Villains, Sin, and Sex in Othello and King Lear
Many of Shakespeare plays are littered with crude and graphic sexual references, jests, and insults. But there is one type of character present throughout Shakespeare's plays that twist the sexual imagery and repartee, and that is the villain. There is a deeply rooted combination between sex and evil. This essay will develop this idea in depth by focusing on Iago of Othello and Edmund of King Lear.
Iago is probably viewed as one of Shakespeare's greatest villains. He's calm, cool, collected, and simply put: brilliant. He manipulates Othello, the moor's lieutenant Cassio, Desdemona's scorned suitor Roderigo, her father Brabantio, and his own wife Emilia with such masterful skill and ease, that there is no stopping him until it's too late. But what is this great skill that he wields at his victims? What hideous power can Iago possibly posses in order to pull the great puppeteer's strings? It's sex.
While Iago is not a sexual being per say, he certainly wields a sexually edged blade when he begins to attack his victims. In the grand scheme of things, he is angry that Othello has passed him over for the rank of lieutenant, and Iago wants his revenge. In order to complete his vendetta against the moor, he uses a sexually charged scheme that carefully embroils others to unwittingly aid him in his goal. In the very first scene of the play, Iago pulls in the jilted suitor Roderigo to begin his revenge. The moor has secretly married Desdemona, and now Iago plans to begin his downfall by informing her father. Roderigo is coerced into this plot by his own lust for the senator's daughter, which Iago exploits to his fullest capabilities. While trying to rouse Brabantio from his house, we see for the first time, Iago's blatant use of sexuality for his own means. While Roderigo is a gentleman, and polite, Iago is crude. "Even now, now, very now, an old black ram is tupping your white ewe. Arise, arise! Awake the snorting citizens with the bell, or else the devil will make a grandsire of you. Arise, I say!" (AI, SI, L 88-92) This blatantly graphic imagery is used to not only grab the senator's attention, but set the tone of Iago's tactics. When Roderigo's pleas with Brabantio begin to flag, once again we are treated to the villain's "eloquent" tongue. "...you'll have your daughter cover'd with a Barbary horse, you'll have your nephews neigh to you; you'll have coursers for cousins, and gennets for germans." (AI, SI, L 111-113) This particular quote sets up the worst possible thoughts of sexual deviancy that Iago can come up with. His tactless and disturbing words about intercourse with animals are purposely flung at the senator to enrage him, even though he does not fully grasp what has happened. When Brabantio learns of his daughter's betrayal, the evilness of these words strike home, and he seeks out Othello, fully armed.
But this instance is just one of the little...