Who is the Villain in Othello?

Instructor: Bryan Cowing

Bryan is a freelance writer who specializes in literature. He has worked as an English instructor, editor and writer for the past 10 years.

In William Shakespeare's ''Othello'', a man is manipulated into murdering his wife and then committing suicide. In this lesson we will examine the villainous behavior of the character from the play who is behind those manipulations.

The Villain of Othello

Evil. Evil. Evil. There is no other way to describe Iago from William Shakespeare's Othello. This is a character who suggests that someone drown puppies and kittens - and that's just in scene 1. It only gets worse from there, as Othello goes on to cause a murder and a suicide in Shakespeare's tragedy. He's one of those people that you love to hate, and he has no redeeming qualities. He is the pure and simple villain of the story.

First Glimpse into the Villain, Iago

One of the first examples the audience sees of Iago's true nature is when he tricks Roderigo into selling all of his property. Roderigo whines that he is going to drown himself because he is in love with Othello's wife, Desdemona. Iago tells Roderigo to sell everything he owns and come with him and follow Desdemona and Othello. Iago explains that if Roderigo follows his instructions, he will get a chance to make love to Desdemona. He tells Roderigo to drown blind puppies and kittens instead of himself. At first, this may seem like someone who is genuinely trying to help a friend. However, as soon as the conversation is over and Iago is alone, he says that he will fill his purse by making Roderigo his fool.

Iago Betrays Michael Cassio

Another example of Iago's villainous behavior is when he double-crosses Michael Cassio. Iago's plan is get Michael Cassio drunk, and then Roderigo is supposed to say something offensive to Cassio so that he overreacts and looks like a fool. The only problem is that Cassio does not drink. When Iago offers him alcohol, Cassio says 'Not to-night, good Iago: I have very poor and unhappy brains for drinking: / I could well wish courtesy would invent some other custom of entertainment.' In other words, Cassio does not like drinking and he wishes there was not so much focus on drinking for fun.

Eventually, Iago convinces Cassio to drink. When Cassio realizes he should stop drinking, he gets up and leaves his friends. As soon as he exits, Iago tells everyone that Cassio is always drunk and that Othello should not trust Cassio as much as he does.

After Iago causes Michael Cassio to be fired from his military job, Iago tells him to speak to Othello's wife, Desdemona, privately. Iago explains that Othello will never say no to his wife, and getting on her good side is the way to win Othello's heart again.

When Desdemona and Cassio are speaking together, Iago says 'Ha! I like not that,' within earshot of Othello. Iago pretends that he does not want to say anything else about his comment, but he is already implying that Desdemona is being unfaithful. This plants the seed of jealousy and suspicion in Othello, which results in him murdering Desdemona and killing himself.

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