Villains, Sin, and Sex in Shakespeare's Othello and King Lear

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Villains, Sin, and Sex in Othello and King Lear

Many of Shakespeare plays are littered with crude and graphic sexual references, jests, and insults. But there is one type of character present throughout Shakespeare's plays that twist the sexual imagery and repartee, and that is the villain. There is a deeply rooted combination between sex and evil. This essay will develop this idea in depth by focusing on Iago of Othello and Edmund of King Lear.

Iago is probably viewed as one of Shakespeare's greatest villains. He's calm, cool, collected, and simply put: brilliant. He manipulates Othello, the moor's lieutenant Cassio, Desdemona's scorned suitor Roderigo, her father Brabantio, and his own wife Emilia with such
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While Roderigo is a gentleman, and polite, Iago is crude. "Even now, now, very now, an old black ram is tupping your white ewe. Arise, arise! Awake the snorting citizens with the bell, or else the devil will make a grandsire of you. Arise, I say!" (AI, SI, L 88-92) This blatantly graphic imagery is used to not only grab the senator's attention, but set the tone of Iago's tactics. When Roderigo's pleas with Brabantio begin to flag, once again we are treated to the villain's "eloquent" tongue. "...you'll have your daughter cover'd with a Barbary horse, you'll have your nephews neigh to you; you'll have coursers for cousins, and gennets for germans." (AI, SI, L 111-113) This particular quote sets up the worst possible thoughts of sexual deviancy that Iago can come up with. His tactless and disturbing words about intercourse with animals are purposely flung at the senator to enrage him, even though he does not fully grasp what has happened. When Brabantio learns of his daughter's betrayal, the evilness of these words strike home, and he seeks out Othello, fully armed.

But this instance is just one of the little clusters of icing on Iago's cake, for he furnishes his grand scheme with another sexual attack, this time in the form of unfaithfulness. Being the moor's confidant, he begins to subtlety hint that Desdemona has betrayed him with Cassio, which enflames Othello's jealousy, causing him to wrongfully analyze every move made between his wife and lieutenant.
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