Sample Paper on Satanic Iago: Is Iago a Satan-Like Figure?

Satanic Iago: Is Iago a Satan-Like Figure? Should He Be Seen as a Tempter Who Leads the Innocent Othello and Desdemona to Their Doom out of Malice?

Othello is a 17th century tragedy that revolves around a black army general Othello and his malicious ensign Iago. Iago is perhaps one of Shakespeare’s most evil characters. The play starts with Iago showing anger towards Othello, his superior, for passing him for a promotion of Lieutenant and giving it to Cassio. Out of jealousy, Iago begins his scheme to destroy Othello. During the play, as he carries out his scheme on those he thinks have wronged him, Iago is portrayed as a conniving and malevolent character. Using clever and masterful tactics, he manipulates those around him and through these devices, he brings a tragic end that leads to the death of others. Like the devil, Iago seizes every presented opportunity to advance his malicious scheme, and his complete mastery of malevolence is clear to all observers. By manipulating the truth and deceiving others, Iago’s actions lead to the death of Desdemona and Othello. Therefore, Iago is the tempting satanic figure who manipulates people around him and through his deception causes deaths of innocent Desdemona and her husband Othello.

Like Satan, Iago neither overwhelm his prey Othello nor is he some irresistible force. Rather, Iago seeks out the weakness, something within the victim; here Othello’s self-doubt provides that opportunity (Hernan and Feagin 247). Iago taps into something within Othello, that small irrelevant voice doubting Desdemona’s love. Othello is a black man, and despite winning many battles and being a glorified army general, he still has insecurities emanating from his skin color. Why would a young beautiful Christian woman love an old pagan black man? The odds against Othello’s unlikely union were not lost to him. Like the way the devil uses our weaknesses, Iago used Othello’s weakness to make him believe that his wife was having an affair. Othello already considers himself unworthy of Desdemona’s love, and he might have believed that Desdemona should have loved someone of her kind like Cassio who her father and the society would have loved. Aware of his General’s vulnerabilities, Iago, like the devil, uses it against him.

Satan and evil are two things that go together. Evil means something which is bad, wrong, vicious, corrupt or villainy and brings harm to others. In the play Othello, Iago is vicious, malicious, villainy, and causes harm, pain and misery to those around him; and therefore, he is a satanic figure in the play (Goth 100). In fact, there are many similarities between Satan and Iago. Both Iago and Satan are accomplished liars, manipulators of the innocent, and experts in applying psychology to deceive others. Satan creates more waste, suffering and havoc than that created by Iago in the play. However, it can be argued that Iago is the devil’s incarnate in the play through his way of thinking. Evil has never been depicted before with such mastery as in the play Othello. Comparing to the devil, Iago rejects good beliefs and ideas. For example, Othello is a figure of nobility and love, while Desdemona is brought out as fruitful and a fair lady. Objectively, it is clear that Iago recognizes the virtues of goodness and truth in Othello and Desdemona, the same way Satan recognized goodness in Adam and Eve. In addition, Satan corrupted Adam and Eve, so does Iago corrupt the goodness in Desdemona and Othello. His intention to corrupt the good in Desdemona is evident in his word: “So will I turn her virtue into pitch, and out of her own goodness make the net that shall enmesh them all” (Shakespeare 2.3.380-382). Iago plans to use Desdemona’s virtue as a device to accomplish his malicious plot, “Virtue! a fig! tis why, the power and corrigible authority of this lies in our wills” (Shakespeare 1.3.313-318). By condemning virtue, Iago is alienating himself from goodness and its aspects.

It is worth mentioning that Satan was formerly good; moreover, he was an angel of God known as Lucifer. However, Satan rejected God who is the image of all that is good. The devil’s goal of corrupting virtual and his rebellion are similar to Iago’s. For example, Iago whispers “I have’t. It is engender’d. Hell and night must bring this monstrous birth to the world’s light” (Shakespeare 1.3.446-447). By making this statement, Iago makes clear his intentions of bring darkness into light. He plans to bring evil into the innocent lives of unsuspecting Desdemona and Othello. For example, Iago says, “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 the nose as asses are” (Shakespeare 1.3.442-445). In religion, darkness represents evil; and therefore, Iago’s struggle to bring darkness into light is an attempt to bring evil into good.

