Iago’s soliloquies are embarrassing and outdated

“It is through Iago’s soliloquies that the audience gain most insight and enjoyment” How far do you agree with these views and what is your opinion? Iago’s soliloquies feature throughout the play Othello and allow the audience to see the true feelings he has for other characters and his motives for his evil actions throughout the play. These two critical opinions show contrasting views of the value these soliloquies have to the audience and to the play itself.
When Shakespeare wrote Othello, actors on the stage would often interact with the audience and involve them within the play. Soliloquies were an opportunity for an actor in his role to explain his motives and way of thinking to the audience. This is shown when Iago asks ‘and what’s he then that says I play the villain? ‘ directly asking the audience to question their opinion of him or become accomplices of his evil plan. To a modern audience this interaction with the actors is rare and outdated so to many Iago’s soliloquies just appear to be a man speaking to himself on stage.
This can be embarrassing for the modern audience and also the actor playing Iago who has to deliver the lines convincingly. Another problem for the actor is that in Shakespearean times plays would be performed in open-air theatres during daylight with the audience stood right in front of the stage. This is different to modern day theatres that are enclosed and dark with the audience sitting further away from the stage. This makes the relationship between actors and audience less intimate, which may make the soliloquy less effective and therefore outdated.

At the end of his soliloquies Iago ends in a rhyming couplet such as in Act 1 Scene 1: ‘hell and night must bring this monstrous birth to light’ which to modern audiences is slightly outdated and may associate Iago with a stereotypical villain in a pantomime who plots against the ‘good’ guy, in this case Othello. In pantomimes, the villain similarly interacts with the audience and uses hyperbolic language with rhymes, dark imagery and rhetoric questions as Iago does. Therefore, Iago’s soliloquies may be perceived as outdated and embarrassing for an audience who see Iago’s representation as a villain as stereotypical and childish
Iago’s soliloquies may seem outdated and embarrassing for an audience due to his racist language repeatedly referring to Othello as ‘Moor’ and as a ‘devil’. A modern audience may not understand the racial term ‘moor’ due to it being out of date, particularly as other characters use it a non racial way. The way his soliloquies are set out in blank verse and in iambic pentameter may also be embarrassing for the audience and increase Iago’s association with the pantomime villain. When Othello was first staged, blank verse would indicate a serious, important part of the play and the audience would understand this switch from prose.
Modern audiences without understanding the literary device may therefore find it outdated and fail to understand why an actor would be talking in a regular rhythm only when he was alone on the stage. The view that Iago’s soliloquies add little to the play can be justified as Iago never fully shares his plan with the audience often formulating it in his head and claiming that ‘it is engendered’ or that ’tis here but yet confused’. Instead the audience only gets to see the beginning of the plan and who he plans to use to deceive Othello.
The soliloquies can be seen as unimportant as Iago produces more motives that are unlikely to be true such as his claim that Othello has slept with Emilia, in order to justify his original lies. This can begin to get repetitive and tiring to an audience. Without the soliloquies the audience would not lose out on the plot, only on Iago’s insight so it can be argued that they are unnecessary. However, the second critic’s view that Iago’s soliloquies are insightful and enjoyable can also be explored.
Iago is the most important character in developing the plot as without his conniving plans to ruin Othello, Othello’s and Desdemona’s marriage would probably have survived. It is through his soliloquies that we see how his mind works and how he abuses people’s good nature in order to ruin them. The soliloquies allow us to see into Iago’s mind, which allows the audience to gain great insight into what he is doing. In Act 1 Scene 1 his first soliloquy reveals a great deal of his opinions of other people and it is though Iago is taking off a mask, suddenly revealing a darker side than we have seen so far.
The audience see his true opinion of Roderigo as being a ‘fool’ who he is only associating with for ‘sport and profit’ and that he is impatient with his idiotic and defeatist talk. He also reveals his reason for bringing about the downfall of Othello is due to rumours he has heard of Othello sleeping with Emilia, which he continues to mention in other soliloquies, claiming ‘the lusty moor hath leaped into [his] seat’ in Act 2 Scene 1. Other than this motive, which is possibly a lie in order to justify his evil nature, his other motives are selfish and unfair.
Iago intends to ruin Cassio in order to ‘get his place’ and later reveals a jealousy for Desdemona. He only expresses his motives within his soliloquies making them insightful to the audience even if they are only to defend himself. Iago manipulates Cassio’s ‘smooth dispose’ in order to use it against him and convince Othello that ‘he is too familiar with his wife’. He abuses people’s good nature in order to defeat them and the audience can see this through his soliloquies. He knows that Othello will ‘prove to Desdemona a most dear husband’ and is ‘of a free and open nature’ but plans to use this good nature in order to bring his downfall.
The audience sees that he is totally evil by regarding his manipulation of people and their lives as a game, structuring his plan carefully in order for him to cause great damage. His plan to ‘pour… pestilence into [Othello’s] ear’ shows how he intends to use the trust he has developed with Othello to advise him against Cassio and Desdemona. He again, uses Desdemona who he believes to be ‘virtuous’ and ‘fruitful’ enjoying the fact that he will ‘turn her virtue into pitch’ by using her ‘goodness’ as the ‘net that shall enmesh them all’.
The audience can get a true insight into Iago’s nature of being spiteful and wicked, which would not be as clearly seen if the soliloquies were removed. The audience can almost see the way his brain is working and his language shows this. He uses repetition such as ‘How? How? ‘ as he puts together his plan and there are often small pauses and contemplative moments such as ‘let me see now’ to reflect his plan coming together. His dark mind is reflected through his language with images of ‘hell’ ‘devils’ with the ‘blackest sins’ and poison. For the audience, this can be exciting as they are involved in his plan, almost acting as accomplices.
They hold a greater awareness of what is going on in the play than the rest of the characters and so can foreshadow Othello’s downfall. The audience are far more likely to be sympathetic for Othello by knowing the true evil nature of Iago through his speeches, particularly in knowing that even Iago, who sees the worst in people admits that Othello is ‘of constant, loving, noble nature’. In my opinion, the second critic’s view that Iago’s soliloquies are insightful and enjoyable is the most justified. Without his soliloquies the audience would be unaware of how Iago’s plans come together, his motives or how he views the other characters.
When he is with other characters it is almost as if he is wearing a mask to cover up his true feelings. He plays the honest and trustworthy friend and it is only when he is alone does his true nature show and the audience discovers that this is a clever manipulating method that he uses, knowing Othello ‘thinks men honest that seem to be so’. The first critics opinion that Iago’s soliloquies are embarrassing and outdated can be a problem due to modern audiences not being used to this device. However, it can also be refreshing for an audience to experience this different way of acting and enjoyable to be involved in Iago’s plot.
As a modern audience we should understand that the play was written in a society that was different from today and therefore be less judgemental on how outdated it is. The critic’s view that they ‘add little to the play’ is, in my opinion less justified. The soliloquies may not be essential to the actual plot of the play but they provide a great by giving the audience an opportunity to understand Iago’s character. As an audience we can foreshadow the upcoming events in the play and therefore be more interested as it all unravels.
An audience will feel more hatred towards Iago due to his soliloquies and therefore feel more sympathy for the other characters as he causes their downfall. Instead of providing little to the play, they provide a great deal by stirring up the audiences emotions to the characters. Overall, I believe Iago’s soliloquies to be of great insight and enjoyment to the audience as they allow an audience to see into his mind and be aware of his plot to bring Othello’s downfall. Instead of being outdated and embarrassing they are insightful and enjoyable as audiences can directly witness his harsh and wicked nature.

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