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Research Paper on Shakespeare's Iago


Rod_Farva 5 / 18  
Nov 29, 2009   #1
The Dew That Rusts Them: Iago's character through spoken word
Shakespeare's Iago personifies misanthropy; he is a vicious and spiteful individual who succeeds in ruining Othello and all that he has worked so hard to create. Iago's greatest strength is as a catalyst of insecurities; a psychologist devoted to mental infirmity. Through superb manipulation of spoken word, Iago manages to gain a position of such great trust that he is granted free rein in the thought processes of whichever character he chooses. This position of reverence within Othello's circle provides for a virtually unassailable position of attack. Due to his one dimensional aspirations; however, Iago becomes one of the most human and fallible characters that Shakespeare designs. Iago's main downfall is his lack of true compassion and empathy for those around him; a flaw that leads to his undoing in the play's tragic conclusion. Through Iago's spoken discourse with Roderigo, Othello, Desdemona, Cassio, and Emilia, Shakespeare provides a depth of character unheard of for such a soulless villain.

Iago's character is quickly displayed in his conversations with Roderigo. In their first meeting, Iago reveals his hatred toward Othello for removing him from his post, as well as his animosity toward Michael Cassio for taking his post. Iago suggests that his only motivation to serve under Othello is to undermine him, by saying that, "In following him, I follow but myself;/ Heaven is my judge, not I for love and duty..." (I.i.58-59). Later meetings between Iago and Roderigo reveal the manipulative talent held within Iago. After failing to ruin Othello's relationship, Roderigo confides to Iago that he intends to kill himself. Iago immediately reassures Roderigo of his (Iago's) support and affection for him, showing a supportive and intuitive side that does not fit with Iago's soliloquies. Iago goes to great lengths to console the despairing Roderigo, saying, "I have professed/ me thy friend and I confess me knit to thy deserving with cables of/ perdurable toughness; I could never better stead thee then now" (I.iii. 330-332). This duality of demeanor is precisely what makes Iago such an effective villain. While harboring such poisonous resentments toward his fellow men, Iago consistently maintains a façade of honesty and good will that guarantees his free access into his victims' inner thoughts. Once Iago convinces Roderigo that they are good friends and share a love that would make suicide unthinkable, Iago convinces the gullible Roderigo to sell his property and collect the money for Iago's benefit (Haim and Da Verona 100-101). Indeed Iago reclaims his role as villain in the final lines of Act I, in which he reveals his true intentions to, "...time expend with such a snipe/ But for my support and profit..." (I.iii.366-367). Through soliloquy, Iago reveals that his only motivation to advise Roderigo is to use him as both a tool and a source of money. The cunning ruthlessness of Shakespeare's villain doesn't stop with Roderigo, as Iago furthers his dastardly plan of revenge.

In his dealings with Othello, Iago is truly a master of manipulation. Iago seeds suspicion within Othello's strong psyche and then affirms the suspicion by denying the charges while allowing Othello to believe that he originated the doubts. This mirroring and magnification of Othello's deep insecurities successfully stall any potential criticism or implication of Iago in the matter (Haim and Da Verona 101). Iago's first move is to pare down Othello's formidable self confidence. As Cassio and Desdemona speak, Iago plants his seed:

Iago: Ha! I like not that. Othello: What dost thou say? Iago: Nothing, my lord: or if- I know not what. Othello: Was not that Cassio departed from my wife? Iago: Cassio, my lord! No, sure, I cannot think it, That he would steal away so Guilty-like, Seeing you coming. Othello: I do believe 'twas he

(III. iii.34- 41).

Iago successfully captures Othello's interest by allowing Othello to take on the implied suspicion as if he discovered it alone. The implicit reaffirmation of Cassio's alleged conspiracy coupled with Iago's explicit denial of the claim ensures that Othello will be enslaved by the concept (Haim and Da Verona 101). Iago continues to beckon Othello into suspicion by mirroring Othello's musings on Cassio's character without any personal comment. For example, when Othello questions Cassio's motives, Iago merely asks, "Is he not honest?" (III. iii.103). As Othello desperately searches for some exterior proof that Cassio would not go behind his back; Iago not only fails to provide such proof, but his repetition of Othello's words serve to mirror and amplify the sentiment until Othello cannot construe it as anything less than fact. Then once Othello opens the subject of Desdemona's infidelity, Iago drops his subtle tactics by saying, "In Venice they do let heaven see the pranks/ They dare not show their husbands; their best conscience/ Is not to leave 't undone, but keep 't unknown" (III. iii.203-205). At this point, the floodgate has been opened; and Othello is set forth on a path free from logic or reason to prove Desdemona's infidelity and Cassio's insubordination. Iago's created conflict turns to Othello's undying obsession, and the tragedy of the play soon comes to fruition.

