Heroes and Villains: Iago and the Extent of Human Potential in Shakespeare’s Othello

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The character of Iago has traditionally been viewed as the most infamous villain in all of Shakespeare. The conniving ringmaster of the tragedy of Othello, Iago serves as a necessary catalyst for the action of the play. He takes such a principal role in the drama that the play has commonly been described as Othello’s tragedy, but Iago’s play. Scholars have disagreed, however, as to whether or not Iago can simply be described as an ingenious villain lacking all regard for morality. Many have seen some of his most inhuman or evil qualities as the very thing that makes him human; others have attributed his manipulative ambition to a deep-seeded psychological need to belong and have drawn clear parallels between Iago and the play’s tragic…show more content…
Cassio affirms that he “never knew / a Florentine more kind and honest” (III.i.37-8). Othello immediately declares him to be “of exceeding honesty” (III.iii.257) and soon begins to unquestionably take the word of his acquaintance Iago over the word of his wife, Desdemona. Iago’s charisma and deep understanding of the other characters’ ambitions and weaknesses allows him to become the puppet master of the tragedy, initially predicting each character’s behavior with great precision. But as the action unfolds, however, Iago is increasingly unable to control his situation, and in his attempts to regain control he begins to improvise with murders, including that of his own wife. While his charisma and genius understanding of human nature allow him to set his devious plan into action, his overestimation of his own abilities traps him in “in the web he spins for others” and ultimately leads to his arrest and execution (Bradley 3157).
Iago’s initial success in achieving his goals is representative of the extent of human potential in the play. While his plot stems from selfish and devious motives, Iago is wildly successful in achieving his goals up until the very end of the tragedy. His keen perceptions of the other characters’ natures allow him to exploit their weaknesses. He recognizes that Othello, as someone of “a free and open nature / that thinks men honest that but seem to be so” (I.iii.378-379), can be easily manipulated due to his deep trust in

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