A Psychological analysis of Othello’s Iago essay

Othello first impressed me by the tragedy of the whole situation. People are deceived one by one, and evil celebrates his triumph, but in the end his plot is revealed and he remains with nothing, except vindictiveness.

Tragedy is in deaths of innocent people, and probably the ending in Shakespeare’s works is always so abrupt and shocking. But of course, Othello had no choice, as he couldn’t live with a burden on his heart, knowing that he killed his innocent wife, whom he loved and who loved him. Speaking of heart,

Even Cassio’s he was great of heart may amount to nothing more than a faint plea in mitigation for one whose heart was swollen to bursting with intolerable emotion (Neill 205)

The question whether I want to meet someone of the heroes in reality is unequivocal. I won’t ever wish to meet Iago, as every reader of Othello probably. But how to find out what is a person like, if he seems to be so simple, honest and benevolent?

As for female characters, the main characteristics of Desdemona are honesty and obedience. In the sixteenth century women had to be obedient to men. But Desdemona doesn’t doubt her female duty of obedience, explaining that she just changes the man from father to her husband, although her father appraises it as betrayal, rather than submission. Again Iago plays his part here. He reminds Othello, that her marriage was a token of hypocrisy, rather than obedience:

She did deceive her father, marrying you;

And when she seemed to shake and fear your looks,

She loved them most (Shakespeare 167).

However, the shamefulness of her marriage lies not only in the fact that her father didn’t approve it, but because her husband was black. And this blackness is a sign of everything that seems to be horrible and hazardous in society remained a stranger (Hunter 185).

I regretted about two innocent deaths of women, and considered them from the feministic point of view. Pechter wrote that Desdemona overplayed her part of an obedient woman and made a small step to her becoming a victim.

She couldn’t prove her innocence, but was too submissive to her husband, which resulted in a violent murder (349).

The main problem of Freudian theory is the problem of motivation. Id is an instinct that gives motivational force to human behavior, and contains sexual energy. Iago again thought it was unfair that a black Moor got such a beautiful and honest wife, and sublimates his sexual feelings by hatred. All his plans are based on hatred towards people, who appeared to be more successful than him.

A desire to get rid of unpleasant emotional states elaborates defensive mechanisms (Structure of Mind: Freud’s Id, Ego & Superego).

Iago reluctantly recognizes his own unwanted personal features and uses the mechanism of projection. He ascribes his own negative characteristics to other people, in an exaggerated way. Probably for this reason he hates so many people.

The main characteristic of Iago is ability to trade up the unpredictable circumstances, and turn the situation into personal scenery. Apart from this, there are sexual anxieties and violence in this tragedy. He calls Cassio a proper man, meaning, that he will help him to fulfill his intentions and take a revenge on his numerous enemies, especially Cassio, who took the position, Iago was dreaming about. Iago thinks that Cassio doesn’t deserve the preferment, unlike himself.

Later he says to Roderigo:

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 87).

Iago represents a devil, which misleads and deceives other heroes until the tragic end, but his main plot is expressed with ambiguity:

to abuse Othello’s ear

That he is too familiar with his wife (Shakespeare 121).

At first it doesn’t explain anything, but later readers realize that the dark intrigue of Iago is to show relations between Othello and Desdemona as adultery.

And such ambiguity repeats as the play goes on. Again when Iago was talking to himself in the end of the second act, he said:

Tis here, but yet confused:

Knavery’s plain face is never seen till used (Shakespeare 214).

Indeed, the real villain will be revealed in the end. I should say that Iago sees no restrictions on the way to fulfill his desires. Superego doesn’t control his wishes, and he feels neither sorry, nor regretful, he only does what he wishes.

He is deprived of consciousness. Iago is well aware of his ability to make victims do what he wants, and he enjoys it. Iago keeps such a model of behavior almost with everybody, from Othello and Desdemona to subsidiary figures, like Montano and Bianca. This is his way of domination. He pretends being plain, but appears to be the most cunning of all. His subordination to other heroes is a sort of defense, which hides his power and helps to play with Othello. Iago is able to conceal his vicious plans under the masque of loyal service.

