Essay Sample on Motiveless Malignity in Shakespeare's Othello: Iago's Evil Actions

Paper Type:  Research paper
Pages:  8
Wordcount:  1971 Words
Date:  2023-03-11


William Shakespeare, in his play Othello, shows the possibility of the existence of motiveless malignity in Iago's character. The notion of motiveless malignity possessed by Iago was advanced by Coleridge regarding the behavior of the antagonist in Othello. Iago portrays pure evil throughout the play; even though his motivations cannot be displayed, his evil actions are extreme. The notion, motiveless malignity, holds that Iago does not hold any motive for his actions, and the things he does are evil just because he is an evil man by nature. According to Coleridge, Iago's motives behind his actions were a "keen sense of his intellectual superiority" and the desire and love to exercise power (Lone 1). The character's malignity is considered motiveless since his motives that include vengeance for the denial of his promotion and Cassio's and Othello's cuckolding behavior are basically justifiable or rational. "Driven by an overpowering lust for evil rivaled only by Satan, Iago is titled as worst Shakesperian villain hands down (Lone 1)." Therefore, Coleridge's assertion of Iago's behavior as motiveless malignity is reasonable and discernible in the play.

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Coleridge's Perspective: Examining Iago's Motiveless Malignity

Iago's soliloquies, according to Coleridge, are "motive hunting of motiveless malignity," which means that his actions are motiveless and do not arise from reasons to which Iago refers to in the play, (Lone 2). Iago tries to offer explanations for his actions in the play, but they are not convincing. For instance, he blames his plot to kill the Moor on his Christian name, James, which he shares with the Spain's patron saint whose surname is Matamoros that means the killer of moors. According to Iago, "he's Italian so, a 'James,' Mere 'Giacomo' should be his Christian name. But no, 'Iago" rules him. You know why? The patron saint of Spain is Santiago - Saint James - his surname, Matamoros: yes, The Slayer of the Moors. Forced by his name, Iago has no choice but to kill his moor (Watts 115)." Iago is hunting for motives in the play, but all he does is devise excuses. He only does what he does because it is who he is, and no matter how much he looks for motives for his actions, the reasons he offers are mere pretexts.

Iago's motiveless malignity is also manifested in his plot to kill Desdemona. Initially in the play, all Iago felt for Desdemona was love but it later transforms into hate and finally his plot to kill her. Shakespeare tries to bring out motive out of Iago's plot to kill Othello's wife in episode II.i.83-181 whereby he makes it seem like Desdemona put Iago in a position that led him into humiliating himself, which led to his anger and hatred. However, Iago hates women and tends to finds errors even when there are little or no mistakes. Therefore, when Desdemona asks him how he would praise women, he finds it answering the question and prefers to remain silent. Shakespeare, in most of his comedies, links verbal fluency to a high degree of conjugal love hence, his silence indicates that he was romantically immature, which is humiliating. Nevertheless, Iago developed hatred because it is his nature, he naturally hates women, and his humiliation is not a justification for his eventual plot to kill Desdemona. The author tries to blame Iago's hatred on Desdemona's question, yet if at all he was humiliated, then the basis of his disgrace is his hostile attitude towards women. The only way Iago can survive in the evil world that he created for himself is murder. He can only express his anger and hatred by harming others.

Haybron further consents with the argument that Iago is evil by nature and does not need any motive to advance his cruel actions to those around him. According to Haybron's definition of an evil character, a truly wicked person takes pleasure in witnessing individuals doing evil to others (Nhvi 512). He enjoys seeing and contributing to the suffering and pain of others. A person who is evil by nature does not have an active conscience, and his evil nature is what controls his actions and permeates to act in a specified manner. Haybron goes further to ascertain that an evil person would not change or do any better, even if he is aware of good morals. Therefore, he is evil willingly and does not need any justification for his actions. All the definitions in Hebron's article are a reflection of Iago's character in Othello. He is truly evil by nature, and in the third scene of Act 2, he compares himself to the devil (Nhvi 509). Iago states, "Divinity of hell! When the devils will the blackest sins put on. As I do now (2.3.350-353)", which reveals that he knows he is evil. Although he is aware of his wickedness, he chooses to remain evil; he takes pleasure in seeing those around him, Desdemona, Cassio, and Othello, suffering.

Iago's Manipulations: Unveiling the Motiveless Malignity in Othello

Iago convinces Othello that his wife is cheating on him by lying to him that Desdemona had given Cassio a handkerchief as a gift (Kolin 255). Othello had given his wife the handkerchief in question as a sign of love, and having been convinced that the object of love had been given to Othello, he was overwhelmed with jealousy. Not satisfied with the harm he had caused to his friend's marriage, his lust for evil is what drives him into advising Othello on how to carry out the death of Cassio and his wife. His description of the murder sounds like that of a typical maniac with no sense of rationality. When Othello asks how to murder them, Iago consents with his decision and goes on describing how his friend should strangle her while in bed. While advising him on how to kill his wife, he reminds him of how she had cheated on him, "Strangle her in bed, even the bed she hath contaminated (4.1.158-198)." Iago is overwhelmed by his desire to commit evil, and by reminding him of the cheating scandal, he knew Othello would get more irritated and would not think of aborting the mission. Iago takes advantage of his friend's insecurities, which impairs his reasoning resulting in his downfall. Therefore, the author, Shakespeare, depicts the notion of evil as a strong and dangerous power that can exist with no basis, and when such evil is combined with intelligence, it can be treacherous.

