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What about Max Iago and the Master of the Navel in Othello?

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When thinking of what makes someone a master puppeteer, a reader might consider a master puppeteer to be is an expert who perfectly handles his marionettes through his presentation, thus causing happiness, sadness, destruction or the creation of something with just a flick of his wrist. Reading Shakespeare’s The Tragedy of Othello, it is very noticeable how manipulative Iago is. From his actions and behavior might even make the reader think of him as a puppeteer; however, his not a mere puppeteer, but a master of the craft says Christofides. R.M Christofides is the author of Iago and equivocation: the seduction and damnation of Othello and in his article, he talks about how Iago uses equivocation, as a dissimulator and how he undoes Othello with suggestions which appear to be true, but they are actually false. Articles such as Christofide’s, A.C Bradley’s 1904 Shakespearean Tragedy London, Madeline Doran’s Good Name in Othello, and Alexandra Melville’s Character analysis: Iago in Othello will be used to prove that, Iago is a master puppeteer, and also talk about what motivate him. Bradley talks about the tragic flaw is the imperfect hero Othello which eventually brings him down. The same flaw which Iago exploited. In Melville’s, she discusses the villainous character of Iago, and how he enjoys seeing people in pain. In parts of Doran’s, she talks about the strategies of Iago hangs on him enciphering the names of his victims. Synder’s Othello: A Modern Perspective will give us a modern view of Iago’s actions. All the articles above give us a better understanding of the master puppeteer called Iago and what makes him tick.

When reflecting on the play, Iago is the character who leaves a more memorable lasting impression, and he leaves the reader baffled over two points—the effective execution of his plans, and his motivations. Among many critics, Iago’s motivation to do the evil deed is still a controversial topic says, Melville. There are various different opinions to Iago’s motive for destroying Othello; Bradley thinks it is revenge for the slights against him; Melville thinks Iago just likes to feed on the pain and suffering of others; Doran says Iago just has a superiority complex and must always prove his superiority when doubted.

Given the evidence it is unlikely that his motive was just plain and simple revenge; however, it is best to address it, because, throughout the story, his feelings for revenge are somewhat ungrounded and vague as he carries out his plan. He is just jealous of those close to him: from his desire to “make [Othello] to suffer a jealousy way worse than what he is going through, and his “successful rival” who impedes his success (Bradley 209). Othello favored Cassio over Iago as he promotes him, this move drew the final straw which drove Iago to plot a humiliating destruction for both Othello, and Cassio. “Resentment at Cassio’s appointment is expressed in the first conversation with Roderigo, and from that moment is never once mentioned again in the whole play” (Bradley 225). In the quote above, Iago is complaining to Roderigo, about what Othello did and if this was indeed the final straw, why not mention it again throughout the story or at least claim some sense of victory as he replaces Cassio as the lieutenant: why even go far as to try to kill Cassio. Iago even admits that the other cause of jealousy in the rumor does not contain any proof as portraited in this quote “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/ Yet I, for mere suspicion in that kind/ Will do as if for surety” (Othello 387-391). Though he offers some justification for his actions, it is not hinted or mentioned again in the play. Having his motives mentioned, and then forgotten in order to be truthful does not make sense, rather they seem as though he is passing justifications in order to harden his conscience against what he has planned. Instead what he does is make the reader wonder if he is really just after some petty revenge because of some slights against him. It just might be so, but what we can agree on is that things regarding Iago are more than they appear to be.

