Iago: Honest or Dishonest?

“I am an honest man…” says Iago, one of the major characters in the Shakespearean play, Othello. He is commonly referred to as the “Honest Iago”. Is Iago really an honest man? Though this is what he claims, Iago still is the most liar and amoral villain in all Shakespeare’s works. Iago, the ultimate villain, is a manipulative, liar, smart and amoral being. He is the most sinister villain in all Shakespeare’s works who maintains his reputation and dedication throughout the whole play. He has the most number of lines any non-title character Shakespeare ever produced. Probably, two major villainous characteristics which he possess are being manipulative and being a liar. He projects an image of being the “good guy” even if he really is the “bad guy”. He even tries to maintain this image so as people around him will not think bad about him and even trust him. His image is the one who is honest, helpful, and reliable. He really is able to do well in deceiving many of the other characters. Why is Iago this type of person? What makes him do this? As we all know, people who do wrong to other people have their motives for doing so. In Iago’s case, his motives are primarily jealousy, insecurity, sexual infidelity, and racism.

1. This will serve as your introductory paragraph. Not too long and not too short. There is a hook which is the line: “I am an honest man…”. Since this paper is all about Iago’s character, I believe that it can be considered as a hook because it is a very interesting statement by him. Your thesis statement is also included in that paragraph just as you wanted. The succeeding sentences after the thesis are still considered as part of the introduction because it does not discuss anything yet.

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Thesis statement: Iago still is the most liar and amoral villain in all Shakespeare’s works. Iago, the ultimate villain, is a manipulative, liar, smart and amoral being.

2. A non-title character is the term used for a minor character like Iago. Iago is a “non-title character” because he is not Othello, Hamlet, Romeo, nor Juliet. Don’t worry about the term “non-title character”, it is a widely used term.

Manipulating other people is probably the worst thing a person could do to let other people suffer. In this way, other people tend to be embarrassed and seem to be foolish. Iago is considered as a manipulative person. In fact, all of the play’s characters except Roderigo and (to some extent) Emilia are convinced that Iago is a plain-dealing truth-teller (Hall 72) He knows Rodrigo is in love with Desdemona and figures that he would do anything to have her as his own.  Iago says about Rodrigo, “Thus do I ever make my fool my purse.” (Act I, Scene III, Line 355). He then is able to swindle money from Rodrigo and uses him to further fulfill his plans. Another act which is a manipulative one is done with Cassio and Desdemona. When Cassio takes hold of Desdemona’s hand before the arrival of the Moor Othello, Iago says, “With as little a web as this will I ensnare as great a fly as Cassio.” (Act II, Scene I, Line 163). His smart plans and his way of dealing with things really make his the villain of all villains.

Being a liar is another major characteristic of Iago. He lies to everyone in order for him to succeed with his plan. He even lies to Othello, good enough for him to believe everything that he says. There is even a line delivered by Othello which remarks his trust over Iago. Othello said that, “of exceeding honesty, [who] knows all qualities, with learned spirit of human dealings.” (Act III, Scene III, Line 257) This statement by Othello, refers to Iago, truly proves that Iago, somehow, gained his trust already. Iago’s careful manipulation of words to poison Othello’s mind turns his love into irrational suspicion and horrified jealousy.” (Nostbakken 3). Othello seemed to be very proud of his capabilities and his personality which makes him believe in everything that he says. This, again, is the result of Iago’s villainous plan of gaining the trust of Othello thereby destroying him in the end.

A smart man, he is, for he easily recognizes whether the concept of “trust” can be of help to him. And of course Iago is always in the know (Calderwood 68). He knows that when he already gains the trust of other people, he can now use them for his villainous plan because they probably won’t ask a thing about what he wants them to do. If they trust him enough, they will just do what he wants without any questions. He easily poisons people’s thought, creating negative ideas in their heads which leads him to gain their trusts. When he does, he abuses it. The whole play itself easily depicts the abuse of trust, this, of course, is because of Iago’s doings. So that people will not think ill of him and accuse him of being deceitful, he then delivers another important line: “And what’s he then that says I play the villain, when this advice is free I give, and honest,” (Act II, Scene III, Line 299). Because of this statement, Iago fully gains the trust of others.

