How Shakespeare Portrays Othello and Iago as Villains in the Two Plays

10 October 2016

Shakespeare’s plays were written in the Elizabethan and Jacobean periods, where the villains brought entertainment value to the plays by their plotting. A villain is someone who is an enemy and plays a prominent part in the play. Often in Shakespeare’s plays, the villains are normally malcontent. A Malcontent is a type of person/character which is prominent in Elizabethan dramas, which is rebellious and wants to cause other people distress. Some great examples of Shakespeare’s villains are Richard III and Tamora.

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Shakespeare uses Elizabethan types of Villain in his plays Othello and Much Ado about Nothing and J. A. Cudden described them ‘devilish’ and an ‘evil machinator or plotter’. Throughout Shakespeare’s plays Villains are in general antagonistic; they are against the good, innocent people in the play. This normally leads to a grave misfortune of others and often death. I am going to explore how Shakespeare portrays Villains through two well known villains called Iago from the tragedy Othello and Don John from the comedy Much Ado about Nothing.

These villains are particularly excellent because they are not ‘Blood-thirsty’; they are devious and deceitful and operate with ‘sly treachery’. These Malcontents play on the emotions of other characters until they stop thinking in a rational way.? Throughout both plays, Iago and Don John are Machiavellian as they effectively destroy the minds of people. Othello is a tragedy and throughout the whole play and thus Desdemona, Emilia, and Othello were killed. Although Much Ado about Nothing is a comedy it verges onto a tragedy towards the end, as Charles Gildon stated ‘Some of the incidents and discourses are more in a tragic strain… he accusation of Hero is too shocking for either tragedy or comedy’; Iago and Don John are more similar than different but there are some obvious variations that made one better than the other. Of course, they were Iago was in a tragedy and Don John was in a comedy, so there were many effects that made them prominent villains in Shakespearian plays. In the tragedy Othello, Iago has a prominent part in the play and appears in a lot of the major scenes throughout the play, whereas, Don John in Much Ado about Nothing doesn’t appear a lot in the play.

Both Don Jon and Iago live in a patriarchal time, so they used this to bring down their enemies. Women at that time were easy to manipulate on and they both try and make people think that they are being unfaithful. Iago never showed Othello physical proof that Desdemona was having an affair but he just implanted idea into Othello’s head making him jealous. On the other hand, Don John showed what appeared to Hero with someone else. Although this is clever, his plan did not work in the end.

The differentiation between the two villains was that Iago kept on going with his plan until he got what he wanted, and when Don Johns planned failed, he ran away. However, at end the both rogues got caught and detained. First Impressions are important in plays, whatever kind, because it affects our view of that particular character throughout the rest of the play. It’s a lasting impact. In Act 1 Scene 1 of Othello we see Iago and Rodergio having an argument. This does not create an excellent opening impression of Iago, and we see him as a very pessimistic and livid man.

This is because Othello promoted Michael Cassio not him. Iago used this to get revenge on Othello later on in the play. Even at the beginning of the play we see evidence of racism, and this carries on throughout the play. Iago describes Othello as ‘the Moor’ ‘thick lips’ ‘the devil’ this explores Iago’s patronising, racist personality. Iago’s use for these words is particularly striking because it emphasises his hatred for him. In Elizabethan times, black people were portrayed as ‘devils’ and in early Church paintings, as the devils were always black.

This is evident, when Emilia is dreadfully annoyed at Othello after he killed his wife later on in the play: ‘O, the more angel she, / And you the blacker devil! ’ When Iago declared ‘I follow him to serve my turn upon him’ informs us of his cunning plan to try and ensure that he gets power. In addition, he is pretending to be a supportive and pleasant towards Othello, to guarantee that he will get Cassio’s job. We learn a lot about Iago when he asserted ‘I am not what I am’ because ultimately he’s approachable on the outside but cannot be trusted. This created dramatic irony which is a main feature of this play.

This creates dread and tension as the people in connection Iago with could be in danger, as we learn from later on the in play. Iago implies that Othello as animalistic, as he states ‘Beast with two backs’ and that Desdemona and Othello aren’t together because they love each other. This creates anger with Desdemona’s father and further portrays as Othello an as bad evil man who’s just looking for sex. Iago uses soliloquies to further develop his plans. He talks the audience his supreme intentions and reason for the plan for the downfall of Othello. This s one of few times when he is being completely honest, whereas Don John is contradictory to this way of villainy, as he describes himself as ‘a plain-dealing villain’. In Act 1 Scene 3, it’s the first that time he’s alone stage on, and it’s the initial moments that he unleashes his thoughts first on what’s happening. Iago uses ‘I’ a lot in his speech from lines 58-66 which emphasis’ his selfishness and self-confidence. Iago keeps his plans to himself with a small amount of help from Roderigo, an admittedly dumb young man, who’s in love with Othello’s wife.

