Nicholas FrenchMonday November 5th 2012 Ms. Waddell Othello Essay: Is There Textual Proof of Iago Being a Psychopath The character of Iago in Shakespeare’s “Othello” is fascinating; Shakespeare’s genius has created in Iago a truly evil and in the end despicable man. He has the dubious honour for being a main character, an antagonist too, in one of Shakespeare’s blood soaked tragedies and actually surviving the experience. A genius villain whose machinations and trickery brought about the downfall of main protagonist Othello, Iago’s traits and mannerisms that lead him there are we in today’s society would consider a full on Psychopath.
Psychopathy is a personality disorder defined by certain characteristics such as shallow emotions, lack of empathy, cold-heartedness, lack of guilt, superficial charm, manipulations, anti-social behaviours among them a parasitic lifestyle and criminality. Shakespeare’s Iago shows textual evidence of each and every one of these traits. The main characteristic found in all psychopaths is that of false affection and superficial charm. This allows them to befriend and gain the trust of powerful people who they use to further their own ends.
Iago is no different, he uses his undeniable skill with words to influence and worm himself in with Othello and rope in Rodrigo for his own ends by playing on his fantasies. Iago in Act III, Scene III pg. 106 in his attempts to influence Othello of Desdemona’s unfaithfulness “I humbly do beseech you of your pardon, For too much loving you” this sheen of affection and dogged loyalty that Iago puts on until the very end convinces Othello that the only thing that subservient Iago could possibly think of is him.
It is amusing how that the one person whose Iago’s affectionate mask seems to have no effect on is his own wife Emilia. She seems to regard their marriage as a necessary part of society by the way she talks of his disloyalties and in the end breaks his web of trickery and deception. This charm allows Iago to live how many psychopaths live, a patristic lifestyle meaning their lifestyle comes at the detriment of others. This is no more obvious then how Iago plays on Rodrigo’s affections for Desdemona and accepts the jewels he was meant to deliver to her.
Psychopaths are known globally for their abilities of manipulation and Iago is no different. Throughout the play he manipulates every single character he deals with, there is no one who escapes Iago’s wiles. He turns everyone against each other like dogs, sitting back like the puppet master. Using all his abilities available to him, he is able to convince Othello that his faithful doting wife Desdemona is promiscuous and involved in an adulterous affair with his most trusted Lieutenant Cassio who has served him most loyally and owes him his career.
That Iago is able to convince Othello of Desdemona’s fictional betrayal is outstanding, this is a woman who has given him everything at quite a detriment to herself for marrying a moor of no nobility, and above all has given him no cause to suspect her other than what is twisted by Iago. He even, it seems manipulates himself consciously for what purpose he does not explain, most notably in the most famous line in Act 1 Scene 1 “I am not what I am” meaning that there is even a side of him that he himself does not know .
This represents in Iago an example among many of his pathological lying that is seen among psychopaths. Iago lies continuously most importantly when in the very beginnings of the text he is plotting to overthrow Othello and when he speaks of the reasons of this vengeance he speaks of a fictitious rumour of Othello sleeping with his wife that he knows to be untrue “I know not if it be true, but I for mere suspicion of the kind will act as if it were so”.
These lies that Iago sells seem created for no reason but to justify his heinous actions. Iago throughout the text is underlined not only of his manipulations and charms but of his complete and utter lack of empathy. He displays this lack of heart through his distance from the other characters and in the ways that he ends up disposing of them.
The strongest case towards Iago’s complete absence of empathy and morality is in the final act and scene of the play, where found out by his wife and leaving a string of bodies and wounded behind Iago declares “Demand me nothing, what you know, you know. From this time forth I never will speak a word”. This statement shows the complete self-absorption and self-righteousness of Iago, even after the deaths of Desdemona, who he freely admits has done nothing to him, and the murder by his own hand of his wife his absolute lack of sorrow.
It is impossible to come away from Shakespeare’s Othello without the distinct feeling that at the very least Iago is a twisted murder and the truth is that he is a full-fledged psychopath. The textual proof of this point is abundant from his sickening charms he uses to ensnare Othello and Rodrigo, to his manipulations of all involved in the sordid affair, his pathological need to bend the truth to suit his goals and his utter lack of a heart culminating when he butchers his own wife with his sword.
What is extremely interesting from Shakespeare’s point of view is that while the Iago of today would be classified as a psychopath, there were no recordings or medicals and scientific knowledge back in his. This means that Shakespeare must have come across a man possessing these qualities in his life and wrote them in his character meaning he meant for the viewer to walk away from Othello drawing his/her own conclusions and assumptions about Iago.