The conflict in Shakespeare’s tragedy is extremely tense and uncompromising, and it unfolds as a clash of two antagonistic forces. In the foreground, there is the struggle between two strong characters of Othello and Iago that embody different features, life principles, views, and opposite passions. The tragedy is dialectical in Shakespeare’s work. The readers may witness the fight between good and evil, which is not only external but also happens in the soul of a man (Cefalu 78). Throughout the years, Iago in Shakespeare's play Othello, the Moor of Venice has been an enigma to scholars. This character does not hesitate to commit terrible crimes, which are the consequences of his revenge. Iago’s awful actions demonstrate his selfishness, vileness, and disregard for others. Shakespeare notes that Iago is not just "a principal villain" who likes evil for evil's sake. He is sane, and his actions are quite logical, but his cynical and predatory immorality is caused by the fact that he has not been promoted but neglected by Othello. Shakespeare depicts Iago as a source of intrigue and a complex character; he combines the features of a tempter and an evil schemer who directs the scenario of other people’s lives. He is a great psychologist who understands the human soul and mind. In fact, he is a jealous megalomaniac who is obsessed with his power.
Iago is one of the central characters of William Shakespeare's tragedy Othello, the Moor of Venice. In fact, he is one of Shakespeare's favorite types of "villains," but he is rather mysterious because his thoughts and intentions are not obvious (Pechter 89). Although he possesses a plebian nature that is forced to be in the service of "the Moor," he appears to be malicious and cruel. Being filled with hatred for Othello, he is unable to notice the happiness of Othello and Desdemona. Thus, he creates a terrible affair around them that leads to the deaths of many innocent lives. Iago is completely different from Othello. He is cunning, jealous, and ready for any villainy to destroy the harmony of other people’s lives.
Shakespeare describes him as not "an evil incarnate." He is depicted as an evil schemer who is rather narrow-minded and passionate about the intrigues (Kolin 108). It is enough to eventually destroy the lives of generous Othello and Desdemona. Unlike Othello, Desdemona much better understands who Iago really is, but she cannot resist. The hatred that drives all Iago’s actions and thoughts make him reject everyone who is superior to him. His character resembles a terribly destructive force. Both hatred and destruction are the only feelings that Iago is capable of (Snyder 27). Iago is not only an actor who is constantly changing his roles, but he is also a director of the lives of other characters. He always pretends that he is a devoted and helpful friend and that he faithfully tries to do good for others. However, he selfishly wants to do good only for himself. Thus, Iago is a perfect manipulator. He is a false, insincere, and two-faced character. He always pretends to be a good friend and advisor. In one of the scenes, he even persuades Othello not to be jealous saying that jealousy destroys a man:
O, beware, my lord, of jealousy!
It is the green-eyed monster which doth mock
The meat it feeds on. (Shakespeare 3.3.165-167)
Besides being a good actor and director, he is an excellent psychologist. He knows a human soul and uses this skill for self-centered and evil reasons. Noble deeds of others irritate him so much that he becomes controlled by the desire to break and destroy. Being able to find a weak spot in every person, he masterfully takes advantage of this knowledge influencing Othello to kill innocent Desdemona. Finally, his evil plan is revealed by his wife whom he kills in a rage before an execution. Owing to his actions towards women, it is possible to say that Iago is a misogynist. He considers all women unfaithful liars. Besides, he thinks that all black men are evil. Iago spreads rumors and malicious gossips for his selfish purposes. During the tragedy, he intends to change Desdemona’s reputation from “virtuous wife” to “lewd minx” (Shakespeare 3.3.476-479). He is guided only by the stereotypes and prejudice not seeing the good in people. He notices either danger or weaknesses which he tries to benefit from.
Iago is also portrayed as a megalomaniac who is obsessed with power. He admits that by serving to Othello, he helps himself. He is driven by the desire to gain an advantage over other people. Certainly, he is not only a notorious villain but also a clever, calculating, hypocritical, and cynical character. Iago is jealous of Othello because he as the Moor manages to marry young and beautiful Desdemona. He calls him "an old black ram" and says that Desdemona cannot continue loving the Moor for a long time, “When she is sated with his body, she will find the error of her choice” (Shakespeare 1.3.340). Othello and Desdemona annoy him because they have the essence that Iago lacks. They are noble, generous, and virtuous. So, jealousy is the main reason for Iago’s revenge and a very strong motive for his violence. Iago believes that he has been disregarded and considered less respected and important than an ordinary arithmetician. There is also another motive ???– Iago thinks that his wife, Emilia, had an affair with Othello:
I hate the Moor;
And it is thought abroad that 'twixt my sheets
'Has done my office. I know not if't be true;
Yet I, for mere suspicion in that kind,
Will do as if for surety. (Shakespeare 1.3.378-380)
As it was mentioned, the essence of Shakespeare’s tragedy always lies in a collision between two principles: pure and noble humanity versus vulgarity and meanness based on selfishness (Bate 48). According to Shakespeare, the fate of every person is the result of an interaction of human nature with the surrounding circumstances. Shakespeare shows how the noblest, the wisest, and the most gifted people die under the pressure of dark forces. Moreover, he demonstrates how easily evil takes over a human soul and which terrible consequences it causes (Bloom 115). It is interesting if Iago can be considered “a fate” that ruins people’s lives. If destiny is the result of cooperation between human behavior the events, Iago can be called “a fate.” However, it is essential to understand that the tragedy occurs not because of a destiny only but the selfish and sneaky character who is under the control of jealousy and greed.
Iago ranks the highest place among all evil characters in Shakespeare’s plays, especially because he does not only represent a devil, but he also appears like an excellent psychologist who knows how to manipulate and take advantage of human weaknesses. In fact, he is a great manipulator. He is also a special character because nobody knows his real nature and intentions, except himself. Iago knows who he is and why he behaves in such away. He says that he is not what he seems to be. Iago creates his own theater, where he is not an actor but a director who controls people’s lives like puppets. He disguises himself so easily because he is empty inside. Throughout the play, the audience could see that Iago wants to prove his significance to others. Moreover, his selfish desire to be better and possesses what others have caused the death of many people. Finally, he is the character who cannot become who he always wanted to be. His violence is based on jealousy that leads him during the whole play.