In order to understand the personal motivations of Iago we need to consider not only the personal actions of the character but also the society in which he lived. Many examples of Iago’s malignity can be found throughout the play demonstrating the malevolent streak that permeates the actÄ±ons and feelings of Iago. It was Samuel Taylor ColerÄ±dge who came up with the term, “The motive-hunting of motiveless Malignity,” to describe the character of Iago. Coleridge referred specifically to the end of Act 1, Scene 3 in which Iago takes leave of Roderigo:
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Iago weaves a web of deception that ensnares the Othello, Cassio and Roderigo. He succeeds in destroying a marriage and two noble characters as well as his wife, (Emilia), and Roderigo. Iago’s true delight in his own cunning can be witnessed in his Act 2 Scene 1 soliloquy. Here he revels in the power he wields, that which can turn Desdemona’s ‘virtue into pitch.’ Also ammoral is Iago’s mercenary use of Roderigo to ‘line his coat.’ He readily accepts money for a service that is impossible to achieve – Desdemona has no feelings for Roderigo, and Iago knows this.
At the heart of Iago’s duplicity is his ability to play a number of roles convincingly; to adapt his tone and style to suit any occasion. With Cassio , he is bluff, coarse and genial. He offers plausible, practical solutions for his problems. With Roderigo and Emilia, he is self-serving, materialistic and cynical. This can be seen in Act 1 Scene 1 where he makes it clear to Roderigo that his pride was hurt when Cassio was promoted before him.
he becomes furious. This anger was not founded because there is no evidence of any kind that Othello takes any interest sexually in Iago’s wife Emilia. Cassio, by contrast, whom Iago also suspects of intimate dealings with his wife, has at least done more to raise that fear when he kisses Emilia on the lips in front of Iago in 2.1.99-100. These feelings are made clear in lines 270 – 280 of Act 2 Scene 1 He states that his soul will not be sated:
With no remedy for his condition, with a job that is beneath him, with a superior that he knows and will eventually demonstrate has vices incompatible with military leadership, with a system that has shown that its values are inverted, what can he do? Strike back at the system and people who have failed him. Iago then tries to create civic anarchy in Venice. First, he suggests to Roderigo that he wake Brabantio, Desdemona’s father, in the middle of the night to announce her elopement with Othello. While Brabantio is rousing his family to action, Iago slips away for his second provocative act. He meets up with Othello and tries to goad him on to violence.
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The phrase, ‘Motiveless Malignity’ is not an accurate portrayal of Iago. There are many examples throughout the play which show clearly Iago’s villainy. Iago manages to turn all his friends, who trust him most, against each other. These actions eventually lead to the murder of Roderigo. While the act of murder cannot be condoned, this shows the utter desparation of Iago as a man whom was pushed to the edge by a society which failed to show him sufficient respect. Iago himself offers several possible motives for his actions to the audience throughout the play in his different soliloquies. Evil and hopeless Iago clearly is, but this needs to be set also against a class-based society which trapped Iago in second class citizenship, a status which he did not deserve. The absolute loyalty and dedication Iago showed towards his masters was never rewarded and it is this which led him to engage in malevolent acts against everybody including his loved ones.
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