The revelation of Iago's character does not come solely from his talents in manipulation. In dealing with Cassio and Desdemona, Iago displays an ineptitude in compassion and social graces that is unbefitting for his character. Cassio kisses Iago's wife Emilia on the hand, and apologizes condescendingly by saying, "Let it not gall your patience, good Iago,/ That I extend my manners; 'tis my breeding/ That gives me this bold show of courtesy" (II.i.97-99). Implicit in this comment is that Cassio holds a rank above Iago in class, which greatly irritates Shakespeare's villain (Zender 329). Iago responds by shifting the embarrassment from himself to Emilia, saying that, "Sir, would she give you so much of her lips/ As of her tongue she oft bestows on me/ You would have enough" (II.i.100-102). Desdemona comes to Emilia's defense, and the two banter until finally Desdemona asks Iago, "What wouldst thou write of me, if thou shouldst praise me?" (II. i.118). With this comment, Desdemona places Iago in an inescapable situation where he must display kindness towards her. Desdemona's error in assuming that Iago is even capable of being kind for kindness sake displays Iago's true nature, perhaps better than in any other situation of the play (Zender 329). Iago inevitably fails to make any sort of kind remark towards Desdemona, instead choosing to mention that even the ugliest and stupidest of women can, "suckle fools and chronicle small beer" (II.i.160). Enraged by his own failure in communication, Iago promises himself to "gyve thee [Cassio] in thine own courtship" (II.i.168). Iago continues to salvage his own damaged ego by disregarding Cassio's moves as, "playing the sir", which demonstrates Iago's inclination to face his inadequacies with anger and denial (II.i.171; Zender 331). Further demonstrations of Iago's ineptitude in matters of the heart lie in Desdemona's very existence. Iago is a misogynistic individual, who prates on about the ability of a fine woman to do no more than keep the house clean. Desdemona, by contrast, is a lovely woman who expresses true and undying love for her husband, as well as a strength and independence that by its very nature makes Iago's point unjustifiable. Iago, being the observant individual that he is, recognizes Desdemona's existence as a dissonance to his belief system, putting her into the crosshairs of his unquenchable hatred (Zender 332). This hatred fuels Iago's intent to pit Othello against her, as he later impels Othello to, "strangle her in her bed, even the bed she/ hath contaminated" (IV.i.192-193).

Iago's failure to embrace the language of love and affection is further demonstrated in his dealings with Emilia. Emilia is a servile wife to Iago up to the very end of the story, but Iago treats her as if she was a dog, perhaps in an attempt to overcome his personal inadequacies (Zender 335). Even as Emilia unwittingly helps Iago in his plans to end Othello's security, Iago refers to his own marriage as, "...a common thing-...To have a foolish wife" (III.iii.302-304). Iago's abject refusal to acknowledge his wife's merit serves as his undoing in the play's final scene, when Emilia discovers Iago's plan and thwarts his escape from blame. Emilia cries out for authorities once she discovers Iago's wrong doing, claiming that, "'Tis proper I obey him, but not now" (V.ii.196). Rather than attempt to woo his wife from ruining him by a show of kindness (or even respect), Iago chooses to impose husbandly authority over Emilia, which is useless once Emilia recognizes who Iago truly is (Zender 335). As the situation escalates and the authorities arrive, Iago demonstrates his complete breakdown of control by killing his wife and vainly attempting to flee the scene. As he is forced to return, Iago demonstrates his utter failure with language by maintaining his resolve that," From this time forth I never will speak word" (V.ii.304). So passes one of Shakespeare's finest examples of conversational wit; Iago was among the finest in using language to ensnare and defeat the defenses of his enemies, but his ineptitude to use language as an expression of love served as his ultimate undoing.

Shakespeare's Iago is a ruthless villain; however, his strength in the processes of speech gives him unprecedented depth as an individual as well as an antagonist. Through ingenious and subtle manipulation of Roderigo and Othello, Shakespeare presents the image of Iago as a cunning surgeon of wordplay, able to turn his victim's thoughts against them as easily as if they were loaded pistols. This is not, however, the extent of Iago's character. Shakespeare suggests through selected discourse between Desdemona, Cassio, and Emilia that Iago is inept and insecure in feelings of affection and warmth. This inability to demonstrate love or affection towards others serves as Iago's downfall as he finds himself red handed at the scene of Desdemona's slaughter with no wordplay or confederate available to save him. Through the tragedy of "Othello", Shakespeare seems to suggest that the one dimensional man, be him good (Othello) or bad (Iago) are weak and subject to destruction at the hands of adversity.

