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Iago: Shakespeare’s most sinister villain or simply a jealous lover scorned?

In William Shakespeare’s tragic play Othello the dramatic plotting and scheming of the character Iago proves how one man is simply able to manipulate the people around him and bringall the other characters to their downfall. Iago is seen to be the classic villain, working behind the back of his ‘friend’ and commander in order to gain personal benefits. However, these actions can be seen to be that of a jealous lover, seeking revenge in order to hurt the person that hurt him.

Being passed over for the position of lieutenant in the first act, Iago’s rage against a man he declares to love is seen to begin to become more sinister and that fuels his motivation to destroy Othello. With the belief that Othello slept with his wife, Iago’s rage has the motivation of sexuality within it, but this jealousy is not just being cuckolded by his commander but the fact his wife may have had the chance to be with the man that he desires. Iago is a complex sinister character, his rage and lack of emotion towards the end of the play brings together the conclusion that he has in fact been hurt on an emotional level, with the notion that if he cannot have Othello then no one else can.

Throughout the play, Iago is a character with a hidden hatred for women. The way in which he treats his wife Emilia and the way he has lack of sympathy for her death could stem from a jealous rage against the female gender as a whole. This hidden jealousy is seen to be directed to Othello’s wife Desdemona, the woman who is preventing Iago from being with Othello. The way in which Iago gains pleasure and happiness from not allowing Othello to enjoy his own marriage is seen to be jealousy of how his marriage is not as perfect as Othello’s, but the jealousy could be the homosexual passion he has towards his commander.

Act 3 scene 3 is where Iago starts to manipulate his commander into thinking his wife is being unfaithful. In Othello’s eyes Iago is a man who would not deceive him and that his trust isn’t even questioned. This scene is sometimes criticised to be similar to the vows made in a marriage ceremony ‘I am bound to thee for ever’, showing the bound that both men have to each other. ‘My Lord, you know I love you’ Expressing his love of Othello, Iago opens up to the man without the response he was looking for bringing the evidence to light that the love Iago feels isn’t simply that of friendship but that of something more.

Many critics analyse Iago as being the most evil villain in all of Shakespeare’s work that his plotting and scheming is simply that of an animal jealous of how an outsider is able to get the things he wants. But this jealousy is that of a scorned lover, broken and hurt by the rejection of a man who doesn’t love him in return.


Does a Villain have to be a Character in literature?

A villain in literature’s main goal is to break and destroy the individual heroine or hero, in Margaret Atwood’ s novel The Handmaid’s Tale, this villain is in fact the society of Gilead. The structured regime and also the way women are considered objects leaves the female protagonist Jeanette fighting for her freedom. This novel brings the idea that a villain does not have to be a single person but in fact a whole society is able to become the enemy.

Throughout the novel there are striking similarities between Gilead and Nazi Germany, the way in which women are ushered into the training to be a handmaid shows the lack of consideration by the society. Also how simply if a woman does not fit into a particular criteria can be thrown away just like Germany, these similarities bring to light how things like this can happen in an everyday society. Questioning what control a government has on the people living in the society and how censorship is a tool to control people’s views.

The most villainous act in this novel is the way women are treated, ‘the small tattoo on my ankle. Four digits and an eye’ being branded like cattle, Atwood brings to light how this protagonist is simply a number and that she is in the villainous world of Gilead unable to escape. Jeanette is a strong protagonist seen in this society to be only good while she is fertile, the trials and tribulations she goes through in order to gain her freedom are similar to those of a heroine, sacrificing her love for a man in order to survive as an individual.

Gilead’s regime is based on that of the New Right ideology, how a man is able to dominate women in his life with the justification that it is God’s law and the way nature intended it to be. Atwood brings religion into her novel as a background answer for the way in which this society is built, ‘Blessed be the fruit…May the Lord open’ twisting religious quotes Atwood expresses how sometimes villainous acts can sometimes get justified by religion.

Atwood’s novel is not the stereotypical good versus evil text; however Jeanette is a woman who overcomes evil by escaping a regime enforced by the Gilead society. This society with its corruption and twisted ways is similar to that of any typical villain, thinking that it has justification for doing what it does. Gilead may not be a character but it has the same characteristics of a villain and therefore a villain does not have to be a single person, it can be a corrupt society.

Heathcliff- A villain created out of his own mistreatment in childhood?

It has been seen that Bronte’s villainous character of Heathcliff is nothing more than a man driven by revenge and having the enjoyment of being able to manipulate the people around him like puppets. But is this truly the workings of an evil man? Or is it the end product of a society that pushed different people away? I think Heathcliff is a misunderstood character treating the world in the same way he was treated, as an outsider and an outcast, not mattering to anyone.

During the novel, in Heathcliff’s younger days he is considered to be a possession of the family, a type of family pet. ‘He is a dark-skinned gypsy in aspect, in dress and manners a gentleman’ this quote proves that even by appearance he is different to everyone else in the novel. Even in society today we judge people by their looks, imagine looking different then going into a close community such as the one in Wuthering Heights the difference will always cause people to misunderstand and therefore mistreat.

Looking through the novel, you can recognise that the older he gets the more sinister and manipulative Heathcliff becomes. However when he shows his weaker side we see that he is just a man scorn and out of luck, ‘Heathcliff could weep on a great occasion like this’. In this context the great occasion is that of when he lost Cathy completely, due to her death. But the events leading up to him losing Cathy just prove that he is a man tormented by class and his history. This is proven when Cathy chooses to marry Edgar, a man of social stature and wealth.

This then brings me onto the point that Heathcliff isn’t really a villain just a victim of falling in love with a woman who is more inclined to marry for wealth then following her heart. Proving that he was naïve into believing she loved him, we see how Heathcliff was manipulated by a young girl wanting a little bit of fun to boost her ego.  This also shows where Heathcliff developed the tools to become a manipulative man, allowing the audience to see that his behaviour is learnt and not just the workings of a ‘monster’.

Even in his name he is different, simply characterised as ‘Heathcliff’ in first and last name. We see him not belonging to anyone, being alone in a world that thrives on companionship. This breaks the conventions of social patterns, whilst also his name was inherited from that of a dead son providing Heathcliff with the presence of a ghost. No longer present or mattering.

I feel much sympathy for the character of Heathcliff, with everything he has had to deal with throughout his life in Wuthering Heights it’s no wonder he is a little bit disturbed. I am not giving him an excuse for the actions he has taken but I think people should keep an open mind when characterising him as a villain. He isn’t the stereotypical villain he is just a man mistreated and misunderstood.