One of the most intriguing characters in the tragic play "Othello," by William Shakespeare, is Othello's "friend" Iago. Iago is the central villain in the play and deliberately tries to cause trouble for Othello. The play opens with Iago beginning to conspire with Rodrigo, a simple-minded man in love with Desdemona, with only Iago's hatred for Othello given as a reason for destruction. However, the audience is not informed for the reasons for his hatred. On a surface level, his hatred could be just accepted as his character being evil and a villain and thus he need no motivation. However, such a villain would distract from the impact of the play and would be unoriginal.
Shakespeare to add depth to his villain makes him amoral, as opposed to the typical immoral villain. Despite Iago's unquestionable malignancy, the motivation behind his actions lie more in his quest for personal gain, as opposed to just being evil for evil's sake. In order to achieve his personal gain Iago manipulates Rodrigo, Cassio, and, most importantly, Othello. Iago's entire scheme begins when the "ignorant, ill-suited" Cassio is given the position he desired. Iago is consumed with envy and plots to steal the position he feels he most justly deserves. Iago holds a very Machiavellian view on how he should obtain what he wants.
Iago wants power, wealth, and recognition. He desires these things so much that he will deceive, steal, and kill in order to gain those things. However, it is not that Iago pushes aside his conscience to commit these acts, but that he lacks a conscience to begin with. He is driven by his hatred and even at the end of the play when he is discovered; he feels no guilt or remorse for the suffering he caused. Iago's amorality can be seen throughout the play and is demonstrated by his actions. Iago's main interest is the destruction of Othello.
The reason being that Othello has chosen another man, Cassio, as his second-in-command, preferring him to Iago. This resentment, accompanied by Iago's blatant racism and quest for power, cause Iago to despise Othello, and shortly thereafter, begin to conspire against him. Instead of just killing Othello, Iago proceeds to attack him emotionally. Iago will not be satisfied with just killing, he must torture him and make him feel the shame that Iago feels from a life of serving people and never being the one in power.
Iago begin to manipulate the people around Othello in order to hurt him and make him think that his wife, Desdemona, and Cassio are having an affair. He does not care about others or what happens to them. He wants to get power and revenge for being slighted for a position at all costs. The first to fall victim to Iago's manipulation is Rodrigo. Iago knows Rodrigo has feelings Desdemona, and would do anything to make her his own. Iago tells Rodrigo that the only way to win Desdemona's love, is to give money to Iago and he will help him.
.".. Put money in thy purse." (Act 1, Scene 3, Line 339). However, Iago is just taking that money for his own consumption and using it to work against Othello. "Thus do I ever make my fool my purse" (Act 1, Scene 3, Line 376). Iago manages to steal from his own friend without the slightest feeling of guilt. He embezzles the money that Rodrigo gives him to win over Desdemona.
When Rodrigo discovers that Iago has been hoarding his money he screams at Iago and threatens him. However, Rodrigo quickly forgets to question Iago's honesty when Iago tells him the plot to capture Desdemona's heart. Rodrigo forgets Iago's theft and agrees to kill Cassio. "I have no great devotion to the deed and yet he has given me satisfying reason," (Act 5, Scene 1, Line 8). In doing this, Iago keeps Rodrigo in the dark and continues to profit from him monetarily. Iago's quick intellect is his most useful characteristic.
His ability to say the right things at the right time is what makes him such a successful villain. However, someone with a conscience would never be able to keep up such a ploy and deceive everyone around him. Thus, Iago is described as not only evil but amoral. Iago strikes out at Cassio by getting him drunk and causing him to get in a fight with Rodrigo.
This lack of control disturbs Othello, because it is not the actions of an officer. Othello proceeds to demote Cassio of his rank as second-in-command. He then turns over the position to his honest friend, Iago. Cassio serves as the "middle man" in Iago's plan. Not only does Iago get Cassio demoted but also, he makes him the main focus of Othello's rage by making it look like he is having an affair with Desdemona. Iago tricks Othello into believing that his own wife is having an affair, without any concrete proof.
Othello is so caught up in Iago's lies that he refuses to believe Desdemona when she denies the whole thing. Othello is so consumed with grief at the thought of his wife being disloyal that he decides that the honorable thing must be done at all costs. Like Iago, Othello has resolved to do in a Machiavellian sense what has to be done. However, Othello acts out of honor, while Iago acts out of pure jealousy. Othello tells Iago to kill Cassio and states that he will kill Desdemona himself.
Instead of killing Cassio, Iago sends Rodrigo to do his dirty work. This is where Iago's plan begins to unravel. Othello successfully murders Desdemona, however Cassio never dies. Iago carefully disposes of Rodrigo before he can tell his story but Iago is unable to secure Cassio's death. At the climactic ending of the play, Iago's plot is given away by his own wife, Emilia.
Iago sees his wife as an obstacle and a nuisance so he kills her. He kills her not as much out of anger but for pragmatic reasons. Emilia is a stumbling block in front of his path. She serves no purpose to him anymore and she can now only hurt his chances of keeping the position he has been given by Othello.
However, she has already spoken too much for Iago to keep up the deception. Othello sees the truth in Iago. Othello recognizes the horrid destruction that has been caused by Iago's evil jealousy. He understands in that moment that he has innocently killed his wife, who had never done anything dishonorable. In the scene, the other characters also recognize Iago's evil and Othello's trouble. When Othello proceeds to kill himself, they are not surprised because it is the only honorable thing to do.
Othello would other wise be tried for murder, which would destroy his honor and reputation. Throughout this ending, Iago remains steadfast in his emotions that he did what he wanted and did what had to be done. He feels no remorse for any of the transpired events. Iago's merciless taking of Emilia's and Rodrigo's lives is further proof of his amorality. They were all pawns in his game for power. Shakespeare took his villains to a higher level.
He did not make them transparent or simple. He gave his villains depth and spirit. Iago is a perfect villain. His amorality and cynicism give the character life. Iago is able to deceive and seek out his goal with Machiavellian determination. Othello, Desdemona, Cassio, and Rodrigo, are all innocent victims that die because of the selfishness of Iago.
He wanted the promotion that Cassio acquired and he wanted to hurt Othello for giving the promotion to Cassio. Moreover, he wanted to harm Othello because he wanted the power that Othello held, that Iago did not believe he deserved. Iago was not evil for the sake of being evil. His evil was driven from jealousy and greed that he couldn't control. Iago was intent on obtaining what he wanted at all costs.
The supreme tragedy of this play is that so many innocent lives had to perish under the deception of one individual's greed.