Othello is one of Shakespeare’s masterpieces. It is especially so because of its vivid characters and wide-ranging themes. There is the Moorish general Othello, who is out of place in Venice, who allows jealousy to get the best of him. And there is Iago, a person who Coleridge once described as embodying “a motiveless malevolence.” Together these two characters—the protagonist and the antagonist—act out the play’s greatest theme: jealousy and possessive love.
It is clear that Othello is madly in love with Desdemona and that he lives his life by a code of honor. It is equally clear that Iago does not live by a code or if he does his code is “manipulate whenever possible.” These two characters are foils for one another and the story’s drama plays out between them.
Iago appears to be slightly angry that he has been passed over for a promotion by Othello. It can only be said that this “appears” to be the reason for what he does because he is a very strange character. He does not seem to especially care whether or not he gets any advantage so long as Othello is destroyed. In other plays, villains may create situations or traps to ensnare protagonists as Iago does with a handkerchief. However, there is something more evil about Iago. He seems to enjoy not only inspiring Othello’s jealousy but fanning its flames. He watches Othello’s face contort and sees his pain and continues to act. The intimacy of this cruelty makes this relationship, and Iago’s malevolence, very interesting.
Othello at times seems to be foolish as he falls for all of Iago’s tricks, going so far as to, horribly, kill his own wife. But he is also a poet and he has some beautiful lines. The fact that he has a romantic, passionate side to him and is not just a powerful one-dimensional general adds a great twist to the story. His dying words are very poetic and in them, we see just how horribly far he has fallen and what jealousy has undone.
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