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What Is A Perfect Shakespearian Villain? Is Iago Shakespeare's Perfect Villain?

Updated on December 19, 2015

The Perfect Villain: Iago or Claudius?

Shakespeare incorporates numerous characters with different personalities and motives in his plays, including villains such as Iago and Claudius; in the end poetic justice determines who the perfect villain is. In Othello, Iago, with his scheming and clever plans of deception, is not the usual antagonist. With a complete lack of morals, he is the perfect villain who pushes aside his conscience and plants his diabolical plan into Othello's mind. The same cannot be said for Claudius, in Hamlet, whose poetic justice is served at the end of the play. Claudius's mind is set on gaining power; yet, as Hamlet's plans slowly unfurl, one begins to see why he is just a typical antagonist.

Iago from Othello

Iago Is The Perfect Villain

Iago is a terrifying villain who is known for his lack of motivation. He does not explain his true motivation for the hatred and pain he causes. Rather, he uses petty reasons like being jealous of Cassio's power and accusing Othello of sleeping with his wife, "It is thought abroad that 'twixt my sheets / He has done my office" (I.iii.369-370) to deceive the reader of his ultimate motivation, which is unknown. Perhaps even more diabolical is Iago's complete lack of indifference to the problems that he causes, and the expertise in which his manner is carried out. Edgar Hyman criticizes Iago, saying that, "...Iago, finally is not simply a man of action; he is an artist. His action is a plot, the intricate plot of a drama..." (75). One example of Iago's villainous actions can be seen when he tries to convince Roderigo that Desdemona will be his soon. "I say, put money in thy purse. It cannot be that Desdemona should long continue her love to the Moor,-put money in thy purse,-nor he his to her..." (II.iii.342-345). In Iago's short and witty diction he manipulates and bribes Roderigo for money and begins to put the rest of his plans together, by setting up the trap for Othello to make him believe Desdemona is having an affair. Yet, Iago's maliciousness stems out further than just a few strategic manipulations. According to Edgar Hyman, "Iago is a figuration of Satan..." (38). When Emilia, his wife, confesses to Othello that Iago has been lying to him since the beginning of the play; Iago kills his wife and runs off. It becomes clear here that Iago has a hatred for women in general, since he murdered his own wife without even the slightest hesitation. There are numerous examples that define Iago as a diabolical character, yet what makes him a perfect villain? Poetic justice is not served for the countless crimes and moral wrongs that Iago has committed successfully. Iago's sentence is to be tortured; yet after being responsible for the death of four characters, this is hardly a worthy punishment. A normal villain is one whose actions warrant equal consequences and whose evil plans go as they should.

Iago's Diabolical Plan

Claudius from Hamlet

Claudius Is A Typical Villain

Claudius has a mind equally villainous and cunning as that of Iago. Yet, why is he not the perfect villain if his plan to murder King Hamlet and Prince Hamlet, to take over the kingdom, and to marry Queen Gertrude is fulfilled? "As a practiced exponent of stately double-talk," (Bloom 52) Claudius knows how to make the right people, believe the wrong things. After telling Hamlet that he will be deported to England as a punishment for killing Polonius, he says to himself, "The present death of Hamlet. Do it, England, / For like the hectic in my blood he rages," (IV.iiii.74-75) in which he confesses his true motives to have Hamlet executed in England. Like Iago, Claudius is a master of twisting words who, "...seldom fails to distinguish between words and deeds, or face and heart." (Bloom 52). We see another instance where Claudius is just as villainous as Iago in his scheming manner. In Act 4 Scene 7, Claudius comes up with another plan: to have Hamlet murdered in a fencing match or from a poisoned cup of wine. His main goal is that Hamlet should die. Although Hamlet does die, albeit not in the manner Claudius would have wanted, he still does not receive the claim to the perfect villain. Poetic justice is served where it is due, and Claudius, being responsible for many deaths, finally receives retribution for his actions, as opposed to Iago.

Claudius's Death

Hamlet, the movie.
Hamlet, the movie.
The ghost of the King of Denmark
The ghost of the King of Denmark


A villain can be created on the number of any page and in any story, but the perfect villain must have qualities which leave the reader feeling scared and annoyed at the end when poetic justice is omitted from the villain's punishment. Claudius becomes just another ordinary villain with a scheming mind and lust for power, when he drinks from the poisoned chalice and dies. However, Iago, whose lack of morals and motives for his deeds frighten the reader from the beginning, is the perfect villain who escapes the fate that would have been well deserved: death. Shakespeare manages to evade the mouse trap that characterizes a typical villain whose spirit and motives are incomprehensible, and receive no worthy justice to their cause.

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    Maliha khan 

    5 years ago

    useful ...good

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    hi friend 

    9 years ago from India

    useful and interesting hub


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