The assignment is to write a research paper about a character from Shakespeare's "Othello", relating his verbal exchanges with other characters/soliloquies to his character while using external sources to set up a synthesis of research.

The paper is set up to be between five and seven pages, and mine arrives right at six. I'm not sure if I should omit some sections of his speaking and work harder at emphasizing other plot points, or if I should merely leave it as is. Any advice would be appreciated.
EF_Kevin 8 / 13,321 129  
Dec 1, 2009   #2
...one of the most creative and intelligent characters Shakespeare has ever created.

You write so well!! Great job... I'll leave it up to you to fix this thesis statement: Through analysis of Iago's spoken discourse with Roderigo, Othello, Desdemona, Cassio, and Emilia, Shakespeare provides a depth of character unheard of for such a soulless villain.----> Do you see the problem? Shakespeare is not analyzing; through analysis one can see depth of character that contrasts against soul-lessness. You have to reword that sentence so that it does not suggest that Shakespeare does something through analysis.

Iago immediately reassures Roderigo of his (Iago's) support and affection for him, showing a supportive and intuitive side that does not fit with Iago's soliloquies.
Notoman 20 / 419  
Dec 1, 2009   #3
You write well. Your verb choice and active voice are especially strong in this piece.

I think that you are missing a large part of what makes Iago's machinations so effective--the fact that others in the play, especially Othello, see Iago as being a paragon of honesty. Over and over, Othello professes his belief that Iago is an honest man. "Iago is most honest" (2.3.7), "Honest Iago" (2.3.189), "I know, Iago,/ Thy honesty and love doth mince this matter" (2.3.262-263), "And, for I know thou'rt full of love and honesty,/ And weigh'st thy words before thou givest them breath,/ Therefore these stops of thine fright me the more" (3.3.136-139) and: "Why did I marry? This honest creature doubtless/ Sees and knows more, much more, than he unfolds" (3.3.283-284) This fellow's of exceeding honesty,/ And knows all qualities, with a learned spirit,/ Of human dealings" (3.3.298-300) just for starters.

The other characters state their belief in Iago's honesty as well: "I never knew/ A Florentine more kind and honest" (Cassio 3.1.43-44).

Iago would not have been able to worm his way into Othello's mind if not for the belief that his intentions were honest.

I have to go to class now! I will come back with more comments later. This is the play that we are working on right now so I have a lot to learn from your discourse and I look forward to perusing your essay later.
OP Rod_Farva 5 / 18  
Dec 1, 2009   #4
I attempted to revise my first paragraph to accommodate some of your criticisms.

Shakespeare's Iago is a misanthropic devil; a vicious and spiteful individual who succeeds in ruining Othello and all that he has worked so hard to create. In no line of the play does Iago divulge the faintest hint of any goodness within his soulless demeanor, and every action he takes within the play serves to the detriment of those around him. Despite this one dimensionality of purpose, Iago is easily one of the most creative and intelligent characters that Shakespeare designs. Through superb manipulation of spoken word and almost impeccable use of his victims' cognitive power as a weapon, Iago manages to gain a position of such great trust that he is granted free reign in the thought processes of which ever character he chooses. This position of trust within Othello's circle provides for a virtually unassailable position of attack. Iago is not, however, lacking in imperfections. Iago's main downfall is his lack of true compassion and empathy for those around him; a flaw that leads to his undoing in the play's tragic conclusion. Through Iago's spoken discourse with Roderigo, Othello, Desdemona, Cassio, and Emilia, Shakespeare provides a depth of character unheard of for such a soulless villain.
Notoman 20 / 419  
Dec 1, 2009   #5
Good! I think you will need a short paragraph that talks about how the others' perceptions of Iago as honest allow for his plans to take flight.

A couple of quick thoughts on your first paragraph: whichever (one word), free rein (as in a horse, yes, "free reign" makes sense here, but because it is an idiom, you will need to go with the other spelling).
OP Rod_Farva 5 / 18  
Dec 1, 2009   #6
Thank you all for your help by the way.

