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.
has always been a popular play with acting companies and audiences, and over the centuries it has occasioned considerable and varied response among scholars.
While many critics have regarded it as one of Shakespeare's most successful plays, there have been vocal detractors, both early in the play's life and more recently.
While Bradley's brand of character criticism—his practice of treating the literary text as a "little world of persons" (28) populated by characters whose behavior could be explored just as one might discuss the behavior of one's neighbors—is the defining feature of his approach to Shakespeare's tragedies, he is also attuned to matters of dramatic structure.
Critical Essays On Iago
Of , he argues that it was "not only the most masterly of the tragedies in point of construction, but its method of construction is unusual. Leavis, and again more recently by poststructuralist critics.
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.
Discussing Desdemona at length, Jameson describes her in amusingly patronizing terms as "one in whom the absence of intellectual power is never felt as a deficiency, nor the absence of energy of will as impairing the dignity, nor the most imperturbable serenity as a want of feeling: one in whom thoughts appear mere instincts, the sentiment of rectitude supplies the principle, and virtue itself seems rather a necessary state of being, than an imposed law" (224). To the brutish coarseness and fiendish malignity of this man, her gentleness appears only a contemptible weakness; her purity of affection . (64) 's horror lies not in the affectionate relationship of the white-skinned Desdemona and the black-skinned Othello, but rather in the profound clash between the virtuous Desdemona and the malevolent Iago.
Desdemona is, on Jameson's account, a young woman who is neither clever nor dynamic, and whose dominant features—her goodness and gentleness—are both beyond her control and inadequate to ensure her survival: "Desdemona displays at times a transient energy, arising from the power of affection, but gentleness gives the prevailing tone to the character—gentleness in excess—gentleness verging on passivity—gentleness which not only cannot resent—but cannot resist" (218). 9Critical interest in "the most painfully exciting and the most terrible" of the tragedies, arguing that "the reader's heart and mind are held in a vice, experiencing the extremes of pity and fear, sympathy and repulsion, sickening hope and dreadful expectation" (131).