The manipulation of Othello into murdering his wife and Cassio reveals Iago's ability to turn human nature against itself by extrapolating man's evil side while eradicating the good. His character reveals his lack of active conscience that would drive remorse and guilt for any wrong actions he engages in while relating with other characters in the play. Iago understands how people would react under certain circumstances, and he uses his knowledge for his benefit. He can foresee how a person would act under different situations, and he knew how Othello would react under the influence of jealousy. Iago's jealousy is his only weakness, and his feelings make him recognize the severity of the impacts of similar feelings in other people. Iago is acting out of vengeance for Othello. However, what makes his actions motiveless malignity is due to the fact that it is not clear what crime Othello had committed to deserve such cruel vengeance. He manipulates his friend for his own malicious and pointless reasons.

Furthermore, although his actions are seen to be motivated by the desire to avenge, his incentives come as second hand. They are not the primary reasons why he commits evil to others, which makes his actions motiveless (Cressler 79). Motivation into performing an act or behavior in a specified manner should have a noticeable telos, whereby it should be build from an ambition towards something, which Iago lacks. When Iago claims, "Three great ones of the city, in personal suit to make me his lieutenant, Off-capp'd to him," it is clear he in disbelief for failure to be promoted by Othello (Cressler 79). He was assured of the position, and when Othello denies him of his "rightful place" he becomes bitter, and all he desires is to seek vengeance. The only reasonable way Iago could have avenged Othello while basing on being negated the lieutenant position as the motivation would be ensuring that he is removed or demoted from his military position, by publicizing his friend's marriage issues before the Senate so that they could equal (Cressler 79). However, Iago finally avenges Othello by plotting his wife's death after a series of events and failure to deprive him of his military position. Therefore, his vengeance on Othello by using his wife is not due to his deprivation of the lieutenant position but because his first plot to avenge had failed, making the cause second hand. Besides, he seeks ways to punish Cassio for being appointed as the lieutenant, which is quite pointless. Cassio had not done anything wrong that deserves vengeance.


Conclusively, Iago's malignity is motiveless. He does evil to other characters because he is naturally evil and enjoys the suffering of those in his surroundings. He can be described as an embodiment of evil. His evil character impacts those around him for his malicious and pointless reasoning to get the power that he eventually receives due to his immoral practices. He manipulates those around him for his benefit. Therefore, Shakespeare portrays Iago as an epitome of evil whose motiveless actions are geared towards exploiting others for his good.

Works Cited

Kolin, Philip. Othello: New critical essays. Routledge, 2013.

Lone. H. Iftikhar. Iago: "Motiveless Malignity." International Journal of Scientific and Research Publications, vol. 2, no. 8, 2012,

Nhvi, Aladdin. "Iago as the embodiment of evil." DAV International Journal of Science, vol. 4, no. 4, 2015, pp. 509-513,

Watts, Cedric. "Iago's Motive." Critical Survey, vol. 30, no. 4, Winter 2018, pp. 115,

Cressler, Loren. "Malcontented Iago and revenge tragedy conventions in Othello." Studies in Philology, vol. 116, no. 1, Winter 2019, pp. 73-100,

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) for Essay:

How does Coleridge's concept of "motiveless malignity" help in understanding Iago's character in Othello?

Coleridge's concept of "motiveless malignity" suggests that Iago's actions in Othello do not stem from traditional motivations or reasons; rather, his evil deeds are driven by instinctive nature and desire for power rather than rational justifications for his malignant behaviors. Coleridge's notion provides insight into Iago's character by emphasizing both his malevolence and lack of justifiable reasons behind it.

How does Shakespeare portray Iago's motiveless malignity through his manipulations and actions?

Shakespeare artfully captures Iago's motiveless malignity through his actions in Othello. Coleridge described Iago's soliloquies as the "motive hunting of motiveless malignity": attempts at providing convincing explanations for his behavior that are ultimately unsuccessful. Iago has an intense dislike for women - particularly Desdemona - due to her inherent nature rather than any compelling motivation or justifiable motive; his pleasure comes from witnessing their suffering; thus leading him to manipulate Othello into killing both of them simultaneously. Shakespeare depicts Iago as an evil character with no credible motivation behind his malignant actions.

How does Iago's motiveless malignity challenge the conventional understanding of character motivations in literature?

Iago's motiveless malignity challenges the traditional understanding of character motivations in literature, where actions typically have identifiable goals or reasons behind them. His devious character and enjoyment of seeing others suffer disobey any explicit justification or motive behind his actions - instead, Iago manipulates those around him for personal gain while taking pleasure in inflicting harm upon them - offering an unusual departure from traditional motives that highlights human nature's complexity and unpredictable behavior.

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Essay Sample on Motiveless Malignity in Shakespeare's Othello: Iago's Evil Actions. (2023, Mar 11). Retrieved from

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