Iago (/iˈɑːɡoʊ/) is a fictional character in Shakespeare's Othello (c. 1601–1604). Iago is the play's main antagonist, and Othello's standard-bearer. He is the husband of Emilia, who is in turn the attendant of Othello's wife Desdemona. Iago hates Othello and devises a plan to destroy him by making him believe that his wife is having an affair with his lieutenant, Michael Cassio.

The role is thought to have been first played by Robert Armin, who typically played intelligent clown roles like Touchstone in As You Like It or Feste in Twelfth Night.[3]

The character's source is traced to Giovanni Battista Giraldi Cinthio's tale "Un Capitano Moro" in Gli Hecatommithi (1565). There, the character is simply "the ensign".

Othello character
Edwin Booth as Iago
Edwin Booth as Iago, c. 1870
Created byWilliam Shakespeare
Portrayed byRobert Armin
Edwin Booth
Laurence Olivier
Kenneth Branagh
Christopher Eccleston
Frank Finlay
Philip Seymour Hoffman
Henry Irving
Jose Ferrer
Micheál MacLiammóir
Ian McDiarmid
Ewan McGregor
Ian McKellen
Nicholas Pennell
Christopher Walken
Bob Hoskins
Rory Kinnear
Daniel Craig
Liev Schreiber
Saif Ali Khan[1]
Andre Braugher[2]
Mark Rylance
Bright Jefferson Djangbah
Date(s)c. 1601–1609
Source"Un Capitano Moro" by Cinthio (1565)
Othello's ensign
Emilia's husband
QuoteO, beware, my lord, of jealousy; it is the green-ey'd monster which doth mock the meat it feeds on.


While no English translation of Cinthio was available in Shakespeare's lifetime, it is possible Shakespeare knew the Italian original, Gabriel Chappuy's 1584 French translation, or an English translation in manuscript. Cinthio's tale may have been based on an actual incident occurring in Venice about 1508.[4]

While Shakespeare closely followed Cinthio's tale in composing Othello, he departed from it in some details. In Cinthio's tale, for example, the ensign suffers an unrequited lust for the Moor's wife, Desdemona, which then drives his vengeance. Desdemona dies in an entirely different manner in Cinthio's tale; the Moor commissions his ensign to bludgeon her to death with a sand-filled stocking. In gruesome detail, Cinthio follows each blow, and, when she is dead, the Moor and his ensign place her lifeless body upon her bed, smash her skull, and then cause the cracked ceiling above the bed to collapse upon her, giving the impression the falling rafters caused her death.

The two murderers escape detection. The Moor misses his wife greatly, however, and comes to loathe the sight of his ensign. He demotes him, and refuses to have him in his company. The ensign then seeks revenge by disclosing to "the squadron leader" (the tale's Cassio counterpart), the Moor's involvement in Desdemona's death. The two men denounce the Moor to the Venetian Seignory. The Moor is arrested, transported from Cyprus to Venice, and tortured, but refuses to admit his guilt. He is condemned to exile; Desdemona's relatives eventually execute him. The ensign escapes any prosecution in Desdemona's death, but engages in other crimes and dies after being tortured.[5]

Role in the play

Iago is a soldier who has fought beside Othello for several years, and has become his trusted advisor. At the beginning of the play, Iago claims to have been unfairly passed over for promotion to the rank of Othello's lieutenant in favour of Michael Cassio. Iago plots to manipulate Othello into demoting Cassio, and thereafter to bring about the downfall of Othello himself. He has an ally, Roderigo, who assists him in his plans in the mistaken belief that after Othello is gone, Iago will help Roderigo earn the affection of Othello's wife, Desdemona. After Iago engineers a drunken brawl to ensure Cassio's demotion (in Act 2), he sets to work on his second scheme: leading Othello to believe that Desdemona is having an affair with Cassio. This plan occupies the final three acts of the play.

