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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.