Masculine Wiles VII: Conclusion
          Othello is replete with examples of Iago's manipulation and insinuation, his malevolent and exploitative understanding of human frailty, and his shortcomings--which reflect the complacency of pride. Through his uncomplimentary characterisation of Iago, perhaps his most evil character, Shakespeare focuses contempt for the monstrously cunning villain on a male rather than on a female, challenging the stereotype that female evil is more dangerous than male evil because it consists largely of deceit and the invisible act of "stage-managing," or manipulating people's interactions. This observation becomes even more credible when one contrasts Iago's character not just with Emilia's, but also with the pure, harmless innocence and goodwill of Desdemona, the indirect victim of his conspiracy. If Othello is a quintessential tragedy, one of the most tragic aspects of the play is the ill-treatment by the ruthless ensign of the honest Desdemona and the well-meaning Emilia, and it is necessary to counterbalance Shakespeare's more ominous female characters with Iago to help maintain perspective and establish the playwright's complex, relatively gender-neutral attitude about what constitutes evil.

Work Cited
Shakespeare, William. Othello. Ed. Michael Neill. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2006.

Masculine Wiles VI
          Despite this insight into the innocently trusting nature of the other characters of the play, Iago shows lapses in his grasp on the human psyche, as his miscalculation of Emilia's shrewdness and integrity illustrates. His blindness to her own reasoning abilities becomes clear when she expresses suspicion over the allegations of Desdemona's infidelity. As Desdemona grieves over Othello's accusation of her affair with Cassio, Emilia suggests,
                                                                        I will be hanged if some eternal villain,
                                                                        Some busy and insinuating rogue,
                                                                        Some cogging, cozening slave, to get some office,
                                                                        Have not devised this slander; I'll be hanged else. (IV.ii.130-3)
Iago, however, dismisses this consideration with sudden angst: "Fie, there is no such a man! It is impossible," and later, when Othello remarks that Iago has confirmed his belief in Desdemona's and Cassio's affair, Emilia exclaims, "Now / I think upon't, I think I smelled a villainy-- / I thought so then" (IV.ii.134, V.ii.88-90). The uncanny accuracy of Emilia's suspicion (and her prescience about her own demise) demonstrates her own understanding of the selfish human motives underlying a possible conspiracy against Desdemona, Othello, and Cassio--specifically, the avarice she later discovers in her own husband. Conversely, Iago shows the anxiety of the arrogant schemer over being discovered as well as resentment over being outwitted by somebody he considers a "foolish wife" (III.iii.307). Emilia truly turns the tables on her husband when she reveals to Othello, Montano, and Gratiano that she gave Iago Desdemona's handkerchief, thus implicating him (and perhaps herself to the extent that she has erred unknowingly) in the plot that she has earlier suspected: she demands of her listeners, "Good gentlemen, let me have leave to speak: / 'Tis proper I obey him, but not now. / Perchance, Iago, I will ne'er go home," eventually revealing, "No, alas, I found [the handkerchief], / And did give't my husband" (V.ii.193-5, V.ii.229-30). Rather than Emilia, who exudes an almost noble integrity and truthfulness in her rebellion against her husband's authority, it is Iago who risks retribution and incurs ignominy for his deceit; it is he--the misogynist--who suffers disgrace for his "wiles". The ultimate disaster which visits the vice-ridden Iago, especially in contract with the virtuous Emilia, further illustrates Shakespeare's conception of masculine subterfuge and its failures.

Masculine Wiles V
          Just as Iago exploits the naivety of others, he also uses their jealousy to his advantage. Stewing in his own jealousy over Othello's alleged affair with Emilia, Iago finally settles on a scheme to eliminate Othello when he considers the likelihood of Othello's resentment over Desdemona's alleged infidelity. " . . . [N]othing can or shall content my soul," he vows, "Till I am even'd with [Othello], wife for wife; / Or, failing so, yet that I put the Moor / At least into a jealousy so strong / That judgement cannot cure," declaring, "I'll . . . / Make the Moor thank me, love me, and reward me / For making him egregiously an ass / And practising upon his peace and quiet / Even to madness" (II.i.289-302). In this declaration, Iago makes a prediction about a reaction which Othello eventually fulfils. Were he foolish or dull about the propensity for jealousy among betrayed lovers, he would be unable to use such an emotion to retaliate against his enemies, destroy them, and prop up his own position. However, because of his insight into romantic jealousy and his cold determination to use it for his own gain, he presents a dangerously elusive form of evil for the other characters, as well as for reader and audience. Iago's exploitation of romantic jealousy therefore also illustrates the craft of the male conspirator in Shakespeare's work.

Masculine Wiles IV
          Not only do the above tactics highlight the surreptitious quality of Iago's evil, but so does his understanding of human nature, which consists partly of his insight into other's sincerity and trusting disposition. Evidence for Iago's ability to gauge the credulity of others emerges when he sets his mind on disposing of Cassio. While pondering how to pit Othello against Cassio, he reflects that the latter is "too familiar" with Desdemona, and "hath a person, and a smooth dispose, / To be suspected; framed to make women false," observing that "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" (I.iii.388-91). In this remark about Othello's character, Iago reveals his understanding of Othello's naivety, which he exploits to convince Othello of Desdemona's affair with Cassio. For the other characters in the play (as well as Shakespeare's early modern audience), the danger of Iago's evil lies not in his foolish or impetuous idiocy, but in his carefully concealed insight into the trusting nature of others. Male stratagem among Shakespeare's characters is thus also apparent in this malevolent wisdom about human weakness.