Othello and Iago
Othello and Iago

He manipulates his wife Emilia, Desdemona's lady-in-waiting, into taking from Desdemona a handkerchief that Othello had given her; he then tells Othello that he had seen it in Cassio's possession. Once Othello flies into a jealous rage, Iago tells him to hide and look on while he (Iago) talks to Cassio. Iago then leads Othello to believe that a bawdy conversation about Cassio's mistress, Bianca, is in fact about Desdemona. Mad with jealousy, Othello orders Iago to kill Cassio, promising to make him lieutenant in return. Iago then engineers a fight between Cassio and Roderigo in which the latter is killed (by Iago himself, double-crossing his ally), but the former merely wounded.

Iago's plan appears to succeed when Othello kills Desdemona, who is innocent of Iago's charges. Soon afterwards, however, Emilia brings Iago's treachery to light, and Iago kills her in a fit of rage before being arrested. He remains famously reticent when pressed for an explanation of his actions before he is arrested: "Demand me nothing. What you know, you know. From this time forth I never will speak word." Following Othello's suicide, Cassio, now in charge, condemns Iago to be imprisoned and tortured as punishment for his crimes.

Description of character

Iago is one of Shakespeare's most sinister villains, often considered such because of the unique trust that Othello places in him, which he betrays while maintaining his reputation for honesty and dedication. Shakespeare contrasts Iago with Othello's nobility and integrity. With 1,097 lines, Iago has more lines in the play than Othello himself.

Iago is a Machiavellian schemer and manipulator, as he is often referred to as "honest Iago", displaying his skill at deceiving other characters so that not only do they not suspect him, but they count on him as the person most likely to be truthful.

Shakespearean critic A. C. Bradley said that "evil has nowhere else been portrayed with such mastery as in the evil character of Iago",[6] and also states that he "stands supreme among Shakespeare's evil characters because the greatest intensity and subtlety of imagination have gone into his making."[7] The mystery surrounding Iago's actual motives continues to intrigue readers and fuel scholarly debate.

A theatre critic who watched/lauded Bright Jefferson Djangbah's portrayal of the character at the University of Ghana Efua Sutherland Drama Studio referred to the character as being a "smartass" who is the "man of the match" for the game except he is on the losing side.

Critical discussion

In discussing The Tragedy of Othello, scholars have long debated Iago's role—highlighting the complexity of his character. Fred West contends that Shakespeare was not content with simply portraying another “stock” morality figure, and that he, like many dramatists, was particularly interested in the workings of the human mind. Thus, according to West, Iago, who sees nothing wrong with his own behaviour, is “an accurate portrait of a psychopath”,[8] who is "devoid of conscience, with no remorse".[8] West believes that "Shakespeare had observed that there exist perfectly sane people in whom fellow-feeling of any kind is extremely weak while egoism is virtually absolute, and thus he made Iago".[8]

Bradley writes that Iago "illustrates in the most perfect combination the two facts concerning evil, which seem to have impressed Shakespeare the most", the first being that "the fact that perfectly sane people exist in whom fellow-feeling of any kind is so weak that an almost absolute egoism becomes possible to them", with the second being "that such evil is compatible, and even appears to ally itself easily, with exceptional powers of will and intellect".[7] The same critic also famously said that "to compare Iago with the Satan of Paradise Lost seems almost absurd, so immensely does Shakespeare's man exceed Milton's Fiend in evil".[7]

Weston Babcock, however, would have us see Iago as "an human being, shrewdly intelligent, suffering from and striking against a constant fear of social snobbery".[9] According to Babcock, it is not malice, but fear, that drives Iago. For, "Iago dates his maturity, as he considers it, his ability to understand the world, from the age at which he recognized every remark to be personally pointed. One only who lacks inner assurance and is so constantly on guard against any hint of his inferiority could so confess himself".[9]

John Draper, on the other hand, postulates that Iago is simply "an opportunist who cleverly grasps occasion" (726),[10] spurred on by "the keenest of professional and personal motives".[10] Draper argues that Iago "seized occasions rather than made them".[10] According to his theory, Iago "is the first cause, but events, once under way, pass out of his control".[10] Following this logic, Draper concludes that Iago "is neither as clever nor as wicked as some would think; and the problem of his character largely resolves itself into the question: was he justified in embarking upon the initial stages of his revenge?”[10]


Laurence Fishburne and Kenneth Branagh as Othello and Iago respectively, in a scene from the 1995 film version of Othello.

