Critical Essays On Iago

While this gross oversimplification of the play based on racist stereotypes seems absurdly simpleminded now, its account of the association of Moorish identity with violent sensuality persisted, in various guises, throughout the nineteenth century.

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8Jameson's work on is also significant for locating the play's fundamental opposition not in the marriage of Desdemona and Othello, which so many of her contemporaries viewed as a hopeless mismatch, but in the relationship between Desdemona and Iago: Had the colours in which [Shakespeare] has arrayed Desdemona been one atom less transparently bright and pure, the charm had been lost; she could not have borne the approximation; some shadow from the overpowering blackness of [Iago's] character must have passed over the sunbright purity of . In the midst of this maelstrom Bradley locates a thoroughly romanticized Othello, a noble and mysterious everyman whose destruction results from the cunning Iago's ability to turn his virtues against him and whose ruin speaks to a universal experience of tragedy.

Like Othello, Desdemona is not a particularized character in Bradley's account, but a representative figure, "the 'eternal womanly' in its most lovely and adorable form, simple and innocent as a child, ardent with the courage and idealism of a saint," and the story of her love for the "noblest soul on earth" becomes for Bradley the story of anyone who has ever aimed high and been held back: "She met in life with the reward of those who rise too far above our common level" (150).

Indeed, Coleridge's claim that Iago's final soliloquy is best understood as "the motive-hunting of motiveless malignity" () remains one of the most quoted assessments of Iago to this day.

7In addition to prompting a reassessment of Iago, the nineteenth-century view of Shakespeare's characters as expressions of fundamental truths about human nature stimulated a growing interest in Desdemona.

Favoring a view of Othello "not as a negro, but a high and chivalrous Moorish chief"—and thereby providing scholarly support for actor Edmund Kean's so-called "tawny" stage Othello—Coleridge reads the tragic hero's actions as the product not of innate and uncontrollable passions, or even of jealousy, but rather as the consequence of moral indignation and wounded honor, and he argues that by generating an empathetic response in the audience the play is finally sympathetic to Othello (0).

Coleridge was also fascinated by the figure of Iago, and his assessment of the play's enigmatic villain as a "passionless character, all in intellect" () influenced readings of the play for decades.

The flash point of critical controversy has most often been the race and social status of its title character, but significant debates have also arisen about the play's dramatic structure, its representation of women, and the powerfully disturbing figure of Iago.

The following discussion sketches in broad strokes some of the most influential literary critical approaches to , including character criticism, formalism, psychoanalysis, and a range of politically inflected approaches such as feminism and new historicism.

And this method, by which the conflict begins late, and advances without appreciable pause and with accelerating speed to the catastrophe, is a main cause of the painful tension" (131). For Knight, Bradley's Romantic reading of the play as an anatomy of generalized human nature misses the point completely. Knights's objection to Bradley, famously articulated in his mockingly-titled essay "How Many Children Had Lady Macbeth" (1933), lies in what he sees as Bradley's refusal to acknowledge Shakespearean tragedy's status as poetry.

This analysis of the structural basis for the feelings of frantic and claustrophobic intensity generated in the play has gone on to shape the insights of many later critics. "In ," Knight claims, "we are faced with the vividly particular rather than the vague and universal," and his own reading of the play focuses on explicating the symbolic function of its characters and celebrating what he calls the play's "formal beauty" (109). Knights accuses Bradley of treating the plays as novels, an approach he claims leads to an erroneous emphasis on their psychological dimensions at the expense of their verbal constructions.


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