In most plays and novels, the protagonist is the main character, who is viewed as a good person who has bad things happen to him or her. Likewise, the antagonist is portrayed as evil and villainous, and seeks to destroy the moral protagonist. Many readers and critics perceive Iago as evil, manipulative, and antagonistic. He directly seeks to destroy Othello, Cassio, Roderigo, and any other good character, out of selfish and unprovoked rage. The critic, W. H. Auden, says this in reference to Iago, ” Iago is a wicked man. The wicked man, the stage villain… e suffering he inflicts is real (48). ”
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In the play Othello, Othello is viewed as the good, and intelligent character. He is loving wise, and the ideal soldier. The critic William Empson defines him as, “the personification of honour (44). ” For these reasons, many readers side with Othello as being the heroic protagonist of the story. Othello is living a successful life, newly married, and prospering until Iago decides to step in. By looking at the play in another perspective, Iago, not Othello, can be viewed as a heroic and good character.
Despite Othello’s role in the play and portrayal by the critic, Iago’s desire and motive to create a better life for himself, as well as his keen and cunning intellect, make him a heroic protagonistic character with whom the audience can sympathize. Although disputed by the critic, Iago’s motivation is not to be evil and villainous, but rather heroic. Iago is perceived as evil and self-absorbed, but his desires and dreams are like any other person’s. Iago merely wishes to secure a better life for himself and his wife, Emilia.
Iago wishes to earn the position of a lieutenant in Othello’s army. This position is second to Othello’s, and would mean more respect, responsibility, and money for Iago. With a higher rank, Iago would improve the status of his family and create a more comfortable life for himself and his wife. Although Iago has proven his worth to Othello, the lieutenancy is given to Cassio, a man undeserving of the role. Angry and disappointed, Iago says, ” “One Michael Cassio, a Florentine that never set a squadron in the field nor the division of a battle knows more than a spinster.
Iago is driven by his passion and yearning to fulfill his dream and acquire the lieutenancy, even if it means stealing it from Cassio. His desire to do this, is not based jealousy or selfishness. Iago merely wishes to acquire the typical American or Venetian dream. Iago wants to be happy in life, and to him, happiness comes through the promotion to lieutenant. An example of the protagonist/ antagonist relationship which Othello and Iago share, is portrayed through Iago’s desire to become a lieutenant. Iago is a good and faithful soldier to Othello.
He is Othello’s “ancient,” or advisor. He has proven his loyalty and intelligence to Othello, and deserves a promotion. Othello destroys Iago’s hopes and dreams by giving the promotion to a less deserving man who has less experience than Iago. In this example, Othello is the obvious antagonist because he seeks to destroy another character for no reason. In this circumstance, Iago is the honorable protagonist, who is prospering until Othello steps in. In order to achieve his dream of becoming lieutenant and secure the welfare of his family, Iago devises a cunning and intelligent plan.
The plan which he devises is complicated and reveals his true level of intelligence. Roderigo, a soldier in Othello’s army, is in love with Othello’s wife, Desdemona. Roderigo is deceived by Iago into believing that Desdemona is having an affair with Cassio. Iago persuades Roderigo into provoking Cassio, so that Cassio will lose his position, and be replaced by Iago. This plan is extremely complicated and well thought out. It involves many different circumstances and unforseen possibilities. Although it is dangerous and risky, Iago is driven by passion to successfully fulfill his plan.
The critics would argue that because Iago is using manipulation to get what he wants, he is acting in an evil and antagonistic manner. Iago feels that all of his actions are justified because he did not get the promotion which he deserved. Iago’s superiority is shown by the fact that he fooled all the other characters without their knowledge. Neither Roderigo or Cassio were remotely aware of Iago’s plan until the very end of the play, when it was too late. Othello believed Cassio to be and intelligent man, which is why he gave him the lieutenancy over Iago.
Iago managed to fool Cassio, proving his superiority and intelligence. Iago is better qualified than Cassio if he devised such a plan without him noticing. Iago’s intellect and ability to fulfill his plan promptly and efficiently proves that he, not Othello, is a true and ideal soldier. In order to be a good general, one must be able to see through deception and take charge of all matters. Othello, however, does not realize that he is being deceived by Iago until it is too late. Iago forces Othello into believing that his wife, Desdemona, is being unfaithful to him.
Angrily, Othello shouts, “Damn her, lewd minx! O, damn her, damn her! Come, go with me apart. I will withdraw to furnish me with some swift means of death for the fair devil. ” In actuality, Desdemona is not cheating, but Othello trusts Iago and ultimately kills his own wife. Othello’s naivety in trusting Iago over Desdemona proves that he could not properly lead an army. Othello is not intelligent or wise enough to see through Iago’s plan. The same strategies Iago uses in devising his plan, could be used to employ battles. Iago is smart, reliable, and able to get things done.
Iago is more intelligent than Othello, and accomplishes all goals without being discovered until the end of the novel. Iago constantly proves his superiority over the other characters, including the general. According to the critics, Iago’s quest for revenge is evil, sadistic, and makes him the antagonist of the play. Empson concludes that the entire audience hates Iago because he is the obvious, antagonistic villain, who acts out of selfishness and feels no remorse (45). Auden agrees with the Empson when he refers to Iago as, ” the practical joker without motive (50). ”
All examples of revenge in the play, however, can be justified. Iago seeks revenge on Cassio because he was given a promotion which he did not deserve. In this incidence, Iago acts as any other person in the same circumstance would. Cassio destroyed Iago’s dream, and Iago acts out of passion to win the position from him. Iago is angry at Othello for giving the lieutenancy to an undeserving man. Iago also has reason to believe that Othello had an affair with his wife, Emilia. Iago says, “I hate the Moor, and it is thought abroad that ‘twixt my sheets ‘has done my office.
Iago’s disappointment at being denied the promotion, and his anger over Othello’s affair with his wife, lead Iago to seek revenge upon Othello. In all matters, Iago was acting in a manner which he believed was justified. By deceiving Othello and the other characters, Iago was merely protecting himself and his wife. At the start of the play, Desdemona and Othello deceive Desdemona’s father, Barbantio, by eloping. Iago even says to Othello, “she did deceive her father, marrying you… To seel her father’s eyes up close as oak.. ” Othello agrees with Iago, and replies, ” And so she did.
This deception is considered harmless because Othello loves Desdemona, and she is the fulfillment of his happiness. When Iago deceives Othello to search for the fulfillment of his happiness, it should also be considered harmless. Like Othello, Iago only seeks to secure his dream. Despite the fact that he is viewed as an antagonist, Iago has heroic and protagonistic attributes. Iago yearns to secure a good life for himself and his wife. He is incredibly cunning, and intellectually superior to all other characters, including Othello. Iago is also an ideal soldier, smart and capable.
In carrying out all actions, Iago is merely seeking his own happiness. Iago, just as Othello, is entitled to pursuing his happiness to whatever extent is pleasing to him. Unlike Iago, Othello is naive and unable to see through deception. Also, it is because of Othello’s unfair decision to grant Cassio the promotion, that Iago is forced to protect his happiness and his dream. Iago’s desire to secure the lieutenancy and create a better life for himself, and his willingness to stop at nothing in achieving his dream, is not villainous, but noble and acceptable.