Explore the corruption of morality and its consequences within the texts of Othello, The Picture of Dorian Gray and Enduring Love

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“Explore the corruption of morality and its consequences within the texts of ‘Othello’ by Shakespeare, ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’ by Oscar Wilde and ‘Enduring Love’ by Ian McEwan.”

Throughout the literary ages, the perception of morality and life are constantly evolving to change people’s views on morality. Moral and ethical ideas were once chivalric traditions of honour, but have been changed from humanity’s freedom as individual beings to reject social principles and customs.

Oscar Wilde once said ‘I am quite incapable of understanding how any work of art can be criticised from a moral standpoint’1, yet staged as the Machiavellian antagonist within Shakespeare’s masterpiece ‘Othello’, Iago acts on his emotions and feelings of jealously and personal competition, which leads Iago to corrupt Othello because of his evil nature – leading an issue to a moral standpoint. When Othello had the occasion to appoint a lieutenant with “Three great ones of the city in personal suit", it appealed to Iago but only to find that Othello had already chosen Cassio. It appeared to be a matter of personal preference only, for he could give no reason for the choice of choosing Cassio. This capricious choice lago at once took as a very great slight upon him, A.C Bradley commented on the “the usual lunacies” in Shakespeare’s tragedy plays that "It has been held, for example, that Othello treated lago abominably in preferring Cassio to him."2 Once this is done, Iago reveals to the audience that “In following him, I follow but myself.”  This is a paradox as Iago follows Othello not out of “love” or “duty,” but because he feels he can exploit and dupe his master, thereby revenging himself upon the man he suspects of having slept with his wife. Furthermore, Iago expresses his deception to Roderigo to “wear my heart upon thy sleeve” to demonstrate to the audience that people who reveal their true motives makes themselves a victim. This therefore concludes that the day he decides to establish outwardly what he feels; inwardly, Iago explains, it will be the day he makes himself most vulnerable. In comparison to this, in ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’ Basil reveals to the reader that Henry “has a very bad influence over all his friends”. This depicts Henry as being something of a powerful entity who no-one cannot say “no” to as a result of his philosophical ideology.

This is quite similar to Iago as he purposely influences those who are around him just for his own gain and satisfaction as his “outward action doth demonstrate\The native act and figure of my heart”. Upon telling Dorian his ideology, Henry ‘was amazed at the sudden impression that his words produced’. From this, Wilde’s use of trajectory, readers can infer that Henry’s ‘amazed’ feeling of seeing what his philosophy has done to Dorian, seems to be his motive for the continuous corruption he places on Dorian further in novel.

Iago reveals his deception to Roderigo and the audience that he is “not what I am” because Iago is consciously aware he is going to corrupt Othello. The parallel used to show Iago’s alter ego can be linked with Henry since he believes “there is no such thing as a good influence. All influence are immoral.” It could be suggested that Henry’s character is used as a parallel structure in the novel to show no remorse for his influences he has over Dorian and the latter for Iago over Othello. Iago believes that people who serve a cause or a person are acting sincerely, but they are indeed acting on their own behalf as they “trimmed in forms and visages of duty\Keep yet their hearts attending on themselves”. This shows Iago believes people look loyal by their appearances but, on the inside, they are thinking about themselves rather than the person they serve. In comparison, Henry seems to have the power to corrupt as his ideological viewpoint is that “to influence a person is to give him one’s own soul”. Here, this suggests that Henry is giving Dorian a new soul – to corrupt him - to make him whole again.  In contrast to this, In ‘Enduring Love’, Jed has an infatuated belief that Joe loves him and that “there’s nothing I can do but return your love.” Jed he believes that through a higher powerful entity “To bring you to God, through love” Joe will eventually love him. Through religion, Jed considers that he could manipulate Joe’s feelings through the “the purpose… [of] Christ that is in you and that is you.”

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However, in ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’, it could be argued that Henry seems to purposely challenge Victorian values.  During the Victorian era people took literal truth and moral ethics from the bible and because of this, it was thought that if religion were accepted by all, ‘evil’ forces would not be able to corrupt humankind. But Wilde challenges this through a provocative statement that “great sins of the world take place” “in the brain, and the brain only”. With the use of repetition, this point emphasises that corruption of the soul or the mind is purely based ...

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