Sunday, January 24, 2010

The True Villainy (Othello Passage Commentary)

Thus do I ever make my fool my purse.
For I mine own gained knowledge should profane
If I would time expend with such a snipe
But for my sport and profit. I hate the Moor,
And it is though abroad that ‘twixt my sheets
‘Has done my office. I know not if’t be true,
But I, for mere suspicion in that kind,
Will do as if for surety. He holds me well.
The better shall my purpose work on him.
Cassio’s a proper man. Let me see now:
To get his place and to plume up my will
In double knavery – How? how? – let’s see.
After some time, to abuse Othello’s
That he is too familiar with his wife.
He hath a person and a smooth dispose
To be suspected, framed to make women false.
The Moor is of a free and open nature
That thinks men honest that but seem to be so,
And will as tenderly be led by th’ nose
As asses are.
I have ‘t. It is engendered. Hell and night
Must bring this monstrous birth to the world’s light.

(Act I, Scene iii, 426-446, p.55)

Villainy is a fundamental state of depravity which regardless of time and place has existed in people’s lives. Some argue that it is an inborn quality, others believe that it is a consequence of being hurt or a result of a struggle to get something desired. Still, what is most interesting about every true villain is not how he becomes one, but how he manages to fulfill his plans by means of manipulation and treachery. In this sense, in many of his plays Shakespeare incorporates a villain who encompasses the most horrible and destructive human characteristics. The author uses the villain in order to show how even pure virtuousness and trust can be sullied and turned into suspicion and hatred. Among the many villains which Shakespeare creates Iago is the one who manages to destroy the lives of everyone around him by means of his evil plans and good manipulation skills. In fact, the monologue of the character in Act I, scene iii, reveals his personality as a villain plotting against his “enemies” and foreshadows the baleful fate which they will face.
It is false to conclude that Iago’s monologue is solely related to destroying Othello because there are several other names mentioned in his plot: first Roderigo’s, then Cassio’s and Desdemona’s. Indeed, Iago starts on by talking about his “friend” Roderigo by referring to him as a fool in line 426, “Thus do I ever make my fool my purse.” By saying that he gets his money from fools, Iago reveals himself as a manipulative character who treats people as a means to an end. Stealing from a person without feeling guilt infers that Iago does not care about anything other than his plan of destruction and disregards every human quality or virtue. What the villain does is focus only on the benefit that he can get, “For I mine own gained knowledge should profane / If I would time expend with such a snipe/ But for my sport and profit.” Indeed, the “profit” is the only motivation for him to have any sort of a relationship with Roderigo, or anyone else. This part also foreshadows that Iago has no intents to help the desperate Rodergio and thus, Roderigo will end up suffering. Iago’s actions define him not only as a villain, but also as a mercantile individual.
In his relationship with Othello on the other hand, Iago shows another side of his personality: his amorality. In lines 429-433, “I hate the Moor,/ And it is though abroad that ‘twixt my sheets/ ‘Has done my office. I know not if’t be true,/ But I, for mere suspicion in that kind,/ Will do as if for surety” Iago proves to be highly inconsiderate and lacking any feelings. The Shakespearean villain justifies his plotting by his sole hatred for someone and a rumor that his own wife may have cheated with Othello. Iago is not really concerned about Emilia’s hypothetical betrayal, but instead he is searching for a reason to hate “The Moor” even more, to punish him harsher. The key words here are “But I, for mere suspicion in that kind,/ Will do as if for surety.” The fact that only suspicion is enough for Iago to start his destructive plans against someone means that he is simply evil or in other words amoral. Furthermore, the idea of Iago’s amorality is also proved by the next few words in his monologue in Act I, “He holds me well./ The better shall my purpose work on him.” This quote represents a sudden shift in Iago’s thinking: the character is starting to plot against Othello. The villain is done justifying why he wants to destroy Othello and has quickly reached the point of putting things to work. As it seems, Iago uses what he has as a weapon against his enemy, even the fact that Othello respects Iago and has a high opinion of him. At this point except amoral, the villain is also being manipulative because he realizes that he can use Othello’s predisposition to be trusting and accepting.
It seems that in Iago’s monologue the first part is showing his personality and the second is foreshadowing the fate of the characters he is plotting against. What can be inferred from the words, “Cassio’s a proper man. Let me see now: /To get his place and to plume up my will/ In double knavery – How? how? – let’s see” is that Iago is about to use Cassio’s appearance and thus achieve two things: get his position by making Othello jealous as well as hurt Othello. By stating his plan, the villain practically tells the reader what the result of his actions will be, however, he does not explain the way he is going to do it. This builds up suspension throughout the play because the reader already knows Iago’s plan and goals, but is curious to see how he will achieve them. In this sense, Iago gives a clue to the reader by saying, “That thinks men honest that but seem to be so, And will as tenderly be led by th’ nose/ As asses are./ I have ‘t. It is engendered.” These three lines are of critical importance because in a way they reveal that the feelings and emotions of the others will be used as a main weapon and that the honesty and straightforwardness of Othello will be manipulated so that Iago’s plan is finally accomplished.
In his monologue in Scene I, Act iii, Iago proves to be a villain who is very mercantile, manipulative, but most of all amoral. His evil plans foreshadow that through adroit plotting he is going to destroy not only his main enemy, but also everyone Othello loves, trusts and respects. The mentioning of the words “hell and night” in the last two lines of the passage close the act and leave the feeling of predetermination that the devil is going to annihilate every positive human emotion in the souls of the Shakespearean characters.

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