Coleridge's View on Iago's Soliloquies
The phrase "the motive-hunting of a motiveless malignity" occurs in a
note that Coleridge wrote concerning the end of Act 1 Scene 3 of
Othello in which Iago takes leave of Roderigo saying, "Go to,
farewell. Put money enough in your purse", and then delivers the
soliloquy beginning "Thus do I ever make my fool my purse".
When evaluating Coleridge's view, it is important to put the word
"motive" into context. We use it to mean an emotion, desire, a
physiological need - an impulse that acts as an incitement to action.
This definition equates "motive" and " impulse"; Coleridge, however,
thought the two quite different. Here is what he wrote on the
Iago is represented as now assigning one, and then another, and again
a third motive for his conduct, alike the mere fictions of his own
restless nature, distempered by a keen sense of his intellectual
superiority, and haunted by the love of exerting power on those
especially who are his superiors in practical and moral excellence.
Thus Coleridge asserts that Iago's impulses are simply to carry out
evil acts - he has an inner malignancy that drives his "keen sense of
his intellectual superiority" and his "love of exerting power". And so
Iago's malignity is "motiveless" because his motives - being passed
over for promotion, his suspicion that Othello and later Cassio are
having affairs with Emelia - are merely rationalisations for his
impulses; his drive to do evil.
There is much evidence in the text to support this theory of Iago.
Shakespeare does much to allude to the fact that Iago loves evil for
his own sake and thus has his own inner malignancy. At the end of his
first soliloquy Iago pledges himself to the demonic in his last two
"I have't. It is engendered! Hell and night
Must bring this monstrous birth to the world's light"
Shakespeare often uses night to represent disorder and chaos - both
Acts I and V of Othello are set at night. Daylight usually brings
reason and restoration of order. By using Hell and night as parents of
his plan, Iago shows his commitment to evil - his desire to
counterbalance the virtue embodied by the "world's light". Further
proof that Iago's dedication to committing foul acts is driven by no
other reason but the baseness of the acts themselves occurs in his
soliloquy at the end of Act II where he speaks of the "divinity of
hell" by which he is governed.
Thus it could be said that Iago is a character whose sole impulse is
to commit evil deeds - evil is his object and his motives are mere
excuses or trite justifications. Such a character was typical of
Elizabethan tragedies - at the time sins were personified in plays and
villains were just thoroughly bad; they loved...