The idea of being two-faced is an ancient one. Duplicity, or showing some people one side of your character while showing others an opposite temperament, is as old as man himself. Even today, "two-faced" is a term reserved for someone who betrays a friend through deceit to serve his own selfish ends. Such characters are presented in Shakespeare's plays, notably in "Julius Caesar," "The Merchant of Venice" and "Othello."
Janus is the Latin name for the Sun-god who was credited with giving the month of January its name. Shakespeare alludes to Janus in a number of his plays to represent duplicity of characters and of men in general. Janus is often referred to as two-headed because he was depicted as having two faces on either side of his head. One face alluded to the grave, doom and gloom while the other alluded to merriment and laughing.
Shakespeare's classic play "Julius Caesar" follows the plotting of two duplicitous characters, Cassius and Brutus, to murder Rome's most famous emperor, Julius Caesar. Brutus clearly displays two faces to Caesar through his betrayal of the emperor, who thought he was his friend. Cassius, though, presents two faces as well; in the beginning of the play he presents himself as a cunning politician caring only for his own ambition. Later in the play he shows himself to be a courageous soldier and loyal friend to Brutus. Shakespeare uses the two faces of Cassius and Brutus to allude to the good and evil inherent in all political leaders.
"The Merchant of Venice"
"The Merchant of Venice" follows the misfortune, near-death and eventual survival of a merchant named Antonio. The play opens with Antonio depressed about the state of his business because he has no money that is not already tied up in ships, which he rents to ferry cargo to and from Venice, where he lives. His friends try to cheer him up but are unsuccessful, until a wealthy man named Bassanio comes and asks Antonio for a loan. In Act 1, Scene 1, one of Antonio's friends says to him, "Now, by two-headed Janus, Nature hath framed strange fellows in her time: Some that evermore peep through their eyes and laugh like parrots at a bag piper; And others of such vinegar aspect, that they'll not show their teeth in way of smile..." The two-faced god Janus represents the general temperament of men and how it can be either pleasant or sad. In this play, it is also a foreshadowing of the relationship between Shylock and Antonio, wherein Shylock will feign kindness to Antonio in making him a loan that Antonio gives to Bassanio only to show Antonio no mercy at the end of the play when, through unfortunate circumstances beyond his control, Antonio is unable to repay Shylock's loan.
The character Iago in Shakespeare's classic play "Othello" is an example of a two-faced character. In Act 1, Scene 2, Iago deliberately misrepresents himself to the main character, Othello, feigning loyalty to win Othello's trust. Iago accomplishes this through pretending to be enraged over the decision of another character, Roderigo, to tell the father of the woman Othello loves of Othello's intentions for his daughter. Iago convinces everyone present that he is on Othello's side, defending his right to be with Desdemona, the woman he loves. In the scene, Iago, who really does not care for Othello, alludes to Janus. As soon as Othello leaves, Iago changes his tone from supportive to backbiting, revealing his true intentions of malice toward Othello. Iago shows two faces throughout the play, displaying whichever one brings him gain to any given character. In "Othello," the two faces of Iago represent the duplicity of man and of his ability to act both kind and cruel depending on what character better serves his own ends.
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