I'm a little hesitant to put in how others' perceptions of Iago serve to help his plans take flight because the actual assignment is:

"Theater is dialogue, is speech. What does this character say? How do you interpret the exchanges they have with other characters (particularly in comparison to what they say in private)? If your character never reveals their private thoughts to the audience, how do you interpret that? It is wisest to select a key scene or two that you find exemplary or crucial to this character's development."

I just don't know how to include their trust in Iago, besides integrating it into the paper in the way that I did.
Notoman 20 / 419  
Dec 2, 2009   #7
By all means, follow the prompt! It would be difficult to weave others' perceptions into the essay given the prompt, but I think that it is good to hint at it in your opening.

Your essay is well written and I can't find much to comment on. Here's one little stylistic thing for you to think about:

"gyve thee (Cassio) in thine own courtship"(II,I, 168).

Are you using MLA style? MLA would have you use brackets [ ] instead of the parentheses around any words that you add for clarification or changes that you make in the text. When doing in-text citations in parentheses, I think it helps the reader to avoid all other uses in the text--the reader's mind tends to skip over anything in parentheses assuming that it is just a citation. Do you know how your teacher wants you to cite Shakespeare? I haven't seen the formatting quite the way you have it. Usually, the format will be in Arabic numerals (1.3.98-102) or in Roman numerals (I.iii.98-102)--with the act capitalized and the scene in lowercase. Generally, there are periods and no spaces between the act, scene, and lines. If the speaker of the quote isn't clear from your sentence, put the name (no punctuation) and then the act, scene, and lines. I don't know how to quote dialogue between two characters, but I am sure that there are "rules." This website doesn't maintain formatting when you copy and paste (italics, indentations, etc.) so it is a little hard for me to see what you have on some of these things. The ending punctuation of the quote should be omitted from the quote itself and put after the parentheses. Watch your spacing. You don't always have a space between the quotation mark and the parentheses and you should. If your teacher hasn't given you specific instructions on how he wants things, Google your school's preferred format for Shakespeare and follow that (my school teaches MLA).

Whew! I didn't mean to come across like a pedagogue! Sorry about that.
OP Rod_Farva 5 / 18  
Dec 3, 2009   #8
I think I can use arabic numerals or roman, and I fixed the spacing errors so it should look better.

I sent a draft of the intro to my professor and he mentioned that using the word "devil" and "soulless" to describe Iago was rather heavy-handed for an intro and that the weight of the words I'm using in the intro doesn't sound particularly intentional...I'm not so sure if I agree with that, but whatever. He seems to suggest that I move away from the question of Iago's evil (which is in his words..."so done") and move more towards questioning his abilities vs weaknesses (namely manipulation vs true compassion). I'm not sure how to extricate his evil nature from that, however, as evil is a big part of Iago's game in the play. Any suggestions?
EF_Kevin 8 / 13,321 129  
Dec 3, 2009   #9
Yes, a deeper analysis can give a more sophisticated insight than just an observation of Iago's evil. The complexity of characters is what makes Shakespeare so great.

This will give you a start: sparknotes.com/shakespeare/othello/canalysis.html

Characters are not simply evil, or heroic, or cowardly, or brave. We are all combinations of things. Farva was not so heroic, but it took some single-minded determination to drink a whole bottle of pancake syrup or to eat that burger that someone had surely spat into... maybe that is a bad example...
Notoman 20 / 419  
Dec 3, 2009   #10
"Theater is dialogue, is speech. What does this character say? How do you interpret the exchanges they have with other characters (particularly in comparison to what they say in private)? If your character never reveals their private thoughts to the audience, how do you interpret that? It is wisest to select a key scene or two that you find exemplary or crucial to this character's development."

I have been thinking about this. The prompt really seems to be asking about Iago's speech and what we learn about the man from what he says. Here are my thoughts on how to approach that:

Make a distinction between what Iago says to others and what he says in his soliloquies. He often contradicts himself when he is talking with others (the conversations about reputation with Roderigo and then with later with Othello, for example). When Iago says that "that 'twixt my sheets/ He has done my office," we don't know if he believes that Othello has bedded his wife or if his story of "three great ones of the city" recommending him for promotion is true. Is Iago creating these stories as a reason to hate Othello and justify his evil machinations. Iago has many soliloquies in this play--both long and short. In these soliloquies, where he is addressing the audience directly, we can assume that he is being honest--perhaps the only time he *is* honest in the play (in spite of everyone's else's assertions that Iago is an honest man). The soliloquies foreshadow and create dramatic irony. It is interesting to note how many soliloquies Iago has while Othello doesn't have one until he is about to murder Desdemona. This is because Othello is an open and honest character who readily speaks his mind in front of the other characters (until he loses his mind, at least). Iago, on the other hand, is (mostly) kind to people's faces, but hides a sinister nature. We learn about Iago's inner workings from his asides and soliloquies.