Critics who think Iago had no solid motive for all the atrocities he committed, simply took the view of him not having no motive at all. Snyder says Iago might just have been caught up in his feelings or urges which made him go to war against all that is good. Snyder makes a good point because, throughout the story, Iago is portrayed as the devil incarnate who is able to destroy so many lives without showing any remorse or emotions. Even at the end when his true nature was revealed, he did not say a word or even show some emotion. It is astonishing how “he never betrays his true nature; he seems to be master of all the motions that might affect his will” (Bradley 218). Snyder thinks Iago resents all those who are warm because he has a cold heart. This makes sense because it explains why he went after Desdemona who in the story symbolizes someone who is pure and filled with so much good. Christofides thinks Desdemona just might be Iago’s foil because it comes down to good (Desdemona) vs evil (Iago), and this might even create more resentment in Iago, and fill his desire to destroy all that she represents. Iago sure lives up to the label “devil incarnate’ as he switches from the reality of Desdemona’s goodness, and his evil to an illusion of honesty and deceit which resulted in the near destruction of most the characters in the play. Snyder mentions an author called William Hazlitt who believed that Iago does not find any pleasure in whatever “gross or lascivious images, but his desire of finding out the worst side of everything” (Snyder ); however, Melville mentions an author named Coleridge who believed that Iago is if one of those people who gain pleasure in the feeling and expression of contempt for others” (Melville). This seems more plausible considering that the reader is unable to fully see the worst side of everything which means Iago’s plans were not to do the worst, but rather destroy those he considers his enemy. Bearing in mind the above critics opinion, Iago had no motive for all the atrocities which he did, but rather did them out of the pleasure of doing them. Talking of pleasure, it is the one which Iago got from expressing his contempt of them, and without even realizing it until it was too late says, Melville. With all said above, something just does not add up. It is as though there is still a piece missing from the story. This makes sense because some critics such as Snyder find the opinion of no motive implausible because, in the play, there is no mysticism; so there is no way that Iago could be the devil incarnate which means, there must be a human answer to what Iago did in the throughout the play.

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The answer must indeed be superiority. The last suggestion for Iago’s motive is centered on his ego and feeling of superiority over all others says Doran because Iago must have felt that he is better than Othello who is a black man. Even though within the play, he never expresses this, he did offer some hints in just smalls bits when he spoke about his coloring and his misplacement within the society. He must have felt superior to Cassio who is portraited as a nerd, not a soldier, yet Cassio was chosen over Iago to be lieutenant. Melville still mentions Coleridge who also believes that whenever Iago is soliloquizing his motives, he is only looking for reasons to justify his plans against the resistance of his subconscious. Iago is not a bad man, not to the extent to be called a devil incarnate because Emilia and Othello knew him for quite some time, and nothing had got bad before the Cassio appointment. The mixture of unacknowledged superiority and resentment on his dependency on Othello must have triggered the wrath of Iago says, Bradley. Bradley also thinks that Iago had no ambition as he did not “exert himself greatly to acquire reputation or position” because all he concerned himself with it and only was that he was wealthier than Cassio (Bradley 221). and there is some suspicion that Cassio was way richer than Iago, and as Iago was demoted, he became so broke that he had to dupe some off Roderigo. Feeling frustrated and not knowing what to do, Iago decided to seed out those who were the cost of his new founded suffering. It is known that Iago wants “to plume up [his] will in double knavery” (Othello I, iii). From the quote, he intends to regain the feeling of superiority by expressing on those who oppose him says Bradley and “pain is the unmistakable proof of his own power over his victim” (Bradley 229). Iago can be compared to a kid who will stomp ants because he can do that of a husband who shows superiority over his wife by beating or degrading her. To corrupt, and control the minds of does he wants, he uses words to a point where they are socially and physically destroyed says, Doran. For example, in the first Act, Iago convinces Rodrigo to give him jewels and some money so that he can give it to Desdemona to prove her that Rodrigo is the best suitor for her. In the play, Cassio is Iago’s second victim as he is the one who stole his position as lieutenant. Iago has Cassio undying trust, but in a few moments, Cassio became an outcast. Iago then moves on to the Moor as he plans the seed of jealousy in his mind. the planted seed was so deep and watered that it came bearing fruits causing the eventual deaths of both Othello and Desdemona. This is further proof that Iago truly acts like a master puppeteer as he continues to jerk and twist the strings of his marionettes to make them dance to his will says, Doran. just wow-what great a show superiority Iago presents. He has indeed taken full control over everyone’s minds, and feelings within the play. It shows Iago’s great intelligence in using whatever resource he has within his grasp to plan and create illusions which play the part of the “honest Iago” but within he is giddied with the thrill of the ride and the pride of success (Doran 69).