Iago is amoral. There is not a bit doubt that he really is. If a person does something wrong and does not feel even a small feeling of guilt, he then is amoral. If a person continuously deceives other people; friends, family, lover, and yet does not feel guilty about it, there is no doubt that the person is amoral. In almost every scene in the play, Iago shows the characteristic of being deceptive. He tricks Othello into believing that his own wife is having an affair with another man.

It is accepted that Iago is villainous, evil, and mean. As stated earlier, these deeds by him are, of course, due to motivating factors. One of Iago’s motives is because of jealousy. Iago is jealous of Othello because the position which he wanted is given to Othello. The following lines prove this:
I hate the Moor;

And it is thought abroad, that ‘twixt my sheets

He has done my office: I know not if ‘t be true;

But I, for mere suspicion in that kind, will do as if for surety.
– Iago, scene III
Because of this, he then plans to destroy Othello. This, of course, is also because of insecurity. Iago is insecure about Othello. He thinks that he can do better than Othello and that the position should be his than Othello’s. he believes that he is more worthy than Othello and that his capabilities are better than Othello’s.

Iago’s character also adresses issues on sexual infidelity. Iago thinks that his wife, Emilia is also unfaithful to him. Many of Iago’s remarks about women and his schemes against them throughout the play seem genuinely hateful and destructive (Nostbakken 80). Because of his suspiscions about Emilia, he then destoys Roderigo. In his plan of doing so, he then makes fool of Roderigo. From the very beginning, Iago holds Roderigo on the neck and manipulates him. He even brainwashes Roderigo to hate Othello. Iago tells Roderigo that he should “make money” (Act I, scene III, line 339) so that he can give gifts to Desdemona and win her over. This is his way of destroying Roderigo. Near the end of the play, Iago’s plans are revealed by Emilia, his own wife. Because of this, he then kills Emilia. This is now another question; Did he kill Emilia because of revealing his plans or because of infidelity? the answer can actually be both. There is no doubt that he would be tempted to kill the woman for her big mouth, however, it is also possible that he killed her because of his anger in accusing her infidelity. however, whatever the motive may be, in the end, Iago still is able to kill Emilia and Roderigo.

Another character with whom Iago successfully makes fool with, is Cassio. Cassio, like Roderigo, thinks that Iago is just trying to help him. He then gives his trust to the man. Anoe night, Iago persuades Iago to drink knowing very well that it will make Cassio very drunk. Cassio then tells him, “I’ll do’t, but it dislikes me.” (Act II, Scene III, Line 37). After that, Iago still trick him into having another shot. Cassio trusts Iago very much and even remarks, “You advise me well” (Act II, scene II, line 292). Through this, it is very clearly stated that Cassio is also one of the people whom Iago manipulates.

Racism is also one factor which drives Iago crazy and makes him destroy Othello. As we all know, Othello is a Moor. He is black. An issue on racism then follows. Iago cannot accept the fact that a position he very much desires is given to a moor. He is a racist. He thinks and believes that such a position cannot be handled well by a “moor”. He does not believe in the capability of other races, he believes that the position shall be his because he is white and he more capable. He believes that Othello cannot be a great leader because of what he is. Iago was the very “spirit of hate” (Rosenberg 291). This obviously proves that racism is one of his motives in being such a villainous person and in destroying the moor, Othello.

Iago’s character and personality plays a great role in the progress of the Shakespearean play, Othello. His participation and his villainous acts contribute to the interesting plot of the play. Through this analysis, we then are able to learn how Iago’s villainous acts are depicted in the play. We also learned that through his acts of being manipulative, liar, smart, and amoral, he is able to establish his own personality. Through this analysis, we also learned that any behavior that is shown by a particular person is due to different motives. In Iago’s case, we learned that jealousy, insecurity, sexual infidelity, and racism are his primary motives for being such a villain.


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