One of William Shakespeare’s many attributes as a playwright of the late 16th century was his character development. Shakespeare’s seamless use of indirect characterization sets his works apart from the other playwrights and authors of his time. In Othello, the Shakespearian tragedy about the newlywed Othello and Desdemona, Shakespeare uses character foils to emphasize the strengths and weaknesses of the characters. By making inwardly similar characters seem like polar opposites, Shakespeare truly shows how dynamic each of the characters is.
Othello, the play's protagonist, is the most dynamic character of them all due to the fact that he is a complete foil of himself by the final act of the play. In the second act Othello is introduced as confident, esteemed general of the Venetian army and a “valiant Moor,” (1. 3), but by the end of the play he becomes overcome with insecurity and jealousy because of the rumors fed to him by his general. Throughout the play the audience witnesses the subtle shift in Othello’s feelings toward his wife, Desdemona, and his former lieutenant, Cassio.
Othello’s suspicion soon drives him to insanity because he cannot figure out what the truth is. He says “I had been happy, if the general camp, Pioners and all, had tasted her sweet body, So I had nothing known. ”(3. 3) exclaiming how he would rather Desdemona sleep with the entire army without him knowing than being uncertain of her rumored affair with Cassio. The lie that Iago tells Othello ruins the Moor’s life. Othello goes from a respected commanding officer to an emotionally distraught killer. Iago had made the Moor a mirror image of himself.
Iago, the play’s antagonist, hated Othello and although the two characters were similar at the end of the play, they were complete opposites at the beginning. Iago is a very sneaky character that steps on and manipulates other people to get what he wants. This is different than Othello because as far as the audience knows, he earned his ranking honorably. Iago’s sneakiness is what defines him throughout the play; everybody thinks he is honest but he lies about everything. The trait that every character in this play needs, skepticism, is only given to Iago.
He believes that he was cuckolded by Othello without any hard evidence, foiling Othello again because Othello tells Iago “Villain, be sure thou prove my love a whore, Be sure of it; give me the ocular proof. ”(3. 3). Othello still has trust in his wife referring to her as “love” showing that he still has affection for her as well, whereas Iago has lost all faith in his wife and does not love her at all but uses her as a pawn in his scheme. Iago’s goal in the play is to take Desdemona from Othello like he believes Othello took Emilia from him, and to do this he turns Desdemona’s kindness into a fatal flaw.
Iago’s and Desdemona are foils of each other throughout the play. Desdemona is fair and kind, whereas Iago is the embodiment of evil. Desdemona never told a lie throughout the play and retained her innocence even through the physical and verbal abuse of Othello. Iago is a deceiver and was compared to the devil when Othello checks to see if he has cloven feet. Desdemona is portrayed as the ultimate good she is an obedient wife that loves her spouse through his hardships. She loved Othello so much that even in her dying breath she still will not tell Emilia, Iago’s wife, that Othello murdered her saying “Nobody; I myself.
Farewell, Commend me to my kind lord: O, farewell! ”(5. 2) even though she knows that she died a “guiltless death. ”(5. 2). Iago was nothing like this, when he is found out he insisted on being stubborn. He says “From this time forth I never will speak word. ”(5. 2) because he has no regrets for his actions in fact he is proud of them. Although Iago and Desdemona rarely interact throughout the play there are used to show how evil or good the other is. Desdemona was also a foil to the person she interacted with the most in the play; her husband, Othello. Othello and his newlywed Desdemona become opposites toward the end of the play.
The main couple of the play is very different from each other which is easily seen by the audience because of how they interact with one another. Othello was filled with hate for Desdemona because he believed she had cuckolded him, and Desdemona never stopped loving him even though he accused her of things she did not do. Desdemona asks Emilia “That there be women do abuse their husbands In such gross kind? ”(4. 3) showing how truly innocent she is and when Emilia asks if she would cheat on Othello she is appalled at the idea. Desdemona would never cheat on the husband she works tirelessly to please.
In this instance Desdemona does not only prove her innocence, but she also shows that she is virtually incorruptible making her different from her easily corruptible Othello. Iago only had to show Othello a little evidence for him to become corrupted with jealousy. It was not Othello’s fault that he was corruptible, but he was very quick to build hate for his wife, but slow to believe her pleas of innocence. The reason for this is related to the time in which the story took place where man's word stood higher than women's. Desdemona was slain because of her word was not believed.
Emilia, unlike Desdemona, was slain by her husband because her word of the innocence of Desdemona was believed. Yet another foil in Othello, Desdemona and Emilia are the wives of Othello and Iago respectively and they are very different. Emilia older than Desdemona and has been married longer than she has and has more experience with marriage. She has passed the newlywed stage and has fall complacent with Iago.
This differs from Desdemona because she is completely in love with Othello when Desdemona asks Emilia if she would cheat on Iago Emilia answers, “Why, would not you? ”(4. 3) implying that if she had the chance she would. Emilia is a bolder woman that Desdemona is. Desdemona is more reserved and refrains to give her opinion but Emilia has no problem confronting the problem. Emilia expresses her anger on Othello first to fight for the late Desdemona and on Iago second with the intention of incriminating him. Desdemona would never call her husband a “murderous coxcomb” (5. 2) like Emilia did. The way the women of this play were foiled in turn made each couple a foil of the one another.
The two main couples in the play are Othello and Desdemona and Iago and Emilia. Othello and Desdemona are in love because of how recently they were wed and the audience can see this even in the Act five, Scene one when Othello is ready to kill Desdemona he gives her one last kiss. The way Othello kills her is symbolic of their love. He does not want to break any skin so she still looks beautiful as she dies. Iago on the other kills his wife as she exposes him for the fraud that he is. Iago and Emilia have been married for quite some time and are not as in love as Othello and Desdemona.
The audience sees this in the way Iago kills Emilia. Iago stabs her which in any form literature is a symbolic of a disconnected killing. Iago does not care how his wife dies he just does not want her talking. In Act five Scene one Shakespeare shows the contrasts of all the major characters. Shakespeare’s Othello is a play that utilizes the foiling technique to its full potential. The Audience receives a better understanding of each of the main characters. Making characters foils of each other makes each characters personality stand out more.