Iago has been described as a "motiveless malignity" by Samuel Taylor Coleridge. This reading would seem to suggest that Iago, much like Don John in Much Ado About Nothing or Aaron in Titus Andronicus, wreaks havoc on the other characters' lives for no ulterior purpose.

Léone Teyssandier writes that a possible motive for Iago's actions is envy towards Desdemona, Cassio and Othello; Iago sees them as more noble, generous and, in the case of Cassio, more handsome than he is.[11] In particular, he sees the death of Cassio as a necessity, saying of him that "He hath a daily beauty in his life that makes me ugly".[12]

Andy Serkis, who in 2002 portrayed Iago at the Royal Exchange Theatre in Manchester, wrote in his memoir Gollum: How We Made Movie Magic, that:

There are a million theories to Iago's motivations, but I believed that Iago was once a good soldier, a great man's man to have around, a bit of a laugh, who feels betrayed, gets jealous of his friend, wants to mess it up for him, enjoys causing him pain, makes a choice to channel all his creative energy into the destruction of this human being, and becomes completely addicted to the power he wields over him. I didn't want to play him as initially malevolent. He's not the Devil. He's you or me feeling jealous and not being able to control our feelings.

Iago reveals his true nature only in his soliloquies, and in occasional asides. Elsewhere, he is charismatic and friendly, and the advice he offers to both Cassio and Othello is superficially sound; as Iago himself remarks: "And what's he then, that says I play the villain, when this advice is free I give, and honest...?"[13]

It is this dramatic irony that drives the play.

Other versions of the character

In looser adaptations of Othello, the "Iago" character is typically given a different name but is more or less the same as Shakespeare's. Prominent examples include:


  1. ^ Simonson, Robert (10 September 2001). "NEWS; Liev Schreiber Is Iago to David's Othello at Public Theater". Playbill. Retrieved 6 September 2017.
  2. ^ Klein, Alvin (1 July 1990). "THEATER; Striking Performances Light Up 'Othello'". The New York Times. Retrieved 23 June 2010.
  3. ^ Verdi's Shakespeare: Men of the Theater, Garry Wills, p. 88-90
  4. ^ Shakespeare, William. Four Tragedies: Hamlet, Othello, King Lear, Macbeth. Bantam Books, 1988.
  5. ^ Bevington, David and Kate, translators. "Un Capitano Moro" in Four Tragedies: Hamlet, Othello, King Lear, Macbeth. Bantam Books, 1988.
  6. ^ Bradley, A. C., [1904] (1974), Shakesperean Tragedy, Basingstoke: Macmillan Press, p. 169.
  7. ^ a b c Bradley, A. C. (1992). Shakespearean tragedy: lectures on Hamlet, Othello, King Lear, Macbeth (3rd ed.). New York: St. Martin's Press.
  8. ^ a b c West, Fred (1978). "Iago the Psychopath". South Atlantic Bulletin. 43 (2): 27–35. doi:10.2307/3198785.
  9. ^ a b Babcock, Weston (1965). "Iago-an Extraordinary Honest Man". Shakespeare Quarterly. 16 (4): 297–301. doi:10.2307/2867657.
  10. ^ a b c d e Draper, John (1931). "Honest Iago". PMLA: Publication of the Modern Language Association of America. 46 (3): 724–737. doi:10.2307/457857.
  11. ^ Williams, Shakespeare (1995). Oeuvres Complètes (in French and English). Tragédies II (Bouquins ed.). Robert Laffont. pp. 46–47.
  12. ^ V.i.19–20
  13. ^ II.iii.315-16

External links

Bigeye houndshark

The bigeye houndshark (Iago omanensis) is a species of houndshark, belonging to the family Triakidae. It is found in the deep waters of the continental shelves in the western Indian Ocean, from the Red Sea to southwestern India, between latitudes 30° N and 10° N, at depths between 110 and 2,200 m. Its length is up to 37 cm.

