Crisis of Identity
A discussion of Iago’s honor and masculinity in Shakespeare’s “Othello”.
This paper examines Shakespeare’s villain Iago in `Othello`. The paper portrays Iago’s different persona which are projected so skillfully, the central ones being of the villain and the arch-hypocrite. The paper illustrates the apparent identity crisis as Iago, who is supposedly the arch-villain of the play, spends a great deal of his time masquerading around as the honest, truthful, helping friend. The writer points out that Iago constructs his identity and his actions around the way others see him, which ultimately reveals his own insecurity about both his masculinity, and more importantly, his identity.
“Shakespeare’s main character, Othello, is the first to announce Iago’s honesty, “my Ancient./A man he is of honesty and trust” (1.3. 281-82). Considering the fact that Othello and Iago have served together in various military campaigns, it tends to put “honesty” into the context of the “soldier persona.” That is, Iago’s reputation for truthfulness relies heavily on his blunt speaking as a soldier, moreover, that sort of tough realism that spills over into cynicism. In favor of this military complex creating Iago’s “honesty,” Michael Cassio points out, “He speaks home, madam; you may relish him more in the soldier than in the scholar” (2.1. 162-163). Cassio is implying that Iago’s very mannerisms stem from his militaristic nature, not his scholarly views. He is not alone with this judgment, many of the other characters hold the same convictions against Iago. Montano demands of Iago to tell the truth in his report of Cassio’s drunken behavior to Othello, warning that if “Thou dost deliver more or less than truth,/thou art no soldier” (2.3. 213-14). Iago himself uses these expectations to his own benefit, for when Othello forewarns that he will damn him if he is lying, Iago offers to resign his post, vaguely protesting: God buy you: take mine office. O wretched fool, That lovist to make thine honesty a vice! O monsterous world! Take note, take note, O world! To be direct and honest is not safe. (3.3. 373-76) Here, Iago insists that it is his vary nature to be honest, and that such exploitations of his so called “soldier persona,” with its license both to speak bluntly and unmask underhanded dealings, is in fact an attack on his very values and virtues.”