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Othello – remembering Iago, a captivating psychopath

From the Library of Congress: TITLE: Thos. W. ...

Thos. W. Keene. Othello  1884 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Othello, The Moor of Venice (1604) is a tragedy by William Shakespeare. The plot is quite straightforward¹ but the emotions are complex: The good but overly trusting man, Othello, is tricked into murdering his wife, Desdemona, and is eventually brought down by the devilish and scheming Iago.

I must admit that I find Iago the most memorable character in the play. I watched the BBC TV production several years ago, and can still remember being captivated by Iago’s psychopathy. Iago is so crazy that he even laughs when carried off to receive his punishment.²


[To IAGO] O Spartan dog,
More fell than anguish, hunger, or the sea!
Look on the tragic loading of this bed;
This is thy work: the object poisons sight;
Let it be hid. Gratiano, keep the house,
And seize upon the fortunes of the Moor,
For they succeed on you. To you, lord governor,
Remains the censure of this hellish villain;
The time, the place, the torture: O, enforce it!
Myself will straight aboard: and to the state
This heavy act with heavy heart relate.³

I’m not sure if Shakespeare added that laugh in brackets in the original script. But it was a nice touch in the BBC production. And if anyone has the cred to modify Shakespeare, it’s the BBC. In the following clip, we see how easily Iago shifts from being false-friendly to genuinely hateful.


² For more, see the entry Iago and interesting comments there. The power of Shakespeare, I think, it not only in his beautiful economy of expression, but also in his open-ended meaning.

³ Thanks to for making this easier to reproduce.

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Shakespeares Globe by Kieran Lynam

Shakespeare's Globe by Kieran Lynam via Flickr

Iago is William Shakespeare‘s devilishly clever ‘sour grapes’ character in the tragic play Othello.

Passed over for a promotion in the Venetian army, Iago gets insanely jealous of anyone with anything and plots and schemes his chilling revenge through lies and treachery.

Through his deceits he exemplifies intelligent evil at its worst.

After manipulatively tricking Othello into murdering his wife, Desdemona, Iago is finally discovered and, in the compelling BBC TV production of the play, goes to his grisly fate cackling with maniacal glee. Iago is content with the knowledge that his hideous revenge has been secured, despite his captor Lodovico’s decree, The time, the place, the torture,—O, enforce it!

The Bard adds:

It is interesting that, while we learn about Iago’s “fate,” we do not actually see him punished (on stage, that is) which Shakespeare could have easily arranged (given the number of fights and deaths in the play). So, in one sense, evil incarnate goes unpunished before our eyes. The question, of course, remains–why?? » See in context

Ari Moore adds:

I disagree that Iago was “evil” – there are numerous allusions in the play to his being impotent, ferociously intimidated by what he believed was Othello’s superior sexual prowess. I don’t know if that makes him “evil” so much as misguided and unable to deal with life in a healthy way. » See in context