A reader might be thinking “how did Iago do it? And what was so effective in the speech he gave Othello to inject the seed of doubt which eventually lead to him killing Desdemona? Doran says it is the word “if.” She says this because she thinks “Iago’s ‘if’ is the great central if in the play” (Doran 69). The might “if” can be found in this quote “Iago. Ha! I like not that/ Othello. What dost thou say?Iago/ Nothing, my lord; or if — I know not what/Othello. Was not that Cassio parted from my wife? /Iago. Cassio, my lord? No, sure, I cannot think it, /That he would steal away so guilty like. / Seeing you coming” (Othello III, iii 35-41). She makes this claim because of the quote above. The quote contains that tiny word which brought Othello’s world to ruins. One might question what Iago meant as he uses the word “if”. We the observers or the readers might know what it means because it gave us an insight into Iago’s mind using his soliloquies; but the real question is what does Othello think it means says, Doran? Of course, there are a million possibilities of what went through Othello mind at the point. Maybe “Cassio is stealing away from Desdemona means something sinister, if Desdemona is not a faithful wife if Cassio is not a true friend,” and on and on (Doran 69). as mentioned above, It is this word that shreds Othello’s mind, in the process creating the first hole in his self-security, which widen thus making him completely insecure and made room for jealousy to fill it. Because of that same word, Iago did not even have to produce the handkerchief he spoke off as proof says Christofides, because all the damage was already done in his first mentioning of his wife unfaithfulness.

Iago had a reputation for also been straightforward, and this laid the foundations for his future deceptions. In a conversation Desdemona, Iago was considered rude because he was too straightforward but then Cassio defended him by saying ‘He speaks home, madam; you may relish him more in the soldier than in the scholar’ (Othello II.i.161–62). From the quote, Desdemona was amazed at how Iago can express himself with such honesty and bluntness, and in a manner which she could never communicate. But away from his superiors, Christofides says the crudeness became obsessively salacious because as he talks about the sexual exploits of Cassio and Desdemona, he refers to the hands, lips, and blood. He portraited the activity using low terms. This is just an example of the kind of language which Iago uses, and this gives us another insight into who he really is.

There is no denying that Iago’s complexity was baffling to anyone who has either read or seen the play. Over the years, critics and analyst have argued over the true motivations for his deeds, be it jealousy, superiority or just plain evilness. With knowledge from articles of Bradley, Doran, Snyder, and Christofides, it is safe to say that it is a combination of all three. The fact is, Iago indeed had a feeling superiority over everyone, and he did control them as if they were indeed marionettes. It is also true that Iago had his reasons for petty revenge, and that he did get some satisfaction from causing pain and the feelings of contempt towards his enemies. With his motives in place, he could now fully execute his plans with the efficiency and the cunningness it requires. Using one tiny word “if” which caused a huge hole in Othello’s mind and which he could not close it up until it was too late. Doran considers Iago to be the most complete villain in any of Shakespeare’s plays, because of the way he fools his world with a mask of honesty while waiting for the chance to prove how superior he is to anyone. He showed and had no remorse, no repenting on his part and especially no regrets. Unlike most of the characters in a Shakespeare play, he never took the journey from evil to good or good to evil, instead, he stayed true to himself and never betrayed his nature. Since there is no demi- devils, witches or magic, only humans who are in a human world, then Iago’s character is real and plausible which can be scary because the thought of someone whom we trust, to do us like Iago did his friends, is scary.

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What about Max Iago and the Master of the Navel in Othello? (2022, Jun 29). Edubirdie. Retrieved November 29, 2022, from
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