Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Iago's Wickedness in Comparison to Milton's Satan

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In my reading of Othello, I noticed that Iago is pretty darn wicked. He wants everyone to be miserable, and will stop at nothing at get what he wants. His character reminded me of Satan in “Paradise Lost” by John Milton—both possess advanced argumentative skills, are charismatic, and can manipulate almost anyone (besides being the villain, but that’s beside the point). Neither one wants anyone to be happy or successful, so they find places to eat away at the other characters. Unfortunately for us, Shakespeare did not include a Christ-figure to balance out Iago and thus the play end in misery and tragedy.

If I were to write a paper following a comparison of Milton’s Satan and Shakespeare’s Iago, I would focus on the evolution of the complexity in Iago’s arguments as he dives deeper into deception. Like Satan, Iago uses increasingly intricate forms of rhetoric as he gets closer and closer to his goal of bringing misery to those around him. I think greatest manipulation occurs in the latter half of Act 3 and the beginning of Act 4. As Iago finishes manipulating Cassio and begins speaking with Othello, he fashions arguments that make extremely evil things seem reasonable. In Act 4, Scene 1, Iago and Othello discuss the best way for Othello to kill Desdemona, and have the conversation as if it were a normal conversation. Iago instructs Othello, “Do it not with poison. Strangle her in her bed, even the bed she hath contaminated.” And Othello calmly responses, “Good, good. The justice of it pleases. Very good” (Shakespeare 4.1.226-228). In “Paradise Regained,” Satan converses with Christ and does his best to normalize committing sins. Although Christ does not allow himself to be tempted, Satan’s intellectual arguments are convincing and well-constructed. In each temptation, he presents logical and seemingly realistic outcomes to the situation.

As I discussed this idea with Micah, she commented that this is not a perfect comparison. Milton’s Satan deceives himself—he truly believes the lies he tells. Unlike him, Iago is self-aware and knows what destruction he is causing. Because of this, I believe that Iago is even more wicked than Satan because he does not care that he will destroy everything and everyone in his path to revenge.

As I looked for sources on this idea, I found one that seemed extremely promising, titled “Honoring Shakespeare: Othello’s Iago as a Model for Milton’s Satan in Paradise Lost.” As I clicked the link, I realized that it was a blog post written in 2013. The MLA header on the paper gave me a chuckle as I realized that the author had written it for Dr. Burton’s ENGL 383 class.


  1. This article ( made an interesting point about the similarity of Iago and "ego," which made me think about the key characteristic of Satan AND Iago--egotism. Both are entirely focused on themselves, so charismatic they practically peel off the page. This is another area of similarity you could perhaps explore

  2. You said you'd focus on "the evolution of the complexity in Iago’s arguments as he dives deeper into deception" because "like Satan, Iago uses increasingly intricate forms of rhetoric as he gets closer and closer to his goal of bringing misery to those around him." I read Paradise Lost for Brit Lit 1 (Eng 291), and I am trying to remember how/if Satan's arguments became more complex. I know he had awesome rhetorical abilities, making him seem like somewhat of a hero at times, but I'd have to go back and look it up. But for now (sorry, this is a lame source because it's Shmoop...), this outline of Satan's character could be useful to you in your research as it does cover different rhetorical tactics Satan employs to accomplish his evil plans (

  3. Your idea got me thinking about the motives of Iago's villainy. You said that his deception evolved throughout the play, but here I found an essay that discusses how he might have simply been born "cold-blooded", as illustrated by the way that evil seems to spring from him without hesitation. (
    I love your comparison though. I do think that Satan gets worse as Paradise Lost goes on, but, having never read Othello, I can't say for sure if that's the same case for Iago. You could make a great argument for it, all the same.

  4. I love this idea. Paradise Lost is my favorite book (epic poem, if you want to be technical). I'm sure you have plenty of quotes from Paradise Lost to back up your analysis, but one of my favorites is Satan's idea that it is "Better to reign in hell, than serve in heaven" (Book 1, Line 263). You might be able to connect a love for power and manipulation to Iago, although I've never read it. It could just be that he loves watching people suffer. I'm not sure if I see that in Milton's Satan. His soliloquy at the beginning of book four would be good to look at as well. That thing is beautiful.

  5. I'm very eager to see you do a reading of Othello (Iago) through the lens of Paradise Lost. Invoking PL brings in possibilities of seeing different types of persuasion, and specifically the idea of a definite fall happening. When does Othello "fall"? Is it when he begins to fall for Iago's rhetoric? Much could be done here. Excellent suggestions from your classmates, and I'm pleased, of course, to see you draw on some of my prior student's work.