Iago amazes Rodrigo by saying that Desdemona fell in love with Cassio. Of course, he doesn’t have any evidences, but he proves it, merely saying that she wouldn’t love Moor forever.

It cannot be that Desdemona should long continue her love to the Moor – put money in thy purse – nor he his to her.

Let us be conjunctive in our

revenge against him (135).

What can be more persuasive, than the idea that she will be once fed up with her old husband and turn to a young handsome substitute? It should be admitted that Iago includes himself as well into his endless narrative. Iago seems to rule behavior of others and in such a way, he lives their lives. His ego gets lost, and yet reveals in other people.

Only his inner talks with himself can reveal a bit of his plans and characterize his ego.

The most disastrous for conjugal relations is jealousy, and it is one of psychological problems in Othello. From psychological point of view, Iago caused paranoiac development in Othello’s personality, his sensitivity and suspicion. Only after Othello had murdered Desdemona, he confessed that immeasurably loved her, but was driven to distraction by own jealousy. Shakespeare gave a brilliant analysis of tragic events in psychological aspect. Iago encouraged unstable and groggy state of Othello, along with his constant uncertainty between hope and fear. At first Iago made only hints, causing strain, but rejecting to say more. Only when Iago was sure that he won’t meet a rebuff, he decided to say something more distinct. Othello gradually becomes ready to take any lie for granted, and Iago understands it, telling his cunning accusations. And when Othello is finally knocked by jealousy, Iago gives him a detailed image of the sin between Desdemona and Cassio.

This is a brilliant example of paranoiac development in literature. Iago managed to keep Othello in uncertainty all the time and to dose his slander, so that Othello would struggle between suspicions and trust. In case Iago would begin with rough slander, Othello would most likely protest against it indignantly. Here again all the skillful cunning of Iago reveals. Due to it, Othello’s personality was pushed to the way of paranoiac development, especially because he was a Moor and was afraid that such a gentle woman as Desdemona didn’t really love him. In the final scene Othello both loved and hated her, and before committing the murder, he kissed her, longing to do it again and again.

That is how hatred and love coexist when a person feels jealousy.

How does Desdemona feel? She passionately wants to live and pleads Othello to take pity of her. Othello kills her, but everything changes for him, when comes Emilia. Iago brilliantly plotted his game, but couldn’t even think of heroic honesty of Emilia. Iago is a great force, a representative of cunning calculation, power of gold, fierce competition, which tried to destroy high values of humanism. Struggle with everything embodied in Iago, was the heart of Shakespeare’s creative work.

In the end Othello says words which symbolize victory over evil, as Desdemona proved to be innocent:

One that loved not wisely but too well

Like the base Indian, threw a pearl away

Richer than all his tribe (Shakespeare 360)

Finally I would like to make a transactional analysis of the heroes. Using a model of ego-conditions I will try to show psychology of the characters and their individuality in behavior.

Changes in behavior are usually accompanied by emotions, and each person has personal schemes of behavior with certain state of conscience. These changes lead to the idea of different states of ego, interact with each other. All the transaction of Iago had latent motives, which were used by him to manipulate other people (Chapman 07).

The scheme parent-adult-child shows how a person applies to his life one of these strategies. The strategy of a Child behavior in adult life may lead to self-destroying and painful results. Observing Iago’s behavior in general, I came to the conclusion that in most cases he is a Child. It seems that he once created a life scenario and is strictly following it.

If something goes wrong, he strives to improve it even by vicious and immoral means. Being a Child, he continues to think that any threat to his views of the world is a threat to fulfillment of needs and even existence. If he was an Adult, than he would unconsciously build mutual relations with people. Instead he prefers to play his own game with them. He also follows the model I and You OK, which is another strategy, elaborated in childhood. For a child it is the best way to survive and achieve what they want from the world, which seems to be enemy. His attempt to escape in the end of the play is also Childish, as it proves his fears to be punished and disability to overcome difficulties.

Nevertheless, for some reason Iago copes with a role of Parent in transactions as well, as he constantly gives advice and people do what he says. When we were children, our parents could force us to develop in one or another direction, and could press us strongly. In such a way Iago is a synthesis of Child and Parent.

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