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Iago is viewed as pure evil, but Mary Wollestonecraft says, "No man chooses evil...

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angelahunn | Student, Grade 10 | eNotes Newbie

Posted December 6, 2011 at 4:43 AM via web

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Iago is viewed as pure evil, but Mary Wollestonecraft says, "No man chooses evil because it is evil; he only mistakes it for happiness, the good he seeks." Is this true for Iago?

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mstultz72 | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted December 6, 2011 at 5:40 AM (Answer #1)

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First of all, great question and connection between Othello and Frankenstein.

Second of all, I don't believe anyone is "pure" anything: evil, good, or otherwise.  That's essentialism, and it negates free will.  To say that Iago is pure evil is a specific determiner which limits his individuality and cheapens the complexity of his character.  In fact, he talks Roderigo out of suicide, which is very good.  He speaks of virtue, "our bodies are our gardens," and in the best language possible--all of which is good:

Virtue? a fig! 'Tis in ourselves that we are thus or thus.
Our bodies are gardens, to the which our wills are
gardeners; so that if we will plant nettles or sow lettuce,
set hyssop and weed up thyme, supply it with one gender of herbs or distract it with many, either to have it sterile with idleness or manured with industry, why, the power and corrigible authority of this lies in our wills. If the balance of our lives had not one scale of reason to poise another of sensuality, the blood and baseness of our natures would conduct us to most preposterous conclusions. But we have reason to cool our raging motions, our carnal stings, our unbitted lusts.

In fact, another Enotes editor says this:

Iago says that there is nothing- "a fig,"- no human quality which is innate. Man is born without any inherent qualities...

Third of all, I agree with Mary Wollstonecraft when she says:

No man chooses evil because it is evil; he only mistakes it for happiness, the good he seeks.

So, to apply Wollstonecraft's quote to Iago, I would say that Iago's actions are the result of many factors: revenge, love of evil and chaos, racism, jealousy, and sexual frustration and lust.  In the end, none of these make him happy necessarily; they all lead to anger, blood-lust, and punishment.  After Iago has had a hand in killing Desdemona, Emilia, Roderigo, and Othello, and as he lies silent on the bed of death, he is told by Lodovico:

Spartan dog,
More fell than anguish, hunger, or the sea!
Look on the tragic loading of this bed;
This is thy work. The object poisons sight;
Let it be hid.

What makes Iago happiest is playing the role of the evil, or the devil, out of spite (Othello=Adam; Desdemona=Eve; Cyprus=Eden).  He tells Roderigo, "I am not what I am," a parody of Yahweh's (God's) "I am that I am."  Like the serpent in the garden, Iago uses brilliant language and a knowledge of human weakness to destroy the bliss of paradise.

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