"His Moorship's Ancient": Iago As The Protagonist Of Othello

1782 words - 8 pages

Shakespeare is universally revered for his characterization of flawed and psychologically unstable protagonists. Hamlet is a crazed, murdering prince, Lear is narcissistic, senile, and a verbally abusive father, and Macbeth is a murderous traitor to his king and country. These unfavorable and evil attributes serve Shakespeare's main characters by presenting them as realistically written men, and there always seems a degree, however small, of sympathy associated with their respective downfalls and tragedies. Othello, however, is an anomaly.While he is flawed by his paranoia and pride, Othello is only unstable and destructive after intricate deception. Indeed, he seems maddeningly perfect to ...view middle of the document...

Likewise, Othello would not have grown paranoid and murdered Desdemona without continuous prompt by Iago's advice. In the final scene, Othello even cites Iago's word as his reason for murder to Emilia, rather than citing the physical evidence of the handkerchief, "Cassio did top her, ask thy husband else…Thy husband knew it all." The tragedy, and the general development of the play, comes solely from Iago's motivations and actions, evil as they may be.Iago is also the character who gives soliloquies to the audience, mapping the progression of the play and of his ill deeds, as if he were the narrator. These soliloquies show the audience the inner workings of Iago's twisted mind, and not Othello's. In Act II, Scene i, the soliloquy reveals that Iago is not merely an evil man, but possibly a good man who has become murderously insane with jealousy. He decides, "That Cassio loves her (Desdemona), I do well believe 't. That she loves him, 'tis apt and of great credit," which marks Iago as crazy enough to believe his own lies. His insanity could also be explained due to the extensive war record that he claims in Act I, Scene i. If his experiences in battle were as explicit as he claims, then his psychosis may be a result of post-traumatic stress. While Othello's past and present are somewhat mythical and mysterious, an audience gets to delve into Iago's, making him the principal character.His apparent madness presents some sympathy for Iago, as well. It is almost unanimously believed that Othello had never bedded Iago's wife, Emilia, but that is not relevant. What is relevant is that Iago believes that Othello has cuckolded him. After all, Hamlet had no proof that Claudius killed his father, and many argue that Hamlet's insanity invented the ghost that told him of the murder. Why would Hamlet's revenge be considered more valid than Iago's? Another sympathetic aspect of Iago stems from Cassio's promotion. As previously stated, Iago claims an impressive battle record, "At Rhodes, at Cyprus, and on other grounds Christian and heathen," and he was rejected for promotion in favor of Cassio, who allegedly "…never set a squadron in the field, nor the division of a battle knows more than a spinster." This series of events would be seen as injustice by any man in Iago's position. These motivations for Iago's villainy are the first plot points that are revealed in Othello, and cast Iago as a victim before anyone else. While Othello is respected and loved, and Cassio is trusted, Iago is only given the lowly position of "his Moorship's ancient," or flag-bearer.An obvious refutation of Iago as the protagonist stems from the most obvious of places: with the other examples of Shakespearean tragedy, Hamlet, King Lear, and Macbeth are all named for the protagonists that give insightful monologues that reveal their inner turmoil. If Shakespeare had intended Iago as the principal character, why is the play entitled Othello?A possible explanation is Iago's...

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