Masculine Wiles III
          Such abstract manoeuvring resembles another tactic Iago uses to achieve his objective--insinuation. His use of this strategy becomes clear when he observes Cassio leaving Desdemona, who has just promised to appeal to Othello on Cassio's behalf. As Iago and Othello discuss the significance of the association between Desdemona and Cassio, Othello seeks to convince himself of his wife's honesty, to which Iago eagerly responds, "Long live she so!," yet when Othello considers nature's "erring from itself", Iago re-affirms,
                                                                 Ay, there's the point: --as,--to be bold with you,--
                                                                 Not to affect many proposed matches,
                                                                 Of her own clime, complexion, and degree,
                                                                 Whereto we see in all things nature tends,--
                                                                 Foh! one may smell in such a will most rank,
                                                                 Foul disproportion, thoughts unnatural. (III.iii.230, 232-8)
Iago's revelation is oblique rather than direct: he plants his suggestion immediately after his acknowledgement of Desdemona's virtuous reputation, following with contrition over his audacity at making such a suggestion. Moreover, he waits until his suggestion stirs suspicion in Othello before he himself affirms the suspicion outright. Such a tactic softens the impact of his suggestion while still conveying its underlying seriousness to Othello. Thus, through his insinuation, Iago further reveals the capacity for cunning in Shakespeare's male characters.

Masculine Wiles II
          Of these, manipulation is perhaps the most obvious way in which Iago attempts to eradicate his enemies. He makes this fact apparent when he convinces Roderigo to exchange his estate for trinkets with which to impress Desdemona, ultimately scheming to keep the valuables for himself: "Thus do I ever make my fool my purse: / For I my own gained knowledge should profane / If I would time expend with such a snipe, / But for my sport and profit" (I.iii.372-5). Rather than steal from Roderigo outright, making his crime overt and hence more easily punishable, Iago conceals his motive by misleading his victim, more feared for its deceptive, surreptitious quality. He further demonstrates his capacity for manipulation when he tempts Cassio to celebrate the defeat of the Turks by drinking, remarking, "If I can fasten but one cup upon him, / With that which he hath drunk to-night already, / He'll be as full of quarrel and offense / As my young mistress' dog" (II.iii.44-7). By tempting Cassio to drink and thereby quarrel with the Cypriot general, Iago avoids engaging directly in violence himself, preferring to manage the circumstances which lead others to commit violence. In doing so, he remains elusive--Othello can less easily implicate Iago than he can Cassio, whose actions are self-evident. Through his highly sophisticated manipulation, therefore, Iago exemplifies the evil schemer as well as any female character in Shakespeare.

Masculine Wiles
The Masculine Wiles of Iago in Othello

          A number of Shakespeare's plays feature archetypal female schemers who cannot be trusted, women--such as Titus's Tamora and King Lear's Regan and Goneril--who represent the most dangerous form of evil imaginable because of their covertness. Despite the tendency to imagine a hidden female evil lurking beneath the exterior of a seemingly harmless feminine demeanour, perhaps the epitome of evil in Shakespeare is the calculating antagonist Iago, in Othello. Iago's cunning presents a portrait of male calculation which defies the assumption that male evil tends to be less dangerous because more straightforwardly violent, and female evil more dangerous because subtler and premeditated. Moreover, Iago's oversight of others' suspicion also reveals the foolishness of the over-determined, egotistical schemer in males as well as in females. The strategies which Iago uses in his attempt to destroy his foes include manipulation and insinuation, while he exploits their naive trust and jealousy out of his understanding of human nature, although, ultimately, he underestimates the shrewdness and overestimates the loyalty of his own wife, Emilia.

This is my first post on my new Live Journal account after several years without using the website.

I'm reading Othello for school. It's pretty good so far--what has stood out to me most of all is how "androcentric" the play is, how the discussion of the white, Venetian Desdemona's (ooo, I love the way that sounds) miscegenetic marriage to the black, Moorish Othello is carried out almost entirely from the perspective of the patriarchs in the play. What I have absorbed thus far is how the marriage between the woman and the black man concerns the powerful men of the play rather than how it concerns the woman and the black man themselves, who are the ones that directly experience the marriage itself. The subject of discussion consists of the female and the black and their "conspiracy" with one another, and the perspective which reader and audience are forced to adopt is that of the white patriarchs observing the union of the female and the black man.

So my mother doesn't think she's crazy about her boyfriend. When she left the cap off her water bottle at his house, he agitatedly asked her if she wasn't going to put it back on--in response to which she jokingly asked, "Well, I thought you'd want me to 'take it off'! He he he." He didn't get the joke. He was too concerned about the bottle cap being off the bottle. He also told her the meat and vegetables should stay separate on the cutting board. Apparently, he told her he has obsessive-compulsive disorder. While they were talking about movies, he said, "Can we please not talk about this any more?" Kind of curt and uptight thing to say. And yet, according to her, he talks about whatever he wants to talk about all the time. Isn't the course of conversation supposed to be natural, not steered so contrivedly? I'd just broach a new subject if I didn't like the topic under discussion. When he visited her at her house, he criticised almost everything he saw--said that her brother looked scary in a photograph, that her arms looked chubby in another picture, that her chairs looked uncomfortable to sit in, and that her herb garden looked difficult to maintain. Sheesh! She said that he comes across as cold, aloof, and cynical and that he constantly mocks the world, excusing his mockery of the world by saying that he can mock the world because he mocks himself, too. I speak at length about her boyfriend because it reflects my own experiences with men. I have met my fair share of humourless, uptight, dictatorial or insecure men.

Well, this concludes the first entry of my new account!


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