Soliciting Audience’s Ovation: The Antagonist’s Artifices and Acting Ingenuity in Shakespeare’s Othello

Mohammad Wajih J. Alyo


Rarely does Shakespeare assign the antagonists in his plays such dominant and pivotal roles as he does in Othello. Seldom, either, does a Shakespearean character exhibit such an obsession with playacting and theatricals as Iago does. The paper at hand explores the consequences of Shakespeare’s unusual decision to tip the traditional balance between protagonist and antagonist in favour of the latter in this great tragedy. The paper argues that Othello is more a play about the splendour of playacting and the charm of actors than it is about evil and evildoing. Arguably devised as suffering from ‘histrionic and narcissistic personality disorders,’ Iago is self-urged, by his latent desire for attention and approval, to parade his histrionic flairs and procure audience’s admiration and commendation. The paper, therefore, assesses the acting and theatrical potentials that Shakespeare invested in the character of Iago, with special attention given to the queer antagonist-audience rapport in the play. The paper concludes that the character of the antagonist is the central attraction in Othello and a major factor in its popular reception. Shakespeare makes Iago ‘the acting dramatist,’ who combines the roles of playwright, actor, stage-manager, and director, to extol the acting profession and emphasise the power of great actors in his day. The paper invites readers of Othello to view Iago not merely as a malefactor but also as a deft actor.


Acting, audience, Cinthio, Histrionic, Iago, Othello, Performance, Soliloquies

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