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Coleridge said that Iago was a "motiveless malignity". In light of this comment explore the character of Iago using other critics' ideas. Othello.

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Introduction

Coleridge said that Iago was a "motiveless malignity". In light of this comment explore the character of Iago using other critics' ideas. Coleridge's intended meaning in this statement was that, when Iago began his scheme-making, he had no idea of what he aimed to achieve by them. It is obvious to anyone who has seen the play that Iago is a malignity: badly intentioned. What is less obvious is why. In Iago's first soliloquy he says of the suspicion he has about Othello having had an affair with his wife that: "I know not if't be true; Yet I will do as if for surety" This is the usual basis for the argument that Iago is pure evil and sets out only to do general harm and cause chaos. In this soliloquy he proves that his given "motives" or aims are frail. The suggested reasons for Iago's actions range from the idea that Emilia has been adulterous with Othello, to the idea that she has been adulterous with Cassio; it is sometimes hinted at that he has a lustful eye for Desdemona. The critic A.C. Bradley dismisses these suggestions as "the usual lunacies". This makes sense to me as there is as little evidence to support any of these ideas. ...read more.

Middle

John Goodwin says "Iago is an enigma; his motives seem inadequate to the tragic conclusion yet watching, one is seldom conscious of this". On the contrary I think many of his reactions are ill thought-out and impulsive- for example in killing Emilia he proves at least one of three points. The first is that he is, after all is said, the thoroughly cold, detached character he is painted as. The second and third possibilities are that his scheme is flawed (his main plan of action at least by the end of the play seems to be to eliminate those who 'know too much') or that he is in a completely loveless marriage. This must be viewed through an Elizabethan rather than a modern perspective. It seems to me that, as often was the case that Iago and Emilia's marriage acts only to serve a physical and practical purpose. This seems to be mutually acknowledged between the couple. In a Royal Exchange production of the play Emilia is portrayed as a womanly, worldly-wise character that shows signs of being the only character in the play that is not blind to Iago's schemes. In response to this the Royal Exchange Iago seems nervous around his wife and appears rather pathetic in his cries of "filth thou liest", when she reveals his lies in the last scene. ...read more.

Conclusion

It is in this soliloquy that Iago's language incriminates him as depraved, not just by intention but by nature. He shows a certain cynicism, if not disregard for religion-"her (Desdemona's) appetite shall play the God". He also seems to pride himself on the wickedness of his actions by way of comparing them to that of demonic beings- "When devils will their blackest sins put on they do suggest with heavenly sins as I do now". By this I feel it is not Shakespeare's intention to implicate Iago as a symbol or personification of the devil, but to portray, what the critic Bloom calls a "nihilistic personality"- definitely ill-intentioned, but still nevertheless human. "So-called motives are merely justifications for his actions (which he sadistically enjoys)". Still, we can see how an alternative meaning can be extrapolated when Iago rephrases St.Paul's "By the grace of God I am what I am" into his decidedly elusive "I'm not what I am" it is easy to see how to be non-religious, especially in more religion based societies of previous centuries, was something to keep to yourself. I think that this in itself could be a reason why Iago was driven to the secretive and begrudging behaviour he demonstrates. For anyone to renounce religion and God even so subtly was seen as evil in itself- they would be instantly labelled a 'malignity' ...read more.

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