Iago Character Analysis

Subject: Literature
Type: Analytical Essay
Pages: 4
Word count: 936
Topics: Book, Othello, William Shakespeare


In William Shakespeare’s play Othello, the character of Iago is deprived of a super-ego, which enabled his id to run wild and this led to him being devoid of any form of compassion and turning into a sociopath. This resulted in him hurting everyone he could and his ultimate fall. He also sought to rationalize his actions over the course of the play in order to bolster his self-righteous ego.

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Id, ego and superego in Iago’s mind

To comprehend Iago and his motivations, we must consider what the id, ego, and superego exactly are. According to Freud, these are the distinct units that comprise your consciousness. The id is the primal part of your mind. Its sole goal is to seek and enjoy pleasure. It will go to any lengths to accomplish its objectives, regardless of how immoral or unsafe its actions may appear. Freud argues that the superego is the exact opposite of the id. The purpose of the superego is to employ moral principles to achieve one’s desires.

The superego enforces feelings of guilt, embarrassment and concern in order to regulate your actions. The ego is the part of your mind that you are most conscious of. The purpose of the ego is to gain a balance between the other two parts using logic. Periodically the ego gets overwhelmed and in order to defend itself, it has to unfold protective mechanisms. This is the case with Iago because he is missing the superego that distinguishes right from wrong. Because his superego is no more active, the ego does not need to compromise between the two positions. It employs logic to obtain what its id desires. Hence, Iago invariably considers a scheme to get what he wants, and this also defends his actions. His ego also validates his actions so that he can live in peace with himself. Therefore, the id and the ego of Iago act as they are supposed to, and it is his superego that is lacking.

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The sociopath features of Iago

Lacking a superego, left alone with his id, Iago possesses all the characteristics of a sociopath, according to the American Psychiatric Association’s diagnostic manual of psychiatric disorders. The first feature that Iago shares with a sociopath is deception. An illustration of this is when he talks to Montano and states: “Tis evenmore the prolongue to his sleep. He’ll watch the horologe a double set If drink rock not his cradle.”(Othello II, III, 89). In this line, Othello attempts to spread a rumor about Cassio’s problem with alcohol, which Cassio does not indeed have. Iago is blatantly trying to ruin Cassio’s image. This incident also brings up another of Iago’s qualities — his fraud and manipulation. Similar to deception, Iago employs manipulation within the play.

For instance, Iago is speaking to Roderigo and informs him: “Thou art sure of me. Go, make money. I have told tee often, and I re-tell thee again and again, I hate the Moor. My cause is hearted. Thine hath no less reason.”(Othello I, III, 53). In this statement he wants to persuade Roderigo to hand over all his money to him because they have a shared business. Nevertheless, Iago is merely attempting to exploit Roderigo to make money. The final characteristic of Iago is that he has no compassion and lacks remorse. A significant example of this is the moment when Iago’s wife, Emilia, is about to expose Iago’s plan to destroy Othello. Iago slaughtered Emilia, his wife, before she could speak, and she later died from her injuries. Iago showed no remorse for his wife’s death and no compassion for her when he executed her.

Sociopaths are excellent at self-regulation. Just like Iago, they apply logic to make predictable choices and merge into society. Iago follows this strategy during the whole novel, and that is why he was known as honest Iago, because he fit into society so perfectly that no one knew he was performing anything immoral. Most of Iago’s deeds during the novel can be related to calculation, deception, manipulation, absence of sympathy and remorse. These are the features of a sociopath, so Iago can be regarded as a sociopath.

Iago’s qualities and attitudes would make most people experience a sense of guilt even without a super-ego. However, Iago does not, because his ego develops a protective mechanism. This mechanism is identified as rationalization. Iago comes up with explanations and justifications for all his actions. For instance, the entire purpose of his attempts to get Othello jealousy was to get Cassio fired. He believed that he was more worthy of Cassio’s position, however, having achieved it, he proceeded to try to devastate Othello’s life. He further justified his actions against Othello by claiming that Othello was sleeping with his wife, but this was only a rumor that was never substantiated. The plot of the whole novel is constructed on Iago’s sociopathic features.

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In the absence of these personal qualities of Iago, the plot of the novel would drastically change. Iago is the immediate reason for most of the events in the play, such as Othello’s suspicion of Desdemona or the death of certain characters. The Iago character is strikingly similar to a sociopath. He lacks compassion for others and will use it if he has the opportunity. The lack of a super-ego explains this by the fact that his ego is able to act freely, without any constraints. This leads the ego to explain his actions and convey prudent decisions in order to please the id and not to be exposed. However, the id’s desires ultimately result in Iago’s and all others’ downfalls.

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