Like Satan, Iago is a proven master of deception. He lies to everyone without giving up his true intentions. For example, while speaking about his feelings concerning Cassio, Iago uses words of a manly soldier while at the same time telling lies. Iago fakes loyalty to Cassio, a fellow soldier as he pretends to hold back the ‘truth’ of Cassio and Desdemona’s affair, “I had rather have this tongue cut from my mouth/ Than it should do offense to Michael Cassio” (Shakespeare I.2.21-22). Through this deception, Iago is able to convince Othello that he is a loyal and good soldier. To further his scheme, Iago deceives Cassio. Cassio was involved in a drunken fight and through deception, Iago convinces him to talk to Desdemona about asking Othello to reinstate Cassio as Lieutenant. Iago’s plan is to have Othello find Desdemona and Cassio together, and by deceiving Cassio, he can achieve his goal. It is a wonder that Iago is not the devil himself, with all the deception he employs throughout the play.

Like the way the devil sets out to deceive innocent people, Iago sets out to deceive others and cause trouble between Othello and Desdemona. For example, Iago makes known to the audience of his plan to deceive and compares himself to the devil, “To counsel Cassio to this parallel course, directly to his good? divinity of hell! When devils will the blackest sins put on, they do suggest at first with heavenly shows, as I do now: for whiles this honest fool plies Desdemona to repair his fortunes and she for him pleads strongly to the Moor, I’ll pour this pestilence into his ear, that she repeals him for her body’s lust” (Shakespeare 2.3.301-306). Here Iago describes how the devil utilizes deception by using something good to hide his evil and ulterior motives. Iago then goes ahead that he will do the same, while Cassio is asking Desdemona to talk to Othello on his behalf and start a destructive scheme. The way the devil twists the truth, Iago plans to twist the truth and deceive Othello into believing that his beloved wife Desdemona is having an affair with Cassio. Satan twisted the truth to deceive Eve into eating the forbidden fruit, “You will not certainly die” (The Bible 3: 4). Similarly, Iago twists the truth into deceiving Cassio, Desdemona, and Othello.

Satan disguises himself in various forms in the Bible; in the garden of Eden, he disguises himself as a snake (The Bible 3: 1-6); in revelation, he is depicted as a dragon (The Bible 12:3); and a wolf in sheep’s clothing (The Bible 7:15). Like the devil, Iago has many faces. He has convinced others and himself of his supposed honest. Like the wolf in sheep’s clothing, Iago leads on his victims to believe he is an honest man, while he is hiding his true self. Innocent individuals often fall prey to deceptions of the devil like the way characters in Othello fell prey to Iago’s deception. Iago plans to destroy Othello though he pretends to have Othello’s best interests at heart, “Yet that I put the Moor at least into a jealousy so strong that judgment cannot cure” (Shakespeare 2.1. 322-324). These words serve as a proof that Iago set out to destroy Othello by evoking jealousy in him. It is a wonder that Shakespeare did not bestow the name Lucifer on Iago whose evil knows no bounds.

In Act one, Iago says “I am not what I am” (Shakespeare 1.1.65). This could be interpreted to mean that he is not what he seems to be, and this is true because though on the outside he pretends to be honest and everyone’s friend, Iago is a malicious person who is after the downfall of Othello. However, Iago’s quote is resonating with a quote from the Bible which Shakespeare would have been familiar with. When God gives the ten commandments to Moses at Mount Sinai, Moses asks who God is and He replies, “I am that I am” (The Bible 3:14). If “I am that I am” represents God, then “I am not what I am” represents the opposite. Therefore, by saying “I am not what I am” Iago could be referring to himself as the opposite of God which is the devil.

Iago is a Satan-like figure and he should be seen as a tempter who leads innocent Othello and Desdemona to their doom out of malice. In the play, Iago has many qualities of the devil: he is a liar, deceptive, makes false promises; moreover, he hides his true intention with a goal of destroying the lives of others. Comparing to the devil, Iago uses the vulnerabilities of Othello to destroy him, and in the process, he ends up separating Othello from his wife Desdemona through their tragic deaths. In fact, Iago does not destroy the lives of others out of good or to benefit himself or others but he does it out of malice. From the beginning, Iago manipulates the actions of Rodrigo, Cassio, and Othello with the sole purpose of fulfilling his devious scheme to destroy Othello. Having evil ideas, rejecting goodness, changing personalities, manipulating others and his lack of morality indeed prove that Iago is a Satan figure who caused the tragic deaths of Desdemona and Othello in the end.



Works Cited

Goth, Maik. From Chaucer’s Pardoner to Shakespeare’s Iago: Aspects of Intermediality in the       History of the Vice. Lang, 2009.

Hernan, Vera and Joe R. Feagin. Handbook of the Sociology of Racial and Ethnic Relations. Springer, 2007.

Shakespeare, William. Othello, Moor of Venice. Accessed 22 June 2017.

The Bible. Authorized King James Version, Oxford UP, 1998.