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Iago the Meritocrat: Conflicting Interpretations of Individualism in the Early Modern Period
Unformatted Document Text:  It is within that context that Iago can be understood to be a character whose motives are the product of underlying values that Shakespeare could have regarded as being objectionable and, perhaps, even evil. Iago’s motive is based upon his desire not only to obtain revenge for having been denied the position that he feels he truly had earned and deserved (and lost to a person of position and privilege) but to demonstrate that fact to his audience. 35 Therefore, even when he is offering ostensible alternative explanations for his motives, he is not simply taking the audience into his confidence but using it as his forum for proving his case. And what’s he then that says I play the villain? When this advice is free I give and honest, Probal to thinking and indeed the course To win the Moor again? For ‘tis most easy The inclining Desdemona to subdue In any honest suit: she’s framed as fruitful As the free elements. And then for her To win the Moor—were’t to renounce his baptism, All seals and symbols of redeemed sin, His soul is so enfetter’d to her love, That she may make, unmake, do what she list, Even as her appetite shall play the god With his weak function. How am I then a villain To counsel Cassio to this parallel course, Directly to his good? Divinity of hell! When devils will the blackest sins put on, They do suggest at first with heavenly shows, As I do now: for whiles this honest fool Plies Desdemona to repair his fortunes 14

Authors: McHugh, James.
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It is within that context that Iago can be understood to be a character whose
motives are the product of underlying values that Shakespeare could have regarded as
being objectionable and, perhaps, even evil. Iago’s motive is based upon his desire not
only to obtain revenge for having been denied the position that he feels he truly had
earned and deserved (and lost to a person of position and privilege) but to demonstrate
that fact to his audience.
Therefore, even when he is offering ostensible alternative
explanations for his motives, he is not simply taking the audience into his confidence but
using it as his forum for proving his case.
And what’s he then that says I play the villain?
When this advice is free I give and honest,
Probal to thinking and indeed the course
To win the Moor again? For ‘tis most easy
The inclining Desdemona to subdue
In any honest suit: she’s framed as fruitful
As the free elements. And then for her
To win the Moor—were’t to renounce his baptism,
All seals and symbols of redeemed sin,
His soul is so enfetter’d to her love,
That she may make, unmake, do what she list,
Even as her appetite shall play the god
With his weak function. How am I then a villain
To counsel Cassio to this parallel course,
Directly to his good? Divinity of hell!
When devils will the blackest sins put on,
They do suggest at first with heavenly shows,
As I do now: for whiles this honest fool
Plies Desdemona to repair his fortunes
14


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