Othello: The Devil’s Core

24 03 2005

Note: If you are an English III student (or will be) please realize that (duh) its plagarism to copy my writing without referring to this blog about it. And come on, I know you guys can do better than these essays

Devil’s Core

Iago’s ability to control and manipulate his world does not reflect an arbitrary evil; it instead represents Iago as superhuman. Without regard to the moral nature of his actions, Iago represents the sum potential of control that human beings can exert in their world, uninhibited by morality. William Shakespeare, Othello’s playwright, formulates Iago to be a devil, but in the end exposes Iago to be fully human, revealing that the power that is exerted by Iago is not by some external arbiter of evil, but rather by one who is a human being; not quite deity, but not simply human, Iago explores the limitations of what human beings are capable of doing in society.

**The creation of the devil in Iago occurs straightaway: “I am not what I am” (1.1.71). Iago is here indicating that he is contrast, indeed opposite to God, who to Moses had said “I am that I am” (Exodus 3.14). God, in the Bible, states that he is God, that he is who he is. However, Iago twists this and points that he is the deceiver; indeed we begin to know that this deceiver is the devil.

What does this devilish creation represent? Iago with Shakespeare’s symbolic, direct and indirect, and continual references to Iago elevate (or descend, depending on how you perceive it) Iago to the supernatural status of a devil. Iago is the creation of the definition of evil, the creation of a devil, the creation of an uncontrollable, destructive force in the world. Perhaps the mere fact that Iago lies out of our control, which we seemingly possess nothing with which to combat this relentless evil is what is most terrifying of all. Iago defines fear; fear is what we cannot control, what scares us because we have no control to stop it. Thus with Iago, the fear increases tenfold, for Iago is to be the Son of Darkness, Lucifer, the devil himself, who has decided in his “divinity of hell” (2.3.370) to pummel the people around him into broken men and women; indeed there is a devil amongst us.

And there is not. “I look down towards his feet; but that’s a fable. / If that thou be’st a devil, I cannot kill thee +he stabs Iago+” (5.2.336-337) Iago is human, only human. Othello looks towards Iago’s feet, but does not see the cloven hooves, which by Christian tradition distinguishes the devil. Othello acknowledges that “that’s a fable”, and if Iago were not human, were indeed the devil, then Othello would indeed not be able to stab Iago. However, Othello can, and Iago is wounded, Iago is not the devil, Iago is real, Iago is human.

If Iago is only human what does that reflect on us? How does it change the perspective of the play? Iago’s actions now become human, whereas instead of being a one-dimensional, intrinsically evil entity, Iago is now accountable for his actions morally. Iago no longer retains the veil. His actions incite within us either rage or despair, rage that he chooses to do ‘evil’, despair that we at times, share in Iago’s human choice to do wrong. The question then becomes what does morality matter to this man: “Virtue? A fig! ‘Tis in ourselves that we are thus or / thus. Our bodies are our gardens to the which our / wills are gardeners” (1.3.361-363). Does a ‘universal morality’ exist or even matter? To Iago, morality resides within one’s personal desires; Iago defines ‘good’ or ‘bad’ by the success and failures relative to his personal desires.

Morality, for Iago, is irrelevant, unnecessary, or perhaps his morality is not based on this universal good and bad, but rather like Othello’s militarily based on levels of personal success. Othello, a military general, tends to see everything in terms of black and white, good or bad, success or failure. Othello carefully understands that there is either a true love between himself and Desdemona or there is nothing at all- “I’ll see before I doubt, when I doubt, prove; / And on the proof / … away at once with love or jealousy” (3.3.221-223). Iago cunningly plays Othello’s game. If Othello were to have me “beleed and calmed / By debtor and creditor” (1.1.32-33), to have my position taken by “One Michael Cassio, a Florentine … [whose] mere prattle with out practice / Is all his soldiership” (1.1.21-22,27-28), given to this inept Cassio by “the Lusty Moor/ [that] Hath leaped into my seat [taken his sexual role in his marriage] – the thought whereof … gnaw my inwards, and nothing can or shall content my soul / Till I am evened with him, wife, for wife” (2.1.317-320), if Othello were to so ridicule me, would it not be war? If Captain Ahab can wage war on a whale and call it the fight for his soul, then cannot I, cannot Iago oppose, nay shatter what threatens his soul? “In that ring Cain struck Abel. Sweet work, right work! No? Why then, God, mad’st thou the ring” (Moby Dick, 151). In Moby Dick, a Manxman sailor states that the world is created for conflict; we are meant not to coexist, but to compete. Iago chooses to compete and outclass Othello based on a perceived personal attack on Iago’s character, a revolting assessment of a superior man. In essence, Iago creates his own morality based on Othello’s pathetically limited concepts of morality, and cunningly drives the sword home for a stylish touché on Othello’s own playing field.