Othello’s soliloquies are supremely spontaneous as he thought ‘How? How? Let’s see. ’ This creates apprehension as we realise his earliest and foremost tactics for bringing down Othello. With showing little or no true emotion, the fact that he destroyed so many lives is shocking. Still in the end when his plan and Machiavellian character was revealed, he refused to speak and release his inner character. Act 3 Scene 3 in Othello, is an especially long scene where at the beginning, Othello is unaware of Desdemona’s supposed affair with Cassio, but by the end he is convinced she is. Iago doesn’t tell Othello that she’s cheating directly but Iago ‘plants seeds’ in Othello’s mind and waited for them to grow until Othello is positive that Desdemona is cheating. The time that this play was written, males did not want to be cuckolds and feared to be labelled wrongly. Othello didn’t accept that Desdemona was cheating until Iago said that he will give him proof of her disloyalty. Therefore, Iago suggested ‘Look to your wife, observe her well with Cassio;’ to create suspicion of Desdemona. He doesn’t insult Desdemona and Cassio in an extreme way; instead he regains his neutral position.

He tells Othello to be “neither completely suspicions nor completely trustful. ” So Iago doesn’t prove that there’s anything going on between Desdemona and Cassio but in effect, Othello trust in Desdemona is ruined, and therefore doesn’t act the same towards her anymore. Iago says many things to reassure Othello that he’s not lying and he looks up to Othello, for example he said ‘My Noble Lord-‘(page 104) which is coming back to the line he said earlier on in the play ‘I follow him to serve my turn upon him’.

The stage direction ‘Enter John the bastard’ is quite prominent because it shows his low status. Don John may have used this as an excuse for his villain, as he is an outcast in society. The first we see Don John is in Act 1 Scene 1, where he is welcomed into Leonato’s house. Whenever Don John enters the room the mood changes and no one seems to acknowledge Don John. Leonato seems to quickly welcome him but doesn’t seem to make conversation with him maybe because Leonato doesn’t that think Don John worth is speaking to as he is a ‘Bastard’.

In the 1984 BBC adaptation we see that Don John wears dark clothing which is a custom to lonely and sour character that doesn’t perceive well to other people. This is a contrast to the way in which the other characters are dressed as they are in bright colours and are in a joyful mood. In a way, this represents the feeling and villainous beliefs of Don John. The words of Beatrice suggest some disapproval of Don John as she whispered ‘How tartly that man looks’ which informs the reader that he is bitter.

Don John disgust for his half brother is known to many of his friends, as they can help him a great deal to conjure up a plan. His sidekick, Borachio, does a lot of work to help Don John when he couldn’t be bothered to do anything. When Don John’s plan failed, in Act 2 Scene 2 Borachio came up of a cunning plan to frame Hero of cheating, which is a plan that is carried on throughout the play. Don John appears more laid back, than Iago, because he is more determined to bring down his enemies. Iago even goes to the point of killing, but not directly.

The reasons why Iago is this villainous character is unclear, but there are many suggestions on what could it be. For example, Iago’s words “Oh, beware, my lord of jealousy” implies that Iago wants to make Othello jealous. From saying ‘oh, beware’ suggests a warning not just for Othello but for Roderigo as well as he loves Desdemona. Jealousy is not the only reason for Othello’s downfall but it undoubtedly has a pessimistic effect on Othello. Iago is full of spite and schemes to gain the promotion that Cassio acquired. Iago went to a big extent to get this promotion.

He betrays, misleads, and murders close friends to gain that position. It appears that Othello’s evilness towards others is just to amuse himself. This creates an ominous and menacing feeling towards Iago. He is digging for motives but actually can’t find a justifiable reason for his villainy, this suggest he just did it for the fun of it. Samuel Taylor Coleridge described Othello’s behaviour as ‘motive-hunting of motiveless malignity. ’ As Don John is an open minded bastard in society, and other characters foresee him as suspicious and sly.

After Don John had a recent rebellion against Don Pedro, they became friends again which may cause some concerns. Leonato doubts Don John’s faithfulness to Don Pedro by saying “If you swear, my Lord, you shall not be forsworn”. Even though Leonato is uneasy with Don John, he greeted him pleasantly. Don John is aware of Leonatos thoughts towards him by saying, “I am not of many words, but I thank you”. When Don John said this line, it shows politeness, however his spite and hatred is revealed in Act 1 Scene 3.

The public has no faith in Don John, so he might be dissatisfied with his ‘Bastard’ place in society and therefore Don John might want to get back as society. Don John stated “had rather be a canker in a hedge than a rose in his grace” and if he does any horrible, evil things it’s because “it better fits my blood to be disdained of all”. When Don John said “blood,” it suggested that his was born a bastard and society pushes him out and thinks that he is “evil. ” He feels that being a villain is a role he’s destined to play because of his origins.

The fact that Leonato and Don Pedro are such good friends stings jealousy into Don John which also might determine the reasons of his villainy. Don John speaks rarely in this play and gives the audience little insight on his motives and his reaction to what is happening throughout the play. In conclusion, both villains are very similar in their ways; however they both have different ways approaching their goals. The way that Shakespeare portrays them in these plays are astonishing, as the villains bring down their enemies in such a way that other people wouldn’t expect them.

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