Coleridge Motiveless Malignity Essay Definition

Coleridge's View on Iago's Soliloquies Essay

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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 subject:-…show more content…

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 evil for its own sake. Writers portrayed these characters simply because they served as a catalyst for drama or acted as a convenient plot device. In this respect, Iago needs no motives for his actions - he is, as Coleridge asserted, a motiveless malignity. This view could be supported by the fact that Shakespeare used a Spanish name for

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  1. 11-28-2008, 02:18 AM#1

    Motiveless malignancy?

    Whats the name of the source/text/essay in which Coleridge described Iago's actions as 'Motiveless Malignancy'? I need the specific source for my scholarship exam tomorrow! Thanks!
  2. 11-28-2008, 03:37 AM#2
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    The phrase "motiveless malignancy" is taken from a note Samuel Taylor Coleridge wrote in his copy of Shakespeare, as he was preparing a series of lectures. The phrase has often been used to mean doing evil because you are evil. He was referring to Iago, and sparked a long ongoing debate on what Iago's motives were, or whether he was just plain evil. The same debate applies when discussing Angelus. Is he just plain evil, end of discussion, or is it more complicated than that? In many ways the phrase "motiveless malignancy" has been taken out of context. What Coleridge actually wrote was:

    "The last Speech, the motive-hunting of motiveless Malignity -- how awful! In itself fiendish -- while yet he was allowed to bear the divine image, too fiendish for his own steady View. -- A being next to Devil -- only not quite Devil!"

    He is saying that Iago in this speech is hunting for motives for his own actions. The motives which are often cited are being passed over for promotion, his suspicion that Othello is having an affair with his wife, and the suspicion that Cassio is also having an affair with Emilia. Yet Coleridge does not see these as motives, simply as rationalisations. By Colridge's own definition of motive:

    "It is a matter of infinite difficulty, but fortunately of comparative indifference, to determine what a man's motive may have been for this or that particular action. Rather seek to learn what his objects in general are! -- What does he habitually wish? habitually pursue? -- and thence deduce his impulses, which are commonly the true effecient causes of men's conduct; and without which the motive itself would not have become a motive."

    What he is saying is that it is not enough just to look for a character's 'motive' for particular actions, that you should look for the underlying impulse and it's cause. Angelus's motive for killing his father, for instance, it would be easy to cite the father's bad treatment of Liam, and Angelus's reaction to this, as the motive, but it is more revealing to look deeper than this and 'deduce' where his impulses come from.

    "Without the perception of this truth, it is impossible to understand the character of Iago, who is represented as now assigning one, and then another, and again a third, motive for his conduct, all 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."

    Coming back again to the premise that the Angelus that emerges in Souless has not existed as a separate entity from Angel all those years, how can we deduce the cause of his behaviour, particularly in Soulless?

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