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Shakespeare’s “Othello” and Miller’s “The Crucible” Essay

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Updated: Dec 6th, 2021

Villains are often the main determinants of elaborated plots of literary works, and the more interesting the plots of the “evil” is, the more unexpected the plot will appear to be. In both Othello and The Crucible, the authors provide complex descriptions and characteristics of the most immoral and corrupt characters, Iago and Abigail respectively. The villains in both “Othello” and “The Crucible” are unique in their proficiency in the use of language for manipulating others and their ability to use the current setting for achieving their goals; Abigail is interesting because of her desire for power and influence, unusual for this young low-class girl, whereas the most interesting and surprising characteristic of Iago is the absence of more or less rational reasons in his intrigues against Othello.

Shakespeare’s Iago seems to have perfect command of language and rhetorical devices, in particular, delicate and subtle flattery as well as appeals to commonly shared values or ethos. In particular, in the conversation with Roderigo, Iago skillfully involves the desperate young admirer of Desdemona in his plot against Othello, stating that the Moor is guilty of the distortion of the old military tradition (Shakespeare, Act I Scene I). Furthermore, Iago reveals that he almost hates himself for his failure to unite Desdemona and Roderigo (Shakespeare, Act I, Scene I) and refers to Roderigo as a nobleman, underlining his belief that Roderigo is a more appropriate candidate for Desdemona as compared to the Moor. Similarly, Abigail, the villain of The Crucible, is a manipulative character who uses Biblical language, appealing thus to the commonly shared values of belief and devotion, for the purpose of gaining control over the thoughts and actions of others. For instance, at the crucial moment of Titube’s confession about her communing with the devil, Abigail uses Biblical language to tell that the devil has been cavorting with other inhabitants of Salem. In Act III Scene III of Othello, Iago wins the trust and good disposition of gullible Othello by appealing to societal values and sharing secrets about Cassio. First of all, Iago states he believes that Cassio is in fact an honest person, who might, however, be going the wrong way and following his temptations in the relationships with Desdemona. Further, he confesses that he is extremely sensitive and intolerant to injustice and seeks to preserve the reputation of Othello’s family. When Iago makes sure Othello has swallowed his manipulative statements, the main villain presents the information about Cassio’s affair with Desdemona as a big secret he never dared to share with anyone. Iago’s feigned sincerity, sense of intimacy and closeness he suggests to Othello, and devotion to his lieutenant consequently make Othello blindly follow the hypocrite throughout the play. Similarly, Abigail, the villain of The Crucible, at first behaves and speaks like a kind and caring person, particularly by expressing willingness to look after sick Betty and concerns about her uncle’s health (Miller, p.10). She also wishes to seem honest and bold: as a ringleader of the girls, she admits her responsibility for organizing the dance and accepts her forthcoming punishment. However, she later easily fabricates the lawsuits against the other townspeople, causing the deaths of innocent women.

In addition, the use of language by both Iago and Abigail is also interesting in terms of the revelation of their two-faced nature, which brings about the theme of appearance vs. reality. For instance, Iago uses language to swear he has loyalty and respect for Othello and Desdemona, and at the same time, he secretly makes fun of women, proving that he views Desdemona as an inferior. In this sense, Abigail is two-faced since she speaks on the one hand like a caring sister and niece, who wishes that her uncle and cousin Betty remain safe and secure; on the other hand, this allegedly caring person uses language in order to persuade Rev. Hale to hang the women from her community, those at whom she points as the followers of the devil.

Furthermore, it needs to be noted that Iago can be viewed as a catalyst who moves the plot further through the use of language, whereas Abigail is the initiator of the main conflict, who creates it through employing her Biblical language and quoting the Scriptures. Iago’s ability to change the plot radically through the mere use of language is indeed interesting and deserves attention, due to the fact that he changes the cloudless family life of Othello and Desdemona into a true hell by convincing the main character and it is highly important to check Desdemona’s marital fidelity. This ability to create his own choices and realize them in the others’ actions makes Iago an interesting and elaborate character. Abigail’s role is much more important, as she brings about the main conflict. Interestingly, she mercilessly arranges the hanging of the women from her town only on the basis of her infatuation with John Proctor. For this purpose, she uses quotations from the Bible, underlining her resistance to the devil’s temptations and naming those who are allegedly reluctant to return to Christ after being bewitched.

