptation that Iago cannot refuse. 
He creates the impression that Desdemona is having an affair with 
Cassio in order to stir the jealousy within Othello. It is this 
jealousy and the ignorance of Othello that lead to the downfall of 
Desdemona; the one truely good natured character in the play. 

 As the play opens we are immediately introduced to the 
hostility of Iago against Othello. Iago has been appointed the 
position of servant to Othello instead of the more prestigous position 
of lieutenant. Michael Cassio has been appointed this position. Iago 
feels betrayed because he considers him self more qualified than 
Cassio to serve as lieutenant. Iago then foreshadows his plans for 
Othello to Roderigo, "O, sir, content you. / I follow him to serve my 
turn upon him (Act I, Scene I)". Iago already realizes that Othello 
thinks about him as an honest man. Roderigo is used by Iago as an 
apprentence and someone to do his "dirty" work. Roderigo is naively 
unsuspecting. As the play shifts from Venice to Cyprus there is an 
interesting contrast. Venice, a respectful and honourable town is 
overshadowed by the war torn villages of Cyprus. It could be said 
that Venice represents good or specfically Desdemona and that Cyprus 
represents evil in Iago. Desdemona has been taken from her 
peacefullness and brought onto the grounds of evil. Iago commits his 
largest acts of deceit in Cyprus, fittingly considering the 
atmosphere. Ironically, the venetians feel the Turks are their only 
enemy while in fact Iago is in hindsight the one man who destroys 
their stable state. Act II Scene III shows Iago's willing ability to 
manipulate characters in the play. Iago convinces Montano to inform 
Othello of Cassio's weakness for alchohol hoping this would rouse 
disatisfaction by Othello. Iago when forced to tell the truth against 
another character does so very suspiciously. He pretends not to 
offend Cassio when telling Othello of the fight Cassio was involved 
in, but Iago secretly wants the worst to become of Cassio's situation 
without seeming responsible. Cassio is relieved of his duty as 
lieutenant. With Cassio no longer in the position of lieutenant, this 
gives Iago the opportunity to more effectively interact with and 
manipulate Othello. By controlling Othello, Iago would essentially 
control Desdemona.

 To reach Desdemona directly is unforseeable for Iago 
considering that Othello is superior to him. It is for this reason 
that Iago decides to exploit Othello. If Iago can turn Othello 
against his own wife he will have defeated his opposition. Act III 
Scene III, is very important because it is the point in the play where 
Iago begins to establish his manipulation of Othello. Cassio feels 
that it is necessary to seek the help of Desdemona in order to regain 
his position of lieutenant and therefore meets with her to discuss 
this possibility. Iago and Othello enter the scene just after Cassio 
leaves, and Iago witfully trys to make it look like Cassio left 
because he does not want to be seen in the courtship of Desdemona. 
Iago sarcastically remarks :

Cassio, my lord? No, sure, I cannot think it
That he would steal away so guilty-like,
Seeing your coming.
(Act III, Scene III)

When Desdemona leaves, Iago takes the opportunity to strengthen 
Othello's views of honesty and trust towards him by saying ironically, 
"Men should be what they seem; / Or those that be not, would they 
might seem none! " (Act III, Scene III). This cleverness by Iago 
works upon one of the tragic flaws of Othello. Othello has a tendency 
to take eveything he sees and everything he is told at face value 
without questioning the circumstances. Iago wonders why someone would 
pretend to be something they are not, while in fact that is the exact 
thing he represents. Finally, after hearing the exploits of Iago and 
witnessing the events surrounding Cassio, Othello for the first time 
is in conflict about what is the truth. This is the first stage of 
Iago's scheme to control Othello. As Emilia becomes suspicious about 
Othello's development of jealousy, Desdemona defends her husband by 
blaming herself for any harm done. This once again shows Desdemona's 
compassion and willingness to sacrifice herself for her husband. 
Othello begins to show his difficulty in maintaining his composure :

Well, my good lady. O, hardness to dissemble --
How do you, Desdemona?
(Act III, Scene IV)

Act IV, Scene I is a continuation of the anxiety and indifference 
Othello is under going. Iago takes advantage of this by being blunt 
with Othello about his wife Desdemona. Iago suggests that she is 
having sexual relations with other men, possibly Cassio, and continues 
on as if nothing has happened. This suggestions put Othello into a 
state of such emotional turmoil that he is lost in a trance. Iago's 
control over Othello is so strong now that he convinces him to 
consider getting rid of Desdemona and even suggests methods of killing 
her. Iago, so proud of his accomplishments of underhandedness :

Work on.
My med'cine works! Thus credulous fools are caught,
And many worthy and chaste dames even thus,
All guiltless, meet reproach. 
(Act IV, Scene I)

Othello in this state commits his first act of violence against 
Desdemona by hitting her. This as a result of Desdemona's mention of 
Cassio. This shows now Othello's other tragic flaw. He made himself 
susceptable to Iago and the jealousy within him begins to lead to the 
demise of others. By his actions Othello has isolated himself from 
everyone except Iago. This gives Iago the perfect opportunity to 
complete his course of action. Iago does not tolerate any 
interference in his plans, and he first murders Roderigo before he can 
dispell the evil that Iago represents. Finally, Othello, so full of 
the lies told to him by Iago murders his wife. Desdemona, 
representative of goodness and heaven as a whole blames her death on 
herself and not Othello. Iago's wife, Emilia, becomes the ultimate 
undoing of Iago. After revealing Iago's plot to Othello, Iago kills 
her. This is yet another vicious act to show the true evil Iago 
represents. Othello finally realizes after being fooled into murder :

I look down towards his feet -- but that's a fable
If that thou be'st a devil, I cannot kill thee.
(Act V, Scene II)

Iago says "I bleed, sir, but not killed", this is the final statement 
by Iago himself that truely shows his belief in evil and that he 
truely thinks he is the devil. That is the destruction of all that is 
good. Hell over heaven and black over white. 

 Iago, as a representation of evil, has one major motivational 
factor that leads him to lie, cheat, and commit crimes on other 
characters. This motivation is the destruction of all that is good 
and the rise of evil. This contrast is represented between Iago and 
Desdemona. Desdemona is described frequently by other characters as 
"she is divine, the grace of heaven" (Act II, Scene I), while Iago in 
contrast is described as hellish after his plot is uncovered. Iago 
uses the other characters in the play to work specifically towards his 
goal. In this way, he can maintain his supposed unknowingness about 
the events going on and still work his scheming ways. Iago's schemes 
however at times seem to work unrealistically well which may or may 
not be a case of witchcraft or magic. Iago's major mistake, 
ironically, is that he trusted his wife Emilia and found that she was 
not as trustworthy as he thought. Although not completely victorious 
at the conclusion of the play, Iago does successfully eliminate the 
one character representative of heaven, innocence, and honesty. Yet 
"remains the censure of this hellish villian" (Act V, Scene II). 
Innocence, and Love.


Quotes: Search by Author