Shakespeare's Othello - Abnormal Psychology and Iago Essay

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Abnormal Psychology and Iago in Othello

When the Bard of Avon created the evil Iago in the tragedy Othello, he entered into the area of irrational behavior and abnormal psychology. This essay will examine this branch of science as it relates to the play.

David Bevington in William Shakespeare: Four Tragedies describes the irrationality and self-destructiveness of the ancient’s behavior:

Emilia understands that jealousy is not a rational affliction but a self-induced disease of the mind. Jealous persons, she tells Desdemona, “are not ever jealous for the cause, / But jealous for they’re jealous. It is a monster / Begot upon itself, born on itself” (3.4.161 – 163). Iago’s own testimonial bears this out, for
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He seems to be motivated by love of money which he has been receiving from Roderigo for some time (“thou, Iago, who hast had my purse / As if the strings were thine”). Iago himself says that he is motivated by revenge on the Moor (“I follow him to serve my turn upon him”) because of the promotion of Michael Cassio to the lieutenancy. But regardless of the question of motivation, it is a fact that Iago hasn’t a single true friend in the play; in his disordered personality he can only manipulate or use people; he is incapable of loving them. His manipulation of his general repeats time and again from the first meeting:

Nay, but he prated,

And spoke such scurvy and provoking terms

Against your honor

That with the little godliness I have

I did full hard forbear him. (1.2)

While he and Desdemona and Emilia are lounging about at the port in Cyprus awaiting the arrival of the Moor’s ship, Desdemona tries to analyze how his mind and feelings work, for he seems to be habitually critical of his wife. She concludes that he is a “slanderer” and that he is full of “old fond paradoxes to make fools laugh in th’ alehouse.”

His clever machinations cause grief for every character who has continued contact with him. He deceives Roderigo about the affections of Desdemona: “Desdemona is directly in love with him [Cassio].” He deceptively lures Cassio into drunkenness where

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