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Iago Expresses a Motiveless Malignity.

Discuss
Shakespeares portrayal of evil in Othello.
William Shakespeare highlights a possibility of motiveless malignity in the
character Iago in the play Othello. Throughout the play, Iagos personality is seen
as pure evil and almost completely unjustified as his motivations are not fully
revealed yet his actions are extreme. In modern society, he would be considered
a psychopath, using his social intelligence to support his duplicitous nature and
deceive Othello. Iago is able to manipulate Othello by exploiting his insecurities
and feeding a false sense of jealousy, impairing Othellos reasoning and
ultimately causing his tragic downfall. Shakespeare portrays this idea of evil as a
dangerous power that may exist without adequate basis and warns society that
when it is combined with great intelligence, it has the ability to ruin its victim.
In Act 1 Scene 1, Iago reveals a motive behind his hatred towards Othello, whilst
speaking with Roderigo. He reveals that he had been passed over for a
promotion which Cassio instead received. Iago explains to him Michael Cassio.
that never set a squadron in the field but he, sir, had th' election. As Othello
promotes a seemingly inexperienced Cassio, Iago becomes jealous and believes
that Othello did not give what he deserved. This is one of the few motives that
Shakespeare presents Iago to possess, and does not seem to justify his actions
later on in the play. However, some critics, including Coleridge believe that this
motive is not revealed because it is true, but it is simply revealed to hide from
Roderigo the fact that he is evil. In doing so, Iago gains Roderigos trust and is
able to manipulate Roderigo, as Iagos plan becomes more reasonable and less
immoral after this justification.
A second motive is revealed in Act 1 Scene 3, Iago states I hate the Moor; and it
is thought abroad that 'twixt my sheets 'Has done my office. I know not if't be
true; yet I, for mere suspicion in that kind, Will do as if for surety. In this
soliloquy, Iago explains he has suspicions that Othello has committed adultery
with Emilia, Iagos wife. Though he is not sure of it, and cannot be sure of it, he
assures he will treat these rumours as if they were true and act out his revenge
accordingly. In this dialogue, Iago is not giving any real evidence. He is simply
trying to justify his plan towards himself. He is able to convince himself to carry
out his evil scheme by bypassing the little morality he has.
Throughout the rest of the play, little to no motives are revealed. Iago mentions,
It cannot be that Desdemona should long continue her love to the Moor ... She
must change for youth. When she is sated with his body, she will find the error of
her choice. Shakespeare hints at the fact that Iago himself may be jealous of
Othellos ability to woo Desdemona in Act 1 Scene 3, although this is just
speculation on the audiences part and this idea is not clearly projected.
The largest insight into Iagos actions, however, is seen in Act 1 Scene 3 line 363
when he mentions, Let us be conjunctive against him. If thou canst cuckold him,
thou dost thyself a pleasure, me a sport. Iago essentially mentions that his
actions award him with pleasure and that the process of bringing Othello down
and causing his downfall is all but a game for Iago. He expresses his true motive
for his desire to destroy Othello his blatant love of evil. Shakespeare portrays
Iagos true personality which lies underneath his duplicitous nature and explains
that Iago does not require a true motive, for he can convince himself to commit
such deeds, simply because he is evil within.
The character Iago displays a trait which went against the beliefs of a highly
Christian Elizabethan society, motiveless malignity. Throughout his soliloquies
and dialogues, it can be seen that his justifications are not strong enough to
warrant his actions as reasonable. Shakespeare suggests that Iagos villainous
character is simply using jealousy and anger as excuses to carry out his immoral
plot. It is implied that even if Iago had received the promotion or had no
suspicions, he would create new motives for his plans, in order to destroy
Othello, and complete the game he believes he is playing. Through the study of
the character Iago, Shakespeares portrayal of evil demonstrates to his society
that people can be purely heinous simply because it is in their character.

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