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Iago himself offers many explanations for his behaviour during the play, none of them entirely convincing. Coleridge famously argued that in Iago we see the 'motive hunting of motiveless malignity'. How do you explain Iago?

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Iago himself offers many explanations for his behaviour during the play, none of them entirely convincing. Coleridge famously argued that in Iago we see the 'motive hunting of motiveless malignity'. How do you explain Iago? In Shakespeare's 'Othello', the character of Iago is both key and complex. His role in the corruption and downfall of Othello and the destruction of Desdemona is the central theme in Shakespeare's tragedy. However, critical analysis of Iago's role and motivation, or lack of it, has resulted in some diversity of opinion. Coleridge's argument that in Iago we see the 'motive hunting of motiveless malignity' implies that the evil that is Iago is not truly motivated but seeks such a motive for self justification. A.C Bradley also argues that in Othello we see the downfall of a noble hero through the force of external evil that is Iago. However, F.R Leavis refutes this interpretation by, arguing that the tragedy is 'Othello's character in action' and that 'Iago is subordinate and merely ancillary'. These are very different interpretations of such a central character illustrating the difficulty in definitively defining and 'explaining' Iago. The character of Iago must also be seen in the context of when the play was written and the audience towards which it was directed. Juliet Mc Lauchlan makes a significant argument that Elizabethan audiences 'would have been less puzzled. They expected him (Iago) a villain to be a villain.' Elizabethan audiences would not have required clear motives for Iago's actions in order to believe in him since acceptance of the vile actions of a play's villain was expected. ...read more.


Leach Scragg notes that Iago 'has been variously regarded as a devil on a metaphysical level, as a devil incarnate, as a man possessed and as a man in the process of becoming a devil by denial of the basic of humanity. ` Iago's cunning can be seen in Act I Scene iii when he convinces Roderigo to raise money and to pursue his courtship of Desdemona (now Othello's wife) in Cyprus. He tells Roderigo 'Thou art sure of me. Go, make money. I have told thee often, and I retell thee again and again, I hate the Moor. My cause is hearted; thine hath no less reason. Let us be conjunctive in our revenge against him. If thou canst cuckold him, thou dost thyself a pleasure, me a sport'. (AI, Siii, L355). In Iago's treatment of Roderigo we see possibly the clearest example of his willingness to treat others as mere pawns to meet his own ends. Having convinced Roderigo to sell his land to finance his venture and to join him in his plan to discredit Cassio. Iago finally persuades Roderigo to be party to the ambush and the murder of Cassio. When this goes badly wrong and Roderigo is wounded, it is Iago who stabs and kills him to prevent his plot being revealed. Roderigo's final words: 'O damned Iago! O inhuman dog!' (AV,Si,L62) are a fitting farewell to the man who mercilessly manipulated him and finally took his life. ...read more.


The fact that the consequences of his actions are so cataclysmic leads Iago to seek to justify his position as the play progresses It seems that, as the plot unfolds, the consequences go beyond that which even Iago intended! Iago's disregard for human life and willingness and ability to bend others to his own will gives him an aura of 'devil incarnate'. However, I believe that his denial of basic humanity leads him to assume the characteristics of a devil rather than he becomes a supernatural presence within the play. Any explanation of Iago must also take into account the audience for which the play was written. An Elizabethan audience would have readily accepted the machiavellian actions of the play's villain and would have shared a prejudice against Othello, who was both a moor (black) and an outsider. Iago presents a face to the world that is at odds with his true nature and intent. His motives sometimes appear real and are sometimes proclaimed after the event as self-justification. He is a professional soldier, driven by self interest and deeply wounded by what he believes are the slights of others.He has an almost inhuman capacity to manipulate and use others to achieve his aims at whatever cost to themselves. The character of Iago is both fascinating and horrifying and defies full explanation, as he himself confesses: 'But I will wear my heart upon my sleeve For daws to peck at; I am not what I am.' (A I, Si, L 62) 1 Lewis Sadler ...read more.

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