Introduction: The Paradox of Crime
Along with Romeo and Juliet, Othello is one of the most famous plays by Shakespeare. It has been analyzed a countless number of times. However, the relationships between Iago and Othello have not been discussed well enough. Some believe that the two are another gullibility-meets-treachery problem, others see romantic innuendoes in their relationships. However, it seems that the striking contrast between the two characters means more than just the fight between good and evil. With the help of relationships between Iago and Othello, Shakespeare conveyed the idea that good and evil have to coexist for the sake of the world balance. Because the balance between the good (Othello) and the evil (Iago) is never broken, both characters are responsible for the tragic ending, each of them contributing to the development of the plot.
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Fighting for Their Lives: Iago and Othello as Warriors
Weirdly enough, Othello and Iago are most often considered as a victim and a traitor; however, their relationships as the participants of military actions are mentioned ridiculously rarely. At the very beginning, Iago states clearly that he has taken part in a number of battles; and, even though his record is doubtlessly spotless, there can be no doubt that he has done a good job as a warrior, most of the time teaming up with Othello:
And I, of whom his eyes had seen the proof
At Rhodes, at Cyprus, and on other grounds
Christian and heathen, must be be-lee’d and calm’d
By debitor and creditor: this counter-caster,
He, in good time, must his lieutenant be,
And I–God bless the mark!–his Moorship’s ancient. (Shakespeare 860)
Therefore, it can be considered that the dynamics between Othello and Iago as military men are rather complex While Othello represents the very idea of military honor and honesty, Iago shows the readers a different side of military life full of cunning and intrigues. While the two have a strikingly different attitude towards the idea of military life, they yet somehow manage to show two sides of being a military man.
From War Service to Peaceful Life: Iago and Othello as Family Men
Not only in the battlefield, but also in the realm of peaceful family life Iago and Othello seem to complete each other perfectly well. There can be no doubt that Othello is portrayed as an honest, true and caring husband. Everything that this character says to his wife is shot through with love and respect for her virtues:
“Perdition catch my soul,
But do I love thee! And when I love thee not,
Chaos comes again” (Shakespeare 930).
Iago, on the other hand, makes the readers consider the bonds of matrimony exactly as a painful burden. In contrast to Othello, Iago is portrayed as a selfish and insensitive husband who could not care less of what his wife thinks or needs. In fact, at some point, Emilia confesses that Iago even made her steal things:
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“My wayward husband hath a hundred times
Woo’d me to steal it” (Shakespeare 935).
In addition, both ago and Emilia are constantly snapping at each other, which makes their relationships even more down-to-earth compared to the spiritual bonds between Othello and Desdemona:
Do not you chide; I have a thing for you.
A thing for me? it is a common thing–
To have a foolish wife. (Shakespeare 915)
Therefore, in contrast to Othello, whose relationships with Desdemona are built on purity and mutual trust, Iago and his wife clearly have neither trust nor respect for each other. However, considering the ways in which the two treat their wives, one might notice that they actually represent two sides of typical relationships. It is hardly possible that a couple will always stay happy and satisfied; there will inevitably come a moment when the two starts arguing.
Which is even more obvious, such moments are crucial for the relationships, because they make the latter even stronger, as well as the husband and the wife resistant to conflicts and prone to misunderstandings. After all, it is worth keeping in mind that Othello’s tragedy stemmed from his lack of experience in solving conflicts. Only because he did not know how to react to the slander, he immediately jumped to conclusions and felt the urge to kill his bellowed one. That said, it is clear that in their marital relationships, Iago and Othello seem to be the representations of two sides of what being a husband means. Hence the duality of the characters comes.
Standing in Front of the Jury: Murder for Revenge Versus… Murder for Revenge
As it has been mentioned above, the two characters represent the two aspects of love, the poetic idea of purity (Othello) and its more down-to-earth, cunning and treacherous aspect of love. Furthermore, the two can also be viewed as murderers, each in his own way.
On the one hand, the concept of murder as a result of a passionate rage is introduced by Othello. Iago, however, turns the idea of murder into a series of cunning manipulations. Therefore, they help view the concept of murder as both a hideous crime and a surge of passion. The two sides of the murder concept are one of the most obvious interpretations of Iago–Othello duality.
The Intriguing and the Nonsensical: Against the Idea of Implied Innuendoes
One of the most recent and obviously most controversial interpretations of the relationships between Othello and Iago presupposes assuming that there is more than friendship between the two (Saunders). To be more exact, it is considered that there might be erotic tension between Othello and Iago:
“Iago. My lord, you know I love you.
Othello. I think thou dost” (Shakespeare 930–931).
However, as the story progresses, it becomes clear that Iago’s devotion towards Othello is based on hatred rather than love:
The Moor already changes with my poisons,
Which at the first are scarce found to distaste (Shakespeare 936)
Therefore, in the example above, one can see that the closest the two get to erotic relationships are having Iago plotting Othello’s downfall. Perhaps, Iago’s passion about leading Othello to his defeat might stem from the fact that Iago might have felt attraction towards Othello while they were taking part in military actions and further on felt betrayed when Othello fell in love with Desdemona (Christophides). However, the fact that Iago pursues selfish interests and wants to seize the power and wealth proves the supposition above wrong:
IAGO. I know not that, but such a handkerchief-
I am sure it was your wife’s–did I to-day
See Cassio wipe his beard with. (Shakespeare 938)
Therefore, the given argument is hardly valid and must have been influenced by the recent surge in the introduction of homosexual characters into mass media. Though the given process is hardly noticeable, it still takes place, and the fight for the rights of homosexuals makes people reconsider the fundamental literary works where the ides of such kind might have been overlooked. Hence the temptation to read more than the author actually intended into a certain work appears. Anyway, it seems that there are no obvious hints dropped at the possibility of erotic relationships between Iago and Othello (Omer and Da Verona).
Conclusion: The Perfect Alliance and What It Ensued
Despite the difference between the two characters, Othello and Iago are inseparable. Since Othello falls for Iago’s tricks, their relationships never change; doomed from the very start, the idea of vice coexisting with virtue finally wore out its welcome.
Christophides, Robert M. “Iago and Equivocation: The Seduction and Damnation of Othello.” Early Modern Literary Studies 15.1 (2010): 1–4. Print.
Omer, Haim and Marcello Da Verona. “Doctor Iago’s Treatment of Othello.” American Journal of Psychotherapy 45.1 (1991): 99–112. Print.
Saunders, Ben. “Iago’s Clyster: Purgation, Anality, and the Civilizing Process.” Shakespeare Quarterly 55.2 (2004): 148–176. Print.
Shakespeare, William. “Othello, the Moor of Venice.” Literature and the Writing Process (9th ed.). Ed. Elizabeth McMahan, Susan X. Day, Robert W. Funk and Linda S. Coleman. London, UK: Longman. 2011. 889–940. Print.