Cadfan ap Iago

Cadfan ap Iago (c. 569 – c. 625) was King of Gwynedd (reigned c. 616 – c. 625). Little is known of the history of Gwynedd from this period, and information about Cadfan and his reign is minimal.

The historical person is known only from his appearance in royal genealogies, from his grant to Saint Beuno for the monastery at Clynnog Fawr, and from his inscribed gravestone in Llangadwaladr church.

Cadfan was the son and successor of King Iago ap Beli, and is listed in the royal genealogies of the Harleian genealogies and in Jesus College MS. 20. Cadfan came to the throne near the time of the Battle of Chester (Welsh: Gwaith Caerlleon) in 616, in which the Northumbrians under Æthelfrith decisively defeated the neighboring Welsh Kingdom of Powys and then massacred the monks of Bangor Is Coed. However, there is no evidence that Gwynedd had any part in the battle, so Cadfan's accession at that time appears to be no more than coincidence.

Cadfan's gravestone is at Llangadwaladr (English: Cadwaladr's Church) on Anglesey, a short distance from the ancient llys (English: royal court) of the kings of Gwynedd, and reputed to be their royal burial ground. The inscription refers to him as sapientisimus (English: most wise), and as this term is historically used for ecclesiastics, it suggests that at some point, Cadfan had resigned as king to live a consecrated life.Cadfan was succeeded as king by his son, Cadwallon ap Cadfan.


Desdemona () is a character in William Shakespeare's play Othello (c. 1601–1604). Shakespeare's Desdemona is a Venetian beauty who enrages and disappoints her father, a Venetian senator, when she elopes with Othello, a Moorish man several years her senior. When her husband is deployed to Cyprus in the service of the Republic of Venice, Desdemona accompanies him. There, her husband is manipulated by his ensign Iago into believing she is an adulteress, and, in the last act, she is murdered by her estranged spouse.

The role has attracted notable actresses through the centuries and has the distinction of being the first role performed professionally by Margaret Hughes, the first actress to appear on an English public stage.

Emilia (Othello)

Emilia is a character in the tragedy Othello by William Shakespeare. The character's origin is traced to the 1565 tale, "Un capitano Moro" from Giovanni Battista Giraldi Cinthio's Gli Hecatommithi. There, the character is described as young and virtuous, is referred to simply as the ensign's wife, and becomes Desdemona's companion in Cyprus. In Shakespeare, she is named Emilia, is the wife of Othello's ensign, Iago, and is an attendant to Othello's wife, Desdemona. While considered a minor character in the drama, she has been portrayed by several notable actresses on film, with Joyce Redman receiving an Academy Award nomination for her performance.

Gilbert Gottfried

Gilbert Jeremy Gottfried (also known as Gilbert Fagnitz Gottfried; born February 28, 1955) is an American stand-up comedian, actor and voice actor. Gottfried's persona as a comedian features an exaggerated shrill voice and emphasis on crude humor. His numerous roles in film and television include voicing the parrot Iago in Disney's Aladdin animated films and TV show, Digit in the children's cartoon/educational math-based show Cyberchase, and Kraang Subprime in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Gottfried was also the voice of the Aflac Duck until 2011. He appeared in the critically panned Problem Child in 1990.

Since 2014, Gottfried has hosted a podcast, Gilbert Gottfried's Amazing Colossal Podcast, which features new episodes each week featuring discussions of classic movies and celebrity interviews, most often with veteran actors, comedians, musicians and comedy writers. Gilbert, a documentary film on Gottfried's life and career, was released in 2017.

