Monday, October 1, 2012

Iago's Motivation

The first thing that struck me when I started reading Othello, was that it seemed worlds away from the largely comic Much Ado About Nothing.  But as I continued to read the first act, I did note that just as in Much Ado About Nothing, many of the characters in Othello are deceiving the others; the principle deceiver being Iago.  Unlike in Much Ado where Don John's deceptions are figured out and righted, Iago's ability to deceive downright everyone thus far has me convinced that this might be the kind of play where the villain triumphs.

The source of Iago's hate for his master, Othello, is apparently all due to his feeling slighted at being overlooked for the position of lieutenant.  This propels Iago to seek revenge on not only Cassio and Othello, but apparently everyone they associate with.  I wonder though if Iago has any other motivation for such serious general malicious intent.  At first I thought that Iago's disdain for Othello particularly might be based in somehow in racism, as everyone seems to make note of Othello's skin color- but I think this wouldn't really account for Iago's hatred for everyone else as well. I think that maybe the only explanation is in Act I scene I,  where Iago says of his loyalty to Othello:

 In following him, I follow but myself;
Heaven is my judge, not I for love and duty,
But seeming so, for my peculiar end. (I.i.58-60)

Iago has no true loyalty to anyone but himself, but he also says that "heaven is [his] judge" which to me means that Iago is saying that he has no reverence for God or Heaven, because he still intends to act in whatever way pleases him.  Iago makes himself more enigmatic as he goes on, saying that the day that he shows his true nature is the day that he lets crows peck out his heart (I.i.61-64). As Iago concludes his passage with "I am not what I am", I'm left wondering how Iago sees himself and how we are meant to see him.  If Iago tells us that he is a villain, but then says that his identity is unstable, then I'm curious to see if he will purely be a villain over the course of the play or if at some point he'll express some sort of pathos.

4 comments:

Christina Lee said...

The interesting thing about Shakespeare is his sense of justice. Similar to how you are pointing out Iago and his motivations to kill Othello and Don John’s hatred towards Don Pedro, (without ruining the ending) the villain never triumphs. Shakespeare similar to his comedies (as we have seen) is great at giving an ending that is bittersweet. He does not leave the main plot open, nor does he just let the main villain walkout without any consequences. Shakespeare, may have an odd sense of who deserves what type of punishment, but he also makes those characters eat their “just desserts,” such as Don John who is captured.
Furthermore the analysis of why Iago tries to kill Othello is back to what Professor Mulready had taught us about status and the importance of status. Again during Shakespeare’s time status is everything and without it you are worth nothing. Iago is a prime example of deception because of money and the want to be better than the next person. He is like that greedy capitalistic idea of always being number one no matter who you betray and step on because in the end of the day it is just you that needs to succeed.

Kelly Prendergast said...

I find it interesting that both plays, Much Ado About Nothing and Othello, both center around deception of other characters. However, the differences between these deceptions couldn't be more separate, and couldn't yield more drastically different results. Shakespeare seems fascinated with the dynamics of honesty and trust between characters, as well as the characters' abilities to single out weaknesses, insecurities and vices that can be manipulated. Iago identifies Brabanzio's weakness and plays off of his love for his daughter; he uses undertones of racism and imagery of Othello conquering her innocence. Iago tells Brabanzio that Othello is a "black ram tupping your white ewe." (1.1.89) Iago manipulates Brabanzio's love for his daughter, his sense of control over her in calling her "your" white ewe, and obviously manipulates Brabanzio's belief in racial stereotypes. I find the differences, and similarities, between Iago's manipulation and the manipulation between Beatrice and Benedick interesting; an investigation of tone, intent, motivation and result is what makes one of these plays a comedy, and the other a tragedy.

Cyrus Mulready said...

The question of Iago's motivation is huge in this play, and a topic that critics have frequently touched upon. One of the things we will discuss in this play is whether we find a *real* motivation at any point, and how that makes us feel about the consequences of Iago's actions. That is, how do we feel about the tragic events that unfold knowing what we do about what motivated them?

Erika Pumilia said...

Maeve, This play is a far cry from Much Ado About Nothing, but the one thing that I find so similar with Shakespeare is the character set up. There is always (well what I am familiar with) a good guy, a bad guy, a girl, her father, someone for the girl to have at her side, and the other characters fall into place. I have a love hate relationship for this technique I guess, because I am already set up with some sort of basic knowledge, but at the same time there is not much left for anticipation.