January 14, 2010

A Poisonous Seed



Be not acknown on ’t,

I have use for it. Go, leave me.



I will in Cassio’s lodging lose this napkin

And let him find it. Trifles light as air

Are to the jealous confirmations strong

As proofs of holy writ. This may do something.

The Moor already changes with my poison.

Dangerous conceits are in their natures poisons

Which at the first are scarce found to distaste,

But with a little act upon the blood

Burn like the mines of sulfur.



I did say so.    

Look, where he comes. Not poppy nor mandragora

Nor all the drowsy syrups of the world,

Shall ever medicine thee to that sweet sleep

Which thou owedst yesterday.

A great man is recognized by his virtues. On the other hand, a tragic great villain is recognized by the power to destroy those virtues, to poison others’ minds, and to demolish people’s social status. This infamous, ironic model has conquered our subconscious through movies, books and TV shows. The Shakespearean play Othello presents one of the archetypes of notorious villains. It presents a person, known by his cruelty, recognized by his cunning ability to destroy people’s lives. All those characteristics shown in Scene 3 of Act III define Iago as the perfect villain, because he is also intelligent, influential, and able to preserve his valuable reputation until the end of the play.

As it is true that history repeats itself, it is also true that themes and motifs, which are present in Shakespearean plays, are also present nowadays. For example, it is still correct that the people, who a person opens his heart for, are the one’s who are capable of hurting him the most. Throughout the play, Othello, the protagonist, shows his respect for Iago, the antagonist. The Moor believes in the villain’s honesty and nobility. Iago’s monologue from Scene 3 of Act III, on the other hand, proves how deceptive appearance can be. It demonstrates that Iago’s reputation is based on trickery. The antagonist takes the symbol of love and purity: Desdemona’s handkerchief, and turns it into a symbol of destruction and hatred. “Be not acknown on ’t”, says Iago to his wife, when she gives him the handkerchief, hoping to please the villain, which makes her a compliant, deceived associate, who as many others helps Iago in his quest for revenge. However, can Desdemona be claimed as completely innocent, as absolutely unaware of the fact that her husband is up to something not entirely decent? Probably not. A woman who is not loved, who is not desired by her husband, who is used only as a tool for accomplishing Iago’s goals, Desdemona is not above suspicion. In her desire to be loved, to be acknowledged, to be valued, she is ready to fulfill every yearning of the cold husband. This readiness prevents her from thinking clearly, of evaluating the situation and seeing the fraud which her husband is pulling on. Furthermore, Iago is not only cold, but also he is ungrateful to her:” Go, leave me.”, he would say to his wife after she gives him the handkerchief.

Emilia gives Iago the most powerful weapon, an object that symbolizes not only Desdemona and Othello’s love, but also their commitment, and Desdemona’s faithfulness. All of these could be destroyed easily with the power of Iago’s words. “Not poppy nor mandragora/ …/Shall ever medicine thee to that sweet sleep/ Which thou owedst yesterday”, would say he while waiting for Othello, knowing already how he would deceive deliberately the noble Moor. He knows that the handkerchief is Othello’s first gift to Desdemona, and that she keeps it with her at all times. Thus, the possession of it is the strongest evidence of Desdemona’s unfaithfulness in Iago’s hands. Then he would tell Othello that he had seen Cassio using it “I will in Cassio’s lodging lose this napkin/ And let him find it”; thus causing the rational Othello to truly start questioning his wife, to become jealous, to lose his temper and his “sleep”; which eventually speeds up the tragic events that follow and leads to the relevant success of the villain’s evil plan. The metaphor “trifles light as air” , shows how fragile Iago’s plan is, how its is based on non existing proofs, on meaningless little things. However, when they are combined together with Othello’s newly acquired jealousy and existing trust for Iago, the evidence becomes a “holy writ”, an absolute proof, which dooms the two lovers to a tragic death.

Words have had a demiurgic function, from the ancient times. God creates the world with his words, as Iago creates a devious reality, with his well aimed expression.

The Moor already changes with my poison.

Dangerous conceits are in their natures poisons,

Many of Iago’s associations and references include poison. He cultivates it, and then carefully plants the seeds into others minds. The deadly, poisonous seeds would then grow even stronger, and they would cause the tragic death of Othello. Also, the organic way in which Iago plants his “gardens” of deceit, the ease with which he determines others behavior creates the illusion that his manipulative, human evil is a force of nature. Furthermore, the fact that the people in the play are easily poisoned, effortlessly deceived, by Iago proves that they have fertile minds, a perfect ground for pulling off a great, dreadful scenario. In Othello illusions created with words seem to be a brilliant way to ruin a reputation and a life. Furthermore, life and reputation were probably synonyms at the time; and the one who uses their interconnection is Iago. He is attacking Othello’s dignity, and Desdemona’s honesty, which proves how important those two virtues were to the people in the past. A man as haughty as Othello isn’t able to bear the mere thought that he is fooled by a woman. There would be no “sweet sleep” for him, which is a metaphor for a happy and peaceful existence.

Iago’s ability to sense once weaknesses is one’s more depicted; in the monologue the reader is able to see his true face: the face of a cold, cunning villian. Of a person who in his quest of destroying the others, would destroy also himself. There is no crime without a punishment, whether it would be by the state, as in Iago’s case or by one’s conscience, as in Othello’s, later in the play. In Scene 3 of Act III all of the antagonist’s characteristics are vividly depicted. Iago proves to be a creature with dual capacity: he is noble on the exterior and harmful, when one looks closely. In the same manner, he is good until one stands in his way; helping, until it is no longer in his interest; supporting, unless he finds the person not useful any more; and a good friend, unless he feels unappreciated. In other words, he is the perfect villain.

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