Both Iago’s and Abigail’s ability to use the setting as a powerful resource for manipulation is also surprising and interesting. In particular, in Venice, characterized by racial discrimination and prejudices against people of color, Iago incites Brabanzio, Desdemona’s father, Roderigo, and other soldiers against Othello by spreading rumors that the Moor used witchcraft to enchant the young girl (Shakespeare, Act I Scene III). As a result, Duke of Venice is forced to send Othello off to Cyprus, into the “heart” of the war, seeing that noble Venetians have quite a hostile attitude towards. Similarly, Abigail capitalizes on the social setting of her small Puritan town as well as on the havoc and panic around her in order to seize power. At the most important moment of Tituba’s confession, Abigail takes the initiative and passionately swears that she was once tempted by the devil, but is now being eager to help Reverend Hale and Thomas Putnam find the witches of their community (Miller, p.38). Interestingly, even the changing setting allows both villains to bring their traits and realize their plots. In particular, Iago manages to achieve his goals even after moving from Venice to Cyprus, where he uses the strange and unusual for Othello setting and the uncertainty of the war in order to saw in Othello the seed of distrust for Desdemona and Cassio. Similarly, when the mood of the social setting in The Crucible changes from panic to uncertainty and doubt, Abigail demonstrates her stubbornness and strengthens her control over the townspeople by attracting additional witnesses of the night dancing (Mary and Betty) and forcing them to give false testimonies against the most reputable women of Salem. Thus, the psychological flexibility of both Iago and Abigail as they adapt to all changes in the setting also makes them interesting and elaborate characters.

The most interesting and intriguing aspect of Abigail’s personality is her unexpected desire for power. Although she is a very young low-caste orphan, who needs to serve the wealthier townspeople like the Procters in order to earn her living, Abigail reveals enormous ambitions (Miller, p.101). Whereas Abigail is interesting in terms of the inappropriateness of her Napoleonic motives to her tender age and social status, Shakespeare’s Iago captivates the reader’s attention due to the absence of rational explanations of his hatred for Othello. In Act, I Scene I it is made clear that Othello was the cause of Iago’s failure to receive a promotion, but this fact is not mentioned in the subsequent sections, where Iago’s plots against the Moor are associated with pure hatred. Because of Iago’s unmotivated and truly irrational hatred for the main character, his actions seem even more terrifying, especially considering his enjoyment and satisfaction with the suffering of others, including Othello, Desdemona, Cassio, and even his own wife Emilia, so the plot is catalyzed predominantly by Iago’s hatred for Othello. Abigail, in turn, spreads her control as rapidly as the paranoia about witches is spread: whereas at first she manages to influence only her fellow girls, later she becomes the right hand of mature and sophisticated Reverend Hale and Mr.Putnam, and this union with the local clerical and political authorities allows Abigail to manage the main conflict of the plot throughout the literary work.

As one can conclude, Iago serves as the catalyst of the main conflict in Othello, whereas Abigail from The Crucible initiates this conflict [these are the purposes of the characters in the literary works].

In fact, Abigail attracts the reader’s attention with her colossal ambitions no-one can expect from this young and shy orphan, whereas Iago is particularly interesting due to the irrational, almost pathological hatred which drives him to destroy his own and Othello’s family [this is the conclusion about what makes the characters interesting]. Both Iago and Abigail display extraordinary, almost supernatural ability to convince others through generously using rhetorical devices like flattery and appeals to common sense and religious values. They are also very adaptive characters and turn the setting and the social environment around them into an additional resource for their manipulation [this is the restatement of the thesis in different words].

References

Miller, A. The Crucible. Viking Press, 1976.

Shakespeare, W. Othello. 2009. Web.

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