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pain he inflicts by persuading Othello that he is a fool; that he has been the easy dupe of appearances,—the victim of Desdemona's arts; and that he owes his deliverance to the superior insight and sagacity of his honest faithful ancient.
But there is indeed scarce any wickedness conceivable into which such a pride and lust of intellect and will may not carry a man. Craving for action of the most exciting kind, there is of course a fascination for him in the very danger of crime. Walking the plain, safe, straightforward path of truth and nature, does not excite and occupy him enough; he prefers to thread the dark perilous intricacies of some hellish plot, or to balance himself, as it were, on a rope stretched over an abyss, where danger stimulates and success demonstrates his agility. In short, he has an insatiable itching of mind, which finds relief in rushing and rubbing, so to speak, among the briers and brambles of diabolical undertakings. In inverting the proportion between success and desert there is a tension of thought and a triumph of skill, which serve at once to appease his intellectual restlessness and gratify his intellectual pride. It is as if one should carry a habit of dancing among eggs so far as to make an open floor seem vapid and dull. And even if remorse overtake such a man, its only effect is to urge him still deeper into crime ; as the desperate gamester naturally tries to bury his chagrin at past losses in the increased excitement of a larger stake: for remorse, unless attended with penitence, tends but to augment the guilt from which it springs.
Critics, indeed, have puzzled themselves a good deal
about Iago's motives; but the truth is, as Wordsworth has said of a similar character,
« Natures such as his
There needs no other motive
And indeed acting without or against external motives, suits him better than acting according to them; it falls in more with his ruling propensity, gives greater life and zest to his efforts; and the stronger those opposing motives, the more is his mind stimulated and his pride gratified in thwarting or reversing them: in short, he exemplifies an innate impulse to evil triumphing over all external motives to good.
If it be objected to this view, that lago states his motives to Roderigo; I answer, Iago is a liar, and is trying to dupe and deceive Roderigo: and, though he neither has nor wants any motives, he knows he must allege some to make the other trust him. Or if it be objected, that he states them in the soliloquy where there is no one for him to deceive; again I answer, Yes there is; the very one he is most anxious to deceive, namely, himself: for it is but natural that those who habitually lie to others should at last get to lying to themselves; and, what is more, believe their own lies. And indeed the very terms of this statement clearly denote a foregone conclusion, the motives coming in only as an afterthought: it is the crime that begets the provocation, not
the provocation that suggests the crime; he has no reasons for the act until he has resolved upon doing it. The truth is, he cannot quite look the intended crime in the face; it is the biggest and blackest he has ever undertaken ; a little too fiendish for his steady gaze: in a word, his resolution is rather too much for his con-, science; and he tries to hunt up or conjure up some motives to excuse the one to the other. This is what Coleridge justly calls “the motive-hunting of a motiveless malignity;" and well may he add,“ how awful it is !” That Iago has conscience enough left to beg or make some little ground for such a stupendous villany, is what chiefly distinguishes him from the devil; for, as the author just quoted remarks, he is "a being next to devil, and only not quite devil.” Indeed, he is far more devilish than Milton's Satan: for the latter relents at the prospect of ruining the happiness before him, and prefaces the deed with a gush of pity for the victims; whereas Iago's only thought is:
“O, you are well tuned now !
Much has been said about Iago's acting from revenge; but he has no cause for revenge, unless to deserve his love be such a cause. For revenge implies some injury received, real or fancied, and has some discrimination as to its objects; the very sensibility whence it springs precludes indiscriminate hostility; so that, if this were his motive, he would respect and spare the innocent, while crushing the guilty ; else there were no revenge in the case, The impossibility, indeed, of accounting
for his conduct on such grounds is the very reason why certain critics, assuming such to be the grounds, have pronounced the character unnatural. It is true, he tries to suspect, first that the Moor, and then, finding this insufficient, that Cassio has wronged him: he even finds or feigns a certain rumour to that effect; yet shows by his manner of talking about it that he himself does not believe it; or rather, does not care whether it be true or not: and he seems to avoid investigating its truth lest the investigation should lose him the pretence which the suspicion affords; for he knows better than to peril the existence of so convenient a thing by testing the strength of its basis. In all which Iago but shows a disposition to conjecture some offence, to surmise some provocation, wherewith to keep the scruples of conscience from disturbing the enjoyment of his infernal plot; for he is too finished an epicure in crime not to foreclose the irruption of such visitors upon his luxury. And indeed he elsewhere owns, that the reasons he alleges are but pretences after all :
“ When devils will their blackest sins put on,
Even while using this divinity, he knows it is the “divinity of hell,” else he would scorn to use it; nay, boasts of the intention to entrap his victims through their very friendship for him; as if his obligations to them were his only provocations against them. For, to bad men obligations often are provocations. He even gloats over the prospect of betraying and ruining them through the very qualities for which he ought to love and be
friend them; and nothing gives him greater joy than the thought of turning the lady's virtue and innocence to the destruction of them all. In short, that he ought to admire and honour them, is, I take it, the “poisonous mineral” that “gnaws his inwards :" the only wrong that they have done him, or that he thinks they have done him, is, that he envies them; and he means to indemnify himself for their superiority by ruining them through the very gifts and virtues for which he envies them. Meanwhile he amuses his reasoning powers by inventing a sort of ex-post-facto motives for his designs : the same restless wicked busy-mindedness which suggested the crime prompts him to play with the possible reasons and motives for it; as men often choose the wrong side of an argument as being better adapted to exercise and exhibit their powers of reasoning.
Finally: Iago seems to have a peculiar species of jealousy; a jealousy springing from intellect and will : he appears to make himself jealous whenever it will serve his turn. Hence, when he finds his plot upon Cassio rather too diabolical for his surviving conscience to face, he has no difficulty in "suspecting Cassio with his night-cap too.” Thus jealousy serves him as a sort of extemporary and occasional subterfuge ; he lies himself, whenever it will suit his purpose, into a kind of semi-belief that he has been wronged. In short, his jealousy is but the purveyor to his intellectual lust, the jackall which his restless and reckless intellectuality sends ahead to scent out and waylay its prey. In this respect he is not unlike certain gossiping busy-bodies and mischief-makers, those pests and plagues of country villages, whose minds have no repose but in restlessness,