Othello Questions and Answers
by William Shakespeare

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Explain Iago's "motiveless malignity" in Othello.

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The notion of Iago being possessed of a "motiveless malignity" is a theory advanced by the poet Coleridge concerning the character of Iago. It argues that Iago's desire for revenge is not actually rooted in rational desire for a specific end, but rather that the specific motives Iago claims, namely, being cuckolded and passed over for promotion, are mere rationalizations of a deep seated resentment and anger and, as Coleridge states, a "keen sense of his intellectual superiority" and his "love of exerting power." In this, Coleridge is attempting to analyze the difference between the immediate motives we assign for our actions and the deeper psychological origins of our desires and impulses.

More recent cultural critics have noted that Iago is what we now would call a "privileged" or "entitled" white man from an upper-class family who is deeply resentful that Othello , a black man who has advanced on pure talent, is his superior. We might now identify this "motiveless malignity" as...

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