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"The motive-hunting of a motiveless malignity" was Coleridge's comment on the Iago soliloquies. Evaluate this and other views of these and of Iago as a character in the play.

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Introduction

"The motive-hunting of a motiveless malignity" was Coleridge's comment on the Iago soliloquies. Evaluate this and other views of these and of Iago as a character in the play. The phrase "the motive-hunting of a motiveless malignity" occurs in a note that Coleridge wrote concerning the end of Act 1 Scene 3 of Othello in which Iago takes leave of Roderigo saying, "Go to, farewell. Put money enough in your purse", and then delivers the soliloquy beginning "Thus do I ever make my fool my purse". When evaluating Coleridge's view, it is important to put the word "motive" into context. We use it to mean an emotion, desire, a physiological need - an impulse that acts as an incitement to action. This definition equates "motive" and " impulse"; Coleridge, however, thought the two quite different. Here is what he wrote on the subject:- Iago is represented as now assigning one, and then another, and again a third motive for his conduct, alike the mere fictions of his own restless nature, distempered by a keen sense of his intellectual superiority, and haunted by the love of exerting power on those especially who are his superiors in practical and moral excellence. Thus Coleridge asserts that Iago's impulses are simply to carry out evil acts - he has an inner malignancy that drives his "keen sense of his intellectual superiority" and his "love of exerting power". And so Iago's malignity is "motiveless" because his motives - being passed over for promotion, his suspicion that Othello and later Cassio are having affairs with Emelia - are merely rationalisations for his impulses; his drive to do evil. ...read more.

Middle

This would of course be the undoing of the tragedy - nobody could pity Desdemona or Othello if they fell prey to an obvious villain. Shakespeare was obviously obsessed with Iago - he gave him more lines than any other character in his works. In Iago, he created a villain whose evil and treachery lie not in his motives, but rather in the lack thereof; by pledging himself to evil Iago becomes the "demi-devil" Othello speaks of in the last scene, yet by the endless quest for source or motive, Shakespeare makes his villain all the more sinister to the audience - he infused this devil with real human emotions. Shakespeare knew that the love of power and mischief is common to man, and he instilled it in Iago. To that he added more factors to further darken his character. Iago has no respect for human decency or human life - when Desdemona becomes a victim he shows no sign of remorse. He mocks Othello's trusting nature "And will as tenderly be led through the nose as asses are". He hates romantic love, deeming it a weakness - "Ere I would say, I would drown myself for the love of a guinea-hen, I would change my humanity with a baboon". He is loyal only to himself and, indeed, he is proud of it "were I the Moor, I would not be Iago, in following him I follow but myself. ...read more.

Conclusion

He seems to have a pathological jealousy of his wife, a suspicion of every man with whom she is associated and a jealous love of Desdemona. In this, Shakespeare has managed to combine the malignity of the villain's character with jealousy and envy to form the springs of Iago's conduct. These motives all spring from the same attitude to life - the self-love of which Iago boasts to Roderigo. Regardless of what motive we accept for Iago's behaviour, I contend that this villain was created by Shakespeare to explore the concept of self-love and the dangers it can bring. Whether it be an innate sense of evil, fuelled by "a keen sense of intellectual superiority"; ideas of professional revenge triggered by the proud "I know my price, I am worth no worse a place"; or an ardent sense of jealousy, all of Iago's behaviour is backed by an air of egotism and conceit. Perhaps Iago is Shakespeare's warning against the sin of vanity and envy, that which Francis Bacon described as "the vilest affection and the most depraves; for which cause, it is the proper attribute of the Devil". Since the play was first written, critics have worked to assign psychological motivation and grounding to the conundrum that is Iago. Yet perhaps the most satisfying conclusion that can be drawn is in the ambiguity and elusiveness of the character, and the questions that these in themselves raise about the nature of evil, of sins, and of the nature of mankind. For as Coleridge said, "How many among our modern critics have attributed to the profound Author this, the appropriate inconsistency of the character itself!" ...read more.

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