Iago (Disney)

Iago is a fictional supporting character who appears in Walt Disney Pictures' 31st animated feature film Aladdin (1992), the direct-to-video sequels The Return of Jafar (1994), Aladdin and the King of Thieves (1996), and the television series. He is voiced by American comedian Gilbert Gottfried and appeared in the first film as a minion to the main villain Jafar, and later becomes one of the protagonists for part of the Aladdin franchise's run, particularly the two direct-to-video sequels and television adaptation. The red-plumed talking scarlet macaw is an homage to the villain of William Shakespeare's Othello.

Iago (genus)

Iago is a genus of houndsharks in the family Triakidae. The name comes from the villain in William Shakespeare´s Othello.

Iago Aspas

Iago Aspas Juncal (Galician pronunciation: [iˈaɣʊ ˈaspɐs]; born 1 August 1987) is a Spanish professional footballer who plays as a striker for RC Celta de Vigo and the Spain national team.

He has spent most of his career with Celta, appearing in 279 official games over nine seasons and scoring 117 goals. He made his La Liga debut with the club in 2012 and moved to Liverpool the following year, returning to Celta in 2015.

Aspas first appeared with the Spain senior team in 2016. He represented the country at the 2018 World Cup.

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Iago ap Beli

Iago ap Beli (c. 540 – c. 616) was King of Gwynedd (reigned c. 599 – c. 616). Little is known of him or his kingdom from this early era, with only a few anecdotal mentions of him in historical documents.

Iago ap Beli (Latin: Iacobus Belii filius . English: Saint James son of Beli) was the son and successor of King Beli ap Rhun, and is listed in the royal genealogies of the Harleian genealogies and in Jesus College MS. 20. The only other record of him is the note of his death, which occurred in the same year as the Battle of Chester (Welsh: Gwaith Caer Lleon), with no connection between Iago's death and the famous battle, and with no evidence that Gwynedd had any part in the battle. He would be succeeded as king by his son, Cadfan ap Iago.

The 1766 publication of Henry Rowlands's Mona Antiqua Restaurata says that the archives of the cathedral at Bangor mention Iago as having founded a deanery there (' Iago ap Beli Rex Decanatu Ecclesiam ditavit '). However, the correctness of the archive's assertion is challenged in Haddan and Stubbs' authoritative Councils and Ecclesiastical Documents Relating to Great Britain and Ireland, where it is noted that "the earliest historical testimony to a Dean at Bangor is 1162".In the medieval Welsh Triads, the death of King Iago ap Beli is described as the result of an axe-blow by one of his own men, a certain Cadafael Wyllt (English: Cadafael the Wild). In his Celtic Britain, John Rhys notes that the Annals of Tigernach mention Iago's death and use the word dormitat (or dormitato, meaning sleep in the sense of a euphemism for death), contradicting the notion of a violent death. Further, as the word dormitato was generally used in reference to clerics, it is possible that Iago resigned his kingship and thereafter led a clerical life.

Iago sparrow

The Iago sparrow (Passer iagoensis), also known as the Cape Verde or rufous-backed sparrow, is a passerine bird of the sparrow family Passeridae. It is endemic to the Cape Verde archipelago, in the eastern Atlantic Ocean near western Africa. Females and young birds have brown plumage with black marks above, and a dull grey underside, and are distinguished from other species of sparrow by their large, distinct supercilium. Males have a brighter underside and bold black and chestnut stripes on their head. At 12.5–13 centimetres (4.9–5.1 in) long, it is a smaller sparrow. This bird's vocalisations are mostly variations on its chirp, which differ somewhat between males and females.

