Othello by William Shakespeare
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
"You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own resources, for he is a liar and the father of it” – John 8:44.
These words of Jesus sum up the villain Iago, in Shakepeare’s play “Othello.” Both Satan and Iago (a) use lies (b) to do murder (c) from jealous hatred.
a. Iago lies constantly. The reader sees the lie, a character in the play is in on it, and his own wife makes several statements that condemn him, though she doesn’t realize it’s him. He is a slanderer. She says, “I will be hanged if some eternal villain, Some busy and insinuating rogue, Some cogging, cozening slave, to get some office, Have not devis’d this slander” (IV.2). Iago gets Othello to think that his lieutenant Cassio loves Othello’s wife and is having an affair with her. He sows seeds of jealousy, with no basis in fact at all. Shakespeare puts right in front of us that Iago is doing this knowingly, with great deception. Othello trusts Iago’s counsel and sees him as wise and good. “Though I do hate him as I do hell-pains, Yet, for necessity of present life, I must show out a flag and sign of love, Which is indeed but sign” (I.1). When he lies, he makes Othello think he is only sharing this needed information for his own welfare, when he is really doing it to destroy him. Iago could try to be sneaky, but he’s just sharing information with simple honesty (III.3). Right. The snake in the garden did the same with Eve: “I just want you to be all you can be.”
b. But he is really out to take us down. [Spoiler alert!] Iago’s goal was to kill Othello, and he succeeds famously. He so inflames Iago with jealousy that Othello kills his own wife in their bed. Then in despair, Othello stabs himself, after several allusions to Iago being satanic (“viper,” “if thou be’st a devil”). Along the way there is plenty of collateral damage, including the deaths of two innocent women.
c. Iago does all this out of his own jealousy. He wanted Desdemona himself. “Nothing can or shall content my soul Till I am even’d with him, wife for wife” (II.1). This doesn’t get as much attention, but it is important. The same canker of sin that tortures Iago and the devil spreads to others under their sway. They want others to share their tortured sufferings.
Iago is a famous villain because he is so effective. This is what makes a villain famous – that they get away with their schemes, when we see their evil plans.
Othello is compelling not just because Iago is so sensationally bad. Othello is compelling because we know there is a real Iago out there. A deceiver, a liar, out to destroy us. Be careful who you believe. Be slow to believe ill of others without solid proof. Recognize and reject gossip and slander as the satanic activity it is, or you may find yourself led along in his lies, and despairing like Othello in the end.
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