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‘Othello’ by William Shakespeare

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In the play, ‘Othello,’ by William Shakespeare, one character is considered the most evil character in all of English literature. This character is Iago, the antagonist of the play. He is considered so evil because of his ability to manipulate and persuade people into believing things, and making others’ good qualities the main reason for their downfall. During the course of the play, he manipulates others to do whatever he wants, and makes Othello believe that his wife, Desdemona, is having an affair with Cassio, the man who recently was given the title of second in command, a job in which Iago felt he was better qualified for. This is one of the main reasons that Iago wants to make Othello suffer, though he also mentions the fact that he was suspicious that Othello slept with his wife, Emilia.

Iago is a master of Rhetoric, the art of persuasion. He uses three aspects of rhetoric in his persuasion: Pathos, which appeals to emotion, specifically anger, fear and pity; Ethos, which appeals to the speaker’s credibility in the play, and finally Logos, which appeals to logic. He is so successful with his manipulation because not only is he extremely clever and witty, but also very trusted among every character in the play, especially Othello. Othello believes that Iago is his right hand man, and tells him nothing but the truth. Iago takes advantage of this by pretending to feel sorry for him when he tells him lies about Cassio and Desdemona, and how they have been sleeping together. One example of Iago acting sorry for Othello is in lines 182-210 of Act 3, Scene 3:

Othello-    Why, why is this?

Think’st thou I’d make a life of jealousy, to follow still the changes of the moon with fresh suspicions? No! To be once in doubt is to be resolved. Exchange me for a goat when I shall turn the business of my soul to such exsufflicate and blowed surmises, matching thy inference. ‘Tis not to make me jealous to say my wife is fair, feeds well, loves company, Is free of speech, sings, plays, and dances. Where virtue is, these are more virtuous nor from mine own weak merits will I draw the smallest fear or doubt of her revolt, for she had eyes and chose me. No, Iago, I’ll see before I doubt, when I doubt, prove, and on the proof there is no more but this: Away at once with love or jealousy!

Iago- I am glad of this, for now I shall have reason to show the love and duty that I bear you With franker spirit. Therefore, as I am bound, receive it from me. I speak not yet of proof. Look to your wife, observe her well with Cassio. Wear your eyes thus, not jealous nor secure. I would not have your free and noble nature Out of self-bounty be abused. Look to’t. I know our country disposition well. In Venice they do let God see the pranks they dare not show their husbands. Their best conscience is not to leave’t undone, but keep’t unknown.

Othello- Dost thou say so?
During the course of these monologues Othello simply tells Iago that he has full trust in Desdemona, and that he is not jealous of Cassio in any way. He rambles about how perfect she is, and how he has no suspicion at all. Othello says, if he is presented with proof of any sort that Cassio and Desdemona are having an affair, he will love her no more. In response to this, Iago subtly hints to Othello that he should watch Desdemona, and be neither suspicious nor trusting, and see how things seem to him. What makes these lines so clever on Iago’s part is that he says just enough to make Othello think about whether or not his dear Desdemona is faithful to him, or not, all while seeming completely harmless about it.

Not only does Iago manipulate Othello in the play, he manipulated almost every other character in the play as well. Again, like Othello, other characters believe that Iago is truly caring for them. For example, Roderigo listens carefully to all of the advice given to him from Iago, and does whatever he says. In lines 381-415 in Act 1, Scene 3, there is an example of this: Iago- It is merely a lust of the blood and a permission of the will. Come, be a man! Drown thyself? Drown cats and blind puppies! I have professed me thy friend, and I confess me knit to thy deserving with cables of perdurable toughness; I could never better stead thee than now. Put money in thy purse; follow thou the wars; defeat thy favor with an usurped beard. I say, put money in thy purse. It cannot be that Desdemona should long continue her love to the Moor—put money in thy purse—nor he his to her. It was a violent commencement, and thou shalt see an answerable sequestration; put but money in thy purse. These Moors are changeable in their wills:—fill thy purse with money.

The food that to him now is as luscious as locusts, shall be to him shortly as acerb as the coloquintida. She must change for youth; when she is sated with his body, she will find the error of her choice. She must have change, she must; therefore put money in thy purse. If thou wilt needs damn thyself, do it a more delicate way than drowning. Make all the money thou canst. If sanctimony and a frail vow betwixt an erring barbarian and a super subtle Venetian be not too hard for my wits and all the tribe of hell, thou shalt enjoy her; therefore make money. A pox of drowning thyself! It is clean out of the way. Seek thou rather to be hanged in compassing thy joy than to be drowned and go without her.

Roderigo- Wilt thou be fast to my hopes, if I depend on the issue? Iago- Thou art sure of me; go, make money. I have told thee often, and I retell thee again and again, I hate the Moor. My cause is hearted; thine hath no less reason. Let us be conjunctive in our revenge against him. If thou canst cuckold him, thou dost thyself a pleasure, me a sport. There are many events in the womb of time which will be delivered. Traverse, go, provide thy money. We will have more of this tomorrow. Adieu. In these lines, Iago manipulates Roderigo into thinking that if he wants to make Desdemona love him, it will not be hard because Othello and her will not last. In the future this will set Cassio up to look like he is with Desdemona.

In conclusion, Iago is considered so evil because of his ability to manipulate and persuade people into believing things, and making others’ good qualities the main reason for their downfall. He uses rhetoric in his manipulating, which is part of the reason why he is so good at persuading others to do things that he wants them to do. In the end, Iago not only manipulates every other character in the play, but he is the most selfish character in all of English Literature.

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