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.

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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). Finally, everything Iago
pretended to be led to his demise : Honesty, Innocence, and Love.


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