What about the way Iago speaks? He is rather crude. This is brushed aside by the other characters are merely the course speech of a soldier, but Iago uses his speech intentionally to incite emotion in his victim. From telling Bratanio that "an old black ram/ Is topping your white ewe," to impugning Desdemona's character and speaking of her as if she is a lascivious prostitute, Iago's speech is vulgar.

When choosing scenes to focus on, I would think it would work well to pick one where Iago is speaking publicly and another where he is speaking in soliloquy.

BUT ... don't listen to me! I just got my last Shakespeare paper back and I only got a 77% on it! Of course, I do have the world's *most* difficult teacher. It was wise of you to email your opening to the professor to check if you were on the right track. You don't want to spend too much time on a subject if you are going to have to switch trains. Is this a college class? Is it just Shakespeare or is it literature-based?

The Othello paper for my class will need to be something dealing with Shakespeare's craft and structure. I might do something exploring the use of soliloquies in the play.

Good luck with it! I'd love to see how it comes out.
OP Rod_Farva 5 / 18  
Dec 6, 2009   #11
Here's what I've decided on. The paper is due Tuesday, so I still have time for some last minute editing.

SEE ABOVE
Notoman 20 / 419  
Dec 6, 2009   #12
I don't have much time tonight, but let me point out a couple of things before I *must* go to bed! The weekends go toooooooo fast!

You have extra spaces in some of your citations.

Due to his one dimensional aspirations; however, Iago becomes one of the most human and fallible characters that Shakespeare designs.

The semicolon and the word "however" make this sentence a little choppy. I'd drop both and let a comma suffice where the semicolon is.

In their first meeting, Iago reveals his hatred toward Othello for removing him from his post, as well as his animosity toward Michael Cassio for taking his post.

Hmmm ... I had a different reading, but then again, Shakespeare can be difficult to understand! I didn't think that Iago was demoted or that Cassio took his post. I thought that Cassio was promoted to the position that Iago wanted. You say "in their first meeting," but the reader won't know who you are talking about. It isn't Iago and Othello's first meeting. When the reader first meets Iago?

After failing to ruin Othello's relationship, Roderigo confides to Iago that he intends to kill himself.

Clarify. Relationship with who? When? This slips into plot summary (I hear that a lot from my teacher). Is there another way to put it that sticks more to the analysis?

Iago successfully captures Othello's interest by allowing Othello to take on the implied suspicion as if he discovered it alone.

Pare down your verbs a bit here. Iago successfully captures Othello's interest by allowing Othello to imply suspicion as if he discovered it alone

As Othello desperately searches for some exterior proof that Cassio would not go behind his back; Iago not only fails to provide such proof, but his repetition of Othello's words serve to mirror and amplify the sentiment until Othello cannot construe it as anything less than fact.

Use a comma instead of the semicolon. With a semicolon, you have to have a clause that could act as its own sentence (or use them in lists where you need to have them to avoid confusion with other comma, but that is a different story).

At this point, the floodgate has been opened; and Othello is set forth on a path free from logic or reason to prove Desdemona's infidelity and Cassio's insubordination.

Don't use a semicolon with a conjunction. Either replace the semicolon with a comma or drop the word "and."

"playing the sir",

Put the comma inside of the quotation marks.

"strangle her in her bed, even the bed she/ hath contaminated" (IV.i.192-193)

When the quote is written in prose, you don't need the slash for a line break. You only need that when the quote is written in verse. You can tell the difference in the text because verse will start each line with a capital even if it is not the start of a new sentence. I looked up the quote to see how it was written (to see if you needed a slash and a capital or no slash) and I had a hard time finding it. We have different versions of the play with different line numbers.

his resolve that," From this

Fix the spacing here.

Through the tragedy of "Othello", Shakespeare

Depending on the style you are using, you might want to put the title of the play in italics. If you are using quotation marks, put the comma inside the quote marks.

Good luck with it!
EF_Kevin 8 / 13,321 129  
Dec 8, 2009   #13
Don't use a semicolon with a conjunction. Either replace the semicolon with a comma or drop the word "and."

Pretty impressive, Eric, you already have the skills necessary to be a good teacher or editor.
OP Rod_Farva 5 / 18  
Dec 9, 2009   #14
Thank you again for all of your help. We will see how it comes out!


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