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Iago is the villain of Othello. He appears as an intelligent schemer who is devoid of morality. His intrigues are carefully planned and skillfully executed, so that no one is able to see through what he is doing. Through most of the play, he is able to fool Othello, Desdemona, Cassio, Roderigo, and Emilia, his own wife. It is ironic that most of these deceived characters refer to him as "honest Iago".
By nature, Iago is a cynic who judges people harshly. He regards Roderigo as a gullible simpleton and a fool because he can so easily steal the manís wealth; his dealings with him are only for his own "sport and profit". He judges Cassio as a theorist who has gained all his unimportant knowledge from books, not from living or from battle. He also has a poor opinion of Othello because of his child-like simplicity about life; even though he respects his military ability, he knows that outside the battlefield, Othello can be "led by the nose /as asses are".
Iago is just as negative about the finer qualities of character, not believing in any goodness or virtue. Reputation for him is "an idle and most false imposition". He considers love as "merely a lust of the blood and permission of the will". Virtue is only "a fig" that is soon rotted. He also says only negative things about women, calling them, "wild cats in your kitchen. . .devils being offended." Iago has such a negative attitude because he is totally cruel and heartless. The evil in him is not mixed with any good. He destroys Desdemona and Cassio for no fault of theirs. He stabs Cassio and kills Roderigo without a second thought. He is exultant when Othello lies at his feet writhing with agony. He is delighted when Desdemona lies dead at her husbandís hand. He kills his own wife with ease. Devoid of compunction or remorse, he is the embodiment of evil.
Iagoís first motive for disloyalty to Othello is his failure to obtain the post of lieutenant, which has gone to Cassio. He feels Othello has made a grave mistake in his choice, and he vows revenge. Iago desperately wanted the position, for it would give him more power. Throughout the play, his motives revolve around greed and envy. He looks upon others with contempt and seeks to destroy them through his intelligence in order to gain his end. But the real reason for his villainy seems to be his love of controlling others and of evil for evilís sake.
Desdemona is beautiful, gentle, and well bred. She is young in years and child-like in her innocence and purity. But she also has a strong will, as seen in her marriage to Othello against her fatherís wishes and social convention. She is fit to be a soldierís wife, and Othello addresses her as "my fair warrior".
Because of her naiveté and lack of experience in worldly matters, Desdemona is unable to see what is happening around her. Even when Othelloís behavior towards her changes drastically, she goes on believing that nothing is wrong with their relationship and blames his moodiness on matters of state. After the public humiliation of being struck in the face by Othello, Desdemona still loves him and tells Emilia she could never be unfaithful to her husband. When Othello makes it clear that he is going to kill her, she tries to convince him of her innocence and purity, but her words fall on deaf ears. Then in sheer terror, she momentarily loses control, weeping and begging for her life or at least for time. Othello will give her neither. Unbelievably, the saintly Desdemona remains loyal to her husband till the end. Even after he smothers her and she is dying, Desdemona tries to protect Othelloís good name, telling Emilia that she has killed herself.
Cassio is a figure of great importance to the movement of the plot, but not much is known about his character. In spite of Iagoís faulty judgment, Cassio is obviously a competent soldier, for Othello appoints him his second in command. Cassio is also loyal to the General and deeply attached to him. He also admires and cares for Desdemona. In fact, he served as the go-between during their courtship. It is also obvious that Desdemona values his friendship. After Othello demotes him, Cassio goes to Desdemona and asks her to intercede with Othello for his reinstatement. She willingly accepts the assignment and carries it through to the point of irritation to her husband. Throughout the play, Iago again and again tries to upset Cassio, but he fails each time. Cassio is too much of a gentleman and a man in control. He is also too trusting, for, like many others, Iago easily dupes him. His mistress, Bianca, also easily leads him. In the end, however, he outsmarts everyone, for he foils his own murder and comes forth to tell the truth about the villainous Iago.