After being asked by Othello why he has done what he has done, Iago says, “Demand me nothing. What you know, you know. / From this time forth I never will speak word” (V.ii.303-4).

Almost invariably, when I talk with people about Othello, they tell me that they want Iago to answer Othello, to defend and explain his actions, and give a justification. But me, I’m different. I genuinely don’t want Iago to justify himself. Why? Because it’s easier for me, morally, when Iago remains dark and evil and not justified.

Iago is the villain in Othello. It’s simple, clear and straightforward. After seeing a production of Iago, I can walk out of the theater with a clear anger at him for what he’s done. I don’t have to mix it with sympathy for him. When I see Macbeth, I have mixed feelings about the title character. I find his actions wrong, but does he win my sympathy?

But Othello is more comfortable in terms of “hero” and “villain.” Of course, I read Shakespeare to be brought out of my comfort zone, not to settle in it, and I don’t mean at all to imply that Othello is a simple play with simple characters. But when Iago stays in his villainous role and defiantly refuses to answer Othello, he remains in character, and that’s easier to handle.

Am I the only one?

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