The Flaws Of Human Character In Shakespeare’s Iago

Iago, one of the most notorious villains of Shakespearean literature, displays the lengths an individual may undertake to get what they want, regardless of costs. The character from ‘Othello’, a Shakespearian tragedy written in the 1600’s, portrays the common character flaw that resonates with much of the human race – an overarching envy for the unknown. This trait is a universal quality of human condition, and has the potential to manifest into the unhealthy pursuit of wealth and power. But how do I relate to Iago, and can I therefore empathise with him at all?

An individual’s envy of the seemingly unattainable, is potentially the primary motivator for them to behave in a certain manner to achieve their goal. Iago’s envy plays a major role in the progressive plotline of Othello. He feels envious towards the imagined affair between his wife and Othello, and also feels jealous of Cassio’s new status of second in command, a role Iago feels as though he rightfully deserves. This envy and rage combined with his malicious nature drives Iago to do anything in his means to further his own interests, even if that means killing another person. An example of this is in the quote ‘I am one sir, that comes to tell you your daughter and the Moor are now making the beast with two backs’. The crude, euphemistic term highlights the extent of his manipulation in order to get what he wants, even if it means being racist towards someone else. Like Iago, I hold the common human trait of always striving to achieve my goals, and determine my own, self-made future. But, unlike Iago, envy does not motivate me to harm or degrade others, but drives me to work harder. Although, Iago’s possesses the admirable quality of intelligence, he uses this to manipulative others by using their emotions and weaknesses against them. He displays the knowledge that what he is doing is wrong ‘Were I the moor, I would not be Iago’, however his individualistic and self-affirming persona overrides any potential moral compass, and drives him to cover his true nature. Iago could even be somewhat fraught with the new discovery of his ability to manipulate others ‘I would not be Iago’, as he himself sees the true effects he can have on others, but he is in far too deep to turn back.

The unhealthy pursuit of wealth and power can also have disastrous effects. In Othello, we see the true effects of Iago’s jealousy and quest for power: the death of many characters and the overall sickening loss of his own being. After Iago receives the first order to act on behalf of Othello, he begins a never-ending cycle to achieve the power he wants by manipulating others, destroying their confidence, happiness, relationships and peace of mind. He reveres wealth and power above meaningful relationships as means to attain happiness, a concept I totally disagree with and do not acknowledge myself. But, in the novel, we see the genuine effects that the pursuit of power has on an individual, by Iago’s loss of a stable mental state observed by Montano ‘Tis a notorious villain’ and portrayed when Iago kills his own wife after branding her a ‘Villainous whore!’, an extremely degrading and sexist term. Sane people, including myself, do not commit murder. This shows Iago’s self-destruction. Although, I can empathise with Iago, as his forceful pursuit of his own fate is admirable. He risks it all for a trifling advantage, but in the end, becomes a victim of his own unrealistic craving for power and happiness, a sad ending to a really long journey. Though I could never forgive him, as I believe death is never the answer.

Thus, Iago’s true manipulative, envious and selfish nature is portrayed by his pursuit of power and wealth, that in turn causes the destruction of his own self sanity. His ambitious qualities are a universal aspect of the human condition, that I too can relate to, although I disagree with the way he achieves his goal, as he destroys and harms others in the process.     

16 December 2021
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