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Essay on Abnormal Psychology and Othello

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To what extent is the science of abnormal psychology involved in the characterization in William Shakespeare’s tragic drama Othello? This essay will answer that question.

Blanche Coles in Shakespeare’s Four Giants affirms the Bard’s commitment to abnormal psychology, and his employment of same in this play:

That Shakespeare was keenly interested in the study of the abnormal mind is commonly accepted among students. [. . .] The suggestion that Iago may have been intentionally drawn as a psychopathic personality is not new. [. . .] Even a casual scrutiny of a book on case histories of psychopathic patients will find Iago peeping out from many of its pages. Still more, Iago’s name will be found appearing occasionally in bold print in
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While he and Desdemona and Emilia are lounging about at the port in Cyprus awaiting the arrival of the Moor’s ship, Desdemona tries to analyze how his mind and feelings work, for he seems to be habitually critical of his wife. She concludes that he is a “slanderer” and that he is full of “old fond paradoxes to make fools laugh in th’ alehouse.”

His clever machinations cause grief for every character who has continued contact with him. He deceives Roderigo about the affections of Desdemona: “Desdemona is directly in love with him [Cassio].” He deceptively lures Cassio into drunkenness where he is vulnerable to taunts and thus loses his officership. He further lures him into Desdemona’s presence so that Othello can find him there and be more suspicious: “Was not that Cassio parted from my wife?” Iago misinforms Montano regarding Cassio (“And ‘tis great pity that the noble Moor / Should hazard such a place as his own second / With one of an ingraft infirmity.”) Iago uses Emilia to pass the kerchief, which “so often you did bid me steal,” to him rather than to its owner. He manipulates the Moor into incorrect views about Desdemona, about Iago himself (“Iago is most honest”), about Cassio’s relationship with Desdemona, etc. Iago even diverts suspicion of the ambush against Cassio against his prostitute-friend Bianca. In cold blood he eventually murders his gift-giver, Roderigo, so that the wealthy playboy can’t
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