Iago Motiveless Malignity Essay

  1. 11-28-2008, 02:18 AM#1

    Motiveless malignancy?

    Whats the name of the source/text/essay in which Coleridge described Iago's actions as 'Motiveless Malignancy'? I need the specific source for my scholarship exam tomorrow! Thanks!
  2. 11-28-2008, 03:37 AM#2
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    The phrase "motiveless malignancy" is taken from a note Samuel Taylor Coleridge wrote in his copy of Shakespeare, as he was preparing a series of lectures. The phrase has often been used to mean doing evil because you are evil. He was referring to Iago, and sparked a long ongoing debate on what Iago's motives were, or whether he was just plain evil. The same debate applies when discussing Angelus. Is he just plain evil, end of discussion, or is it more complicated than that? In many ways the phrase "motiveless malignancy" has been taken out of context. What Coleridge actually wrote was:

    "The last Speech, the motive-hunting of motiveless Malignity -- how awful! In itself fiendish -- while yet he was allowed to bear the divine image, too fiendish for his own steady View. -- A being next to Devil -- only not quite Devil!"

    He is saying that Iago in this speech is hunting for motives for his own actions. The motives which are often cited are being passed over for promotion, his suspicion that Othello is having an affair with his wife, and the suspicion that Cassio is also having an affair with Emilia. Yet Coleridge does not see these as motives, simply as rationalisations. By Colridge's own definition of motive:

    "It is a matter of infinite difficulty, but fortunately of comparative indifference, to determine what a man's motive may have been for this or that particular action. Rather seek to learn what his objects in general are! -- What does he habitually wish? habitually pursue? -- and thence deduce his impulses, which are commonly the true effecient causes of men's conduct; and without which the motive itself would not have become a motive."

    What he is saying is that it is not enough just to look for a character's 'motive' for particular actions, that you should look for the underlying impulse and it's cause. Angelus's motive for killing his father, for instance, it would be easy to cite the father's bad treatment of Liam, and Angelus's reaction to this, as the motive, but it is more revealing to look deeper than this and 'deduce' where his impulses come from.

    "Without the perception of this truth, it is impossible to understand the character of Iago, who is represented as now assigning one, and then another, and again a third, motive for his conduct, all 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."

    Coming back again to the premise that the Angelus that emerges in Souless has not existed as a separate entity from Angel all those years, how can we deduce the cause of his behaviour, particularly in Soulless?

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See the new shakespeare.com. This feature, while it still provides useful information, is no longer maintained.

Recently I have been assigned an essay to write on the motives
of Iago. This, being quite a broad topic, is hard to narrow down.
Additionally, I must discuss the idea the Iago is a "motiveless
malignity". I was wondering which 2 or 3 motives, in your opinion,
seem to drive or cause Iago to do what he does. I believe that
his hatred of Othello is almost purely based on the fact that
Othello alledgedly slept with Emilia. He is also quite jealous
of Cassio; Cassio got the position he deserved. The third, and
most far-fetched, motive is that he was jealous of Othello's
relationship with Desdemona. Othello had a perfect and functional
relationship that took quite little time to develop, but on the
other hand, Iago and Emilia's relationship is terrible and she
leads to his downfall. Could you please give your opinion on
these and other Iago motives that you think caused him to do the
things he did. Two other questions:

1) If Iago was not truthful to anyone, why would he open himself
up to Roderigo in the first act, & why would he have some many soliloquy's informing the audience of his motives?

2) What quotes are meaningful and valid in the effort to prove
that Iago is not a "motiveless malignity"?

Thank you for reading my message, I hope you will voice your opinions and answers.

Posted by Sam on March 26, 1997 at 11:32:36

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