Curiosity will eventually be beaten, tortured, and ultimately killed by formal education. Iago is the protagonist in the Tragedy of Othello the Moor of Venice and he represents a dog chasing cars, a very clever dog, one that can sit, assess, and then act on the knowledge that he has gained, to work in his favor. He despises and envies his victims, but that makes him a criminal character instead of an outright villainous one. Iago is a simple man, with the simple motives of curiosity, envy, and prejudice which in themselves are the driving force behind the play, for everything does in fact revolve around Iago. If a member of the audience were to interrupt the play and ask Iago: ‘What are you doing? ’ could not Iago answer with a boyish giggle, ‘Nothing. I’m only trying to find out what Othello is really like’? ” (Auden 50). Would that not be a fair answer? Society has accepted that anyone and everyone has the undeniable right to as much knowledge as they can attain. So is Iago’s pursuit to understand who Othello really is wrong? He uses only what he knows about Othello to make him the subject of a study in human nature, which becomes a matter of life and death, leading to the main source of tension throughout the play.
By manipulating Othello’s weak and corruptible mind Iago puts his own life at risk, for if all his lies, deceit, and manipulation were to come to light earlier in the play, multiple deaths could have been avoided. He is driven to break down the Othello based on his curiosity and his obvious distaste for the Moor. Now, though Iago does “hate the Moor” (1. 3. 377), his curiosity leads him into a distant envy. This envy just adds more fuel to the flames of hatred, for Iago’s envy stems from the fact that he seems to have no desires of his own, other than to play games with others minds.
So when Iago uncovers the desires of those around him he taunts them with the thing they want most and it is from this that he forms the basis of his plan: to take advantage of the Moor by telling him lies about his wife, as perceives Iago to be an honest man, while using Cassio’s love for Desdemona to work through the plan.. “With as little a web as this I will ensnare as great a fly as Cassio,”(2. 1. 169) For mine own gained knowledge should profane… After some time, to abuse Othello’s ears… …framed to make women false…
That thinks men honest that but seem to be so;/ And will as tenderly be led by th’nose… (1. 3 375-395) In most Shakespearian tragedies to identify the villain would not be an impossible task. Though there is arguably no villain in Othello, Iago is commonly seen as one but to fully understand that he is not there must be a distinction made between a villainous character, one who goes about with the intention of harming others and does it usually with many unfortunate occurrences’, and a criminal character like that of Iago:
The criminal character is a person who finds himself in a situation where he is tempted to break the law and succumbs to the temptation: he ought, of course, to have resisted the temptation, but everybody, both on stage and in the audience, must admit that, had they been placed in the same situation, they, too, would have been tempted. (Auden 48). It is like a game of Dominoes; all the characters have lined up, and are very proud of their Dominoes.
So they show them off, it would just take one person, (Iago for he is envious of the fact that doesn’t have any kind of Dominoes) to get someone (Roderigo) to knock one little piece over that would lead to a chain reaction of everybody’s dominos getting knocked over. In Shakespeare’s time, the Elizabethans always worried that the non-English people that lived alongside them were going to take over. These non-English were considered as inferior, and this fueled a curiosity to find out what these people were really like. They had also the basic and ancient sense that black is the colour of sin and death, ‘the badge of hell, The hue of dungeons, and the Schoole of night’(as Shakespeare himself says). ” (Hunter 250). The Elizabethans’ view of black people as inferior and evil is held by Iago, and is evident from the beginning of the play: Zounds, sir, y’are robbed! For shame. Put on your gown! / Your heart is burst, you have lost half your soul. / Even now, now, very now, an old black ram/ Is tupping your white ewe. Arise, Arise! / Awake the snorting citizens with the bell,/
Or else the devil will make a grandsire of you. / Arise, I say! (Othello 1. 1. 83-89) It is clear that Othello is perceived in this prejudiced manner by more characters than just Iago during the play, as Brabantio also addresses him negatively as “O thou foul thief…. thou hast enchanted her!… Run from her guardage to the sooty bosom/ Of such a thing as thou…”(1. 3. 61-70). This shows how people of ethnicity were treated and gives more of an understanding into the minds of the characters that do treat Othello in this way.
Iago’s curiosity about human nature is ultimately what drives the play. However, it is also what brings the play to a rather unfortunate conclusion. Had Cassio and Desdemona been killed Othello would likely have lost his rank and Iago would have probably gone on to plague some other unfortunate souls. But that does not happen, and one can hypothesize that had Othello been a white man and literally more comfortable in his own skin he may not have acted so violently because of his own insecurities.
It is Iago’s symbolic prejudice and discrimination, of Elizabethan England mind set that really brought about the under tones of this play. We can not attribute this thinking just to Iago because had this way of thinking not existed then, Othello would be more comfortable and there may have also been more people of ethnicity around. Iago’s motives of curiosity, envy, and prejudice are basic parts of human development. Curiosity is important for the betterment of society, especially when it does not harm the society that it is curious about.
Curiosity can and has led to everything there is have today. It should be nurtured and formal education, when taught in a ‘this is how it is, memorize it, and then regurgitate it back to me’ way, will slowly eliminate curiosity as a catalyst for to a new and better society. Envy is not always a bad thing because it can drive people to push themselves to do better. Though prejudice is still around we can see through Othello that in the end, each character has the same basic emotions, feelings, and concerns even if their skin colour is different.