Iago’s power over everyone else in Othello may seem to drive himself to his own demise; that the very power he exerts for so brief a period of time in man who has lived “four times seven years” (1.3.353-354), is a personal tragedy because he is caught in the end is just wrong. Iago succeeds, Iago has the final say: “From this time forth I will never speak word” (5.2.356); it is Iago who, in modern terms, has ‘the last laugh’. Iago defines the world he chooses to live in; he plays the game as he wants to play it. Iago is willing to and does make the rules himself in order to succeed. Even his prosecution takes place outside of the play; Shakespeare in so doing reveals its irrelevance in relation to the damage done; what recompense could the world create to rectify what Iago has done? Alas! There is nothing, nothing that is a reversal of the irreversible deaths. Iago is the victor, no one can deny it. Iago revels in his superiority to others throughout the play: 
 “Not poppy nor mandragora
Nor all the drowsy syrups of the world
Shall ever medicine thee to that sweet sleep
Which thou owedst yesterday” (3.3.379-382);
Iago, who for years has held back his abilities, waiting to be recognized for his talent, finally lets go. To this we empathize with Iago’s humanity; we share in the deep profound pain that is universally human when we are passed over. To be denied desire and choose to perpetuate these inequalities, this deep self-demoralization and breakdown of what in Iago’s terms define our spirit, soul, and virtue- our desires, all this over years of service hardens our hearts. Just as
 “The boy who torments another boy, as we say, “for no reason,” or who without any hatred for frogs tortures a frog, is pleased with his victim’s pain, not from any disinterested love of evil or pleasure in pain, but mainly because this pain is the unmistakable proof of his own power over his victim. So it is with Iago” (Bradley, 213);
Iago acts in order to prove his superiority to Othello, indeed his superiority to everyone in the play; Iago acts to prove not only to the frog, but also to himself who possesses control. Iago is human; Iago shares in a desire to rebel, to shatter the unbroken Moorish towers, to fight with no holds barred, to “be all that he can be”.

The development of Iago as the devil is undercut at the end of the play, wherein Iago’s apparently cruel and destructive actions are shown to be wholly human, thus enlightening the definition of evil, as well as where it resides. Evil is not only external, but internal; our perception of evil does not reside in some immaterial character, but rather in the actions you and I take. In these actions there is no innate quality nor quantity of evil, because the morality of Iago’s (and therefore our) actions are relative to each person’s perspective- actions can never be wholly good nor entirely evil and thus ‘universal’ morality is unfounded- in every action some will prosper while others lose. Iago, then, relative to our ability to our human potential, is not good, but great because Iago can position each of his actions with such poise and precision that each action benefits him. In Iago’s world, seen from Iago’s perspective, Iago is someone to look up to, a sagacious, profound and good man who, without regards to what we (the audience) see as right or wrong, what we see is irrelevant and we cannot judge him on a moral standpoint, because we do not share his desires, who without universal moral regards wins.

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4 responses

3 05 2009
joe

that essay is amazingly in depth and shows spots of pure genius and shows me aspects and points of views that i wouldn’t of taken into account otherwise.

8 10 2010
john

Solid essay. Thanks.

23 05 2012
Elizabeth

Iago should have had you as defence attorney. Iago is a psychopath.He has no conscience nor moral compass. He sees slights where there are none, and is the embodiment of revenge looking for cause.

14 02 2013
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I comment each time I like a article on a website or I have something to valuable to contribute
to the conversation. Usually it’s a result of the fire communicated in the post I read. And on this article Othello: The Devils Core that harvard kid. I was actually moved enough to leave a commenta response :-) I actually do have 2 questions for you if it’s okay.
Is it simply me or do some of the remarks appear like coming from brain dead people?

:-P And, if you are writing on additional social sites, I would
like to follow you. Could you make a list every one of all your public pages like your twitter feed, Facebook page or linkedin profile?

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