The Allegorical Vice Character Of Iago

Morality plays typically contain a central character, a protagonist who represents an aspect of humanity with supporting characters that are personifications of good and evil. This alignment of characters provides the play’s audience with moral guidance. Othello symbolizes the human soul placed between the demonic Iago and the angelic Desdemona. Both of these characters demand his love and his loyalty and his fate is torn between them. Desdemona personifies an angel who represents the spirit of self-sacrifice and intense love. In her undeserved death, she symbolizes Christian love and the acceptance of God’s will. Iago is a two-sided character. The inherently evil side of his malicious nature uses trickery to damn Othello’s soul with no apparent motive. The other side is disguised by his honesty and goodness to all those that he uses to fulfill his revengeful plan. Othello’s ignorance of true love and his fear of unworthiness allow manipulation into his tragic fate and ultimate death.

As the allegorical vice character, Iago masterfully treats his artful seduction as a sport combining mischief with triumph over his fallen adversary. Roderigo’s lust for Desdemona seduces him into Iago’s plot. “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” (I.iii.408-412). Othello’s serious flaws are his jealously, his insecurities and his gullibility. It doesn’t take much for Iago to convince Othello that Desdemona is cheating on him. Othello is so convinced that Iago is hiding something about her infidelity that he even questions their marriage. “Why did I marry? This honest creature doubtless sees and knows more, much more, than he unfolds” (III.iii.283-284). Iago uses trickery in “begging the question” to plant the seed of suspicion in his Act III, scene iii conversation with Othello. Othello fertilizes this with his own insecurities of race, lack of social etiquette, and age. Without proof, he has convinced himself that Desdemona must be having an affair. “Haply, for I am black and have not those soft parts of conversation that chamberers have, or for I am declined into the vale of years, yet that’s not much, she’s gone, I am abused, and my relief must be to loathe her” (III.iii.304-309). Iago is proud of his accomplishment of trickery but has more mischief coming. “The Moor already changes with my poison. Dangerous conceits are in their natures poisons” (III.iii.373-374).

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Iago has a motiveless role beneath a mask of motivated hostility. It seems that Iago has been passed over for promotion and his military ambition makes an entirely credible motive. His imagination of Emilia’s affair with Othello is another motive that pushes him forward. “I hate the Moor, and it is thought abroad that ‘twixt my sheets he’s done my office. I know not if’t be true, but I, for mere suspicion in that kind” (I.iii.429-432). Emilia’s other suspected affair with Cassio makes yet another imaginary motive. “For I fear Cassio with my night-cape too” (II.i.329). His motives are fired by his own imagination. Iago’s insane jealousy seems to be rooted in sharing the Moor’s attention with another human. His envy of Cassio and Desdemona and his anger towards them are so strong that he is compelled to end their lives and damage Othello for his love of them. His inflated response is motivated because he loves evil for its own sake. He delights in the turmoil he causes and asks for help from the devil himself to complete his plans. “It is engendered! Hell and night must bring this monstrous birth to the world’s light” (I.iii.446-447).

Iago is a light-hearted intriguer existing on intimate terms with his audience. Iago’s allegorical figure delights in horseplay and his mischievous humor make him a popular character. His two-sided character lets him play the role of a villain for the audience and a friend to the characters on stage. Everyone but the audience sees him as good and that fosters a high degree of suspense. Iago is the only character in Othello to talk to the audience and he invites them to witness his ability to reduce a man from a state of grace to utter ruin. He shares his plans to get Cassio arrested. “Am I to put our Cassio in some action that may offend the isle” (II.iii.63-64). In another soliloquy, Iago tells the audience his plans to use Desdemona’s good intentions of helping Cassio to prove her affair to Othello. “So will I turn her virtue into pitch and out of her own goodness make the net that shall enmesh them all” (II.iii.380-382). Iago includes the audience in yet another aside about his plan to make Othello mad with ignorant jealousy. He uses a twisted conversation with Cassio about Bianca to send Othello over the edge. “As he shall smile, Othello shall go mad. And his unbookish jealousy must construe poor Cassio’s smiles, gestures, and light behavior quite in the wrong” (IV.i.117-120).

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The allegorical vice character poses as the friend of his victim and always appeared to devote himself to his friend’s welfare. The three characters Iago poses his most devotion to are Othello, Cassio and Roderigo and these same men truly feel they are his best friends. Iago repeatedly tells Othello of his friendship and his devotion to his duty. “My lord, you know I love you” (III.iii.134). ” . . . for now I shall have reason to show the love and duty that I bear you with franker spirit” (III.iii.224-226). For the ultimate devotion, he would kill for Othello. “Witness that here Iago doth give up the execution of his wit, hands, heart, to wronged Othello’s service” (III.iii.528-530). Of his friend Cassio, Iago would never speak badly. “I had rather have this tongue cut from my mouth than it should do offence to Michael Cassio” (II.iii.236-237). He tells of Cassio’s military excellence. “He is a soldier fit to stand by Caesar and give direction” (II.iii.126-127). Iago helps Cassio regain his friendship with Othello because he says he respects and likes him. “I protest, in the sincerity of love and honest kindness” (II.iii.347-348). Iago also pledges to stick by Roderigo because of their friendship. “I have professed me thy friend, and I confess me knit to thy deserving with cables of perdurable toughness” (I.iii.379-381).

The vice character’s appeal in the morality play was not his evil nature, but the way he tricked the hero to carry out his plans. Iago blames Othello’s downfall on Othello himself, not taking any responsibility for the outcome. Even at the play’s end when Othello asks Iago to explain his evil intentions he says nothing. “Demand me nothing. What you know, you know. From this time forth I never will speak word” (V.ii.355-356). The turmoil Iago caused was evil natured with no real motive except his own delight. The turmoil resulted in our hero being tempted, choosing poorly, and finally realizing his sins. Othello asks Cassio for forgiveness. “I do believe it, and I ask your pardon” (V.ii.352). The play ends with our fallen hero and the audience learning a moral lesson taught by the vice-filled antagonist.

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