The Iago sparrow was once thought to be most closely related to the rufous sparrows, a group of species within the genus Passer which live in similar habitats on continental Africa. Though the Iago sparrow is closest to the rufous sparrows in appearance, it has a number of crucial differences in morphology and behavior, and is separated by thousands of kilometres. It may in fact be more closely related to the house sparrow and Spanish sparrow. In Cape Verde it occurs on all but one island, and on most of them it is quite common. The Iago sparrow occurs in most of the habitats that are available in its range, such as lava plains, rocky hills, and gorges; however, the house sparrow and Spanish sparrow are typically present instead in denser settlements and richer cultivated areas respectively. Because the Iago sparrow is not under any serious threats, it is assessed as Least Concern on the IUCN Red List.

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The lead character of the series is Aladdin, who was originally a street urchin. During the course of the franchise, he starts living in the palace of Agrabah and becomes engaged to Princess Jasmine.

Longnose houndshark

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Otello (Italian pronunciation: [oˈtɛllo]) is an opera in four acts by Giuseppe Verdi to an Italian libretto by Arrigo Boito, based on Shakespeare's play Othello. It was Verdi's penultimate opera, and was first performed at the Teatro alla Scala, Milan, on 5 February 1887.

With the composer's reluctance to write anything new after the success of Aida in 1871 and his retreat into retirement, it took his Milan publisher Giulio Ricordi the next ten years, first to persuade him to write anything, then to encourage the revision of Verdi's 1857 Simon Boccanegra by introducing Boito as librettist, and finally to begin the arduous process of persuading and cajoling Verdi to see Boito's completed libretto for Otello in July/August 1881. However, the process of writing the first drafts of the libretto and the years of their revision, with Verdi all along not promising anything, dragged on, and it wasn't until 1884, five years after the first drafts of the libretto, that composition began, with most of the work finishing in late 1885. When it finally premiered in Milan on 5 February 1887, it proved to be a resounding success, and further stagings of Otello soon followed at leading theatres throughout Europe and America.


Othello (The Tragedy of Othello, the Moor of Venice) is a tragedy by William Shakespeare, believed to have been written in 1603. It is based on the story Un Capitano Moro ("A Moorish Captain") by Cinthio, a disciple of Boccaccio, first published in 1565. The story revolves around its two central characters: Othello, a Moorish general in the Venetian army and his unfaithful ensign, Iago. Given its varied and enduring themes of racism, love, jealousy, betrayal, revenge and repentance, Othello is still often performed in professional and community theatre alike, and has been the source for numerous operatic, film, and literary adaptations.

Othello (character)

Othello () is a character in Shakespeare's Othello (c. 1601–1604). The character's origin is traced to the tale "Un Capitano Moro" in Gli Hecatommithi by Giovanni Battista Giraldi Cinthio. There, he is simply referred to as the Moor.

Othello is a brave and competent soldier of advanced years and Moorish background in the service of the Venetian Republic. He elopes with Desdemona, the beautiful daughter of a respected Venetian senator. After being deployed to Cyprus, Othello is manipulated by his Ancient (pronounced Ensign) Iago into believing Desdemona is an adulteress. Othello murders her and, upon discovering Iago's deceit, kills himself.

Othello was first mentioned in a Revels account of 1604 when the play was performed on 1 November at Whitehall Palace with Richard Burbage almost certainly Othello's first interpreter. Modern notable performers of the role include Paul Robeson, Orson Welles, Richard Burton, James Earl Jones, Laurence Fishburne, Laurence Olivier, and Avery Brooks.

The Return of Jafar

The Return of Jafar (also known as Aladdin 2: The Return of Jafar) is a 1994 American direct-to-video animated musical fantasy adventure film produced by Walt Disney Television Animation. It is the first sequel to the 1992 film Aladdin, and serves as the pilot to the Aladdin animated series. Released on May 20, 1994, it was the first Disney direct-to-video animated film, and marked the first American direct-to-video animated film.It sold 15 million VHS tapes and grossed $300 million, becoming one of the best-selling films on home video. Another direct-to-video sequel, Aladdin and the King of Thieves, was released in 1996.

Opera and
ballet adaptations
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