jueves, 31 de marzo de 2016




Here are some folktales that may have inspired the Bard and their original endings. Some of them may turn out to be surprising, like tragedies originally having happy endings or comedies originally being rife with cruelty. Shakespeare may have changed some things for dramatic effect and/or assuming the audience knew the age-old folktales since their childhood or adolescence...

  • King Lear: "Coat o'Rushes/Juana, the Princess of Salt/Marishka's Salt/The Turkey Girl" (the story unfurls just like King Lear, but with a happy ending: the youngest princess and her aged father, after recognizing one another and reuniting during a feast at her court, both survive their ordeal, he lives with her happily ever after).
  • Hamlet: "Havelok" (the dethroned prince of Denmark is fully orphaned by the usurper and whisked away for his safety by sympathetic assassins to Saxon-era England; he is at first a "Cinderelliott" kind of abused manservant, but manages to marry a Saxon princess in his same plight, the fair Goldborough; the two young former royals return together to Denmark, defeat both usurpers, and become king and queen of both realms), Horus/Jason/Forseti/Krishna, "The Child Born from an Egg" (the rightful heir, raised in exile, learns about his heritage, comes of age, and, after a long struggle, successfully defeats the usurper, attaining the rightful place, usually a throne, that was wrested from him).
  • Othello: "Genevieve de Brabant," "The Countess of Toggenburg" (a treacherous advisor manages to convince his married liege lord that his wife is unfaithful; the ostensibly killed wife survives and lives an ascetic life; the husband, upon learning the truth, punishes the treacherous advisor, then, having thought his wife dead for a long time, suddenly comes across her by chance, they recognize one another and she forgives his spouse, both leave the cloister and return to the castle hand in hand, reconciled), "Kuchisake-onna" (there is no Iago figure, but the husband accuses the innocent wife of adultery and punishes by slitting her mouth into a Glasgow grin from ear to ear, she dies from the bleeding and becomes a yókai [i.e. a supernatural spirit], haunting lonely streets at twilight, the lower half of her face covered in a surgical mask; she asks the lonely passer-by if she looks good, if the answer is "no," she kills that person on the spot... but if the answer is "yes," she unmasks herself and repeats the question; again, a "no" for an answer means instant death, while a "yes" means that she'll slit the victim's mouth from ear to ear, so that it looks like hers), "Satomi Hakkenden" (the Daikaku backstory subplot; reserved young toymaker Kakutaro marries noble heiress Hinagiku against his stepmother's wishes; Hinagiku swallows Kakutaro's magic rosary bead to protect it from her stepmother-in-law, which causes the young wife's belly to swell; subsequently, Kakutaro's stepmother convinces him that Hinagiku has had an affair and is expecting a bastard child; when Kakutaro confronts Hinagiku, she guts herself with a sword [commits seppuku] to prove her maidenhead and lack of pregnancy, thus proving her innocence at the cost of her life and making her husband retrieve the bead he had lost; after beheading the conniving stepmother, Kakutaro takes on the name of Daikaku and joins other warriors with the same birthmark he has and similar sob story backgrounds who were just passing through the village, since his destiny is intertwined with theirs). ACCORDING TO JACK ZIPES: Here, the plot generally concerns [···] the demonic power from whom she has escaped interferes with her life when [···] her husband is away fighting a war or taking care of some urgent business. She is forced to flee into a forest, [···] Her husband returns from his journey and learns how he has been deceived. He pursues his wife and is reunited with her.
  • Romeo and Juliet: "Pyramus and Thisbe" (the star-crossed lovers live in ancient Mesopotamia; their elopement rendezvous goes pear-shaped when she loses her shawl, which is blood-stained by a passing-by lioness [there were Asian lions in those days], causing her boyfriend to believe she is dead and stab himself, which then, when the maiden returns and sees her lover with a dagger through his heart, causes her to stab herself as well; the blood of both lovers dyes some cherries, which hitherto had been white; that's why these fruits are red), "Layla and Maymun," "Farhat and Shireen" (the Middle East is full of stories about lovers whose parents oppose their marriage and who are only reunited in death: Farhat is told by the shah, Shireen's fiancé, the false news of her death and, brokenhearted, jumps off a cliff in despair; Shireen kills herself to avoid marrying the shah).
  • Titus Andronicus: Tereus/Atreus/"Blancaflor and Filomena," "The Juniper"/"Peterkin and Little Mary" (innocent children are slaughtered like livestock by the villains, then cooked and served as meat dishes to their [the slain and cooked children's] unwitting parents, who eat the meat; the motivation is usually revenge).

  • The Taming of the Shrew: "The Lad who Married a Wild Maiden" (the young husband commands several farm animals to give him water in a cup and kills them when they do not obey; then, upon giving his wife the same command, she, frightened, hastens to fill his cup), "The Wooing of Gerda" (cold-hearted, indifferent giantess Gerda is forced to marry fertility god Frey, being threatened at swordpoint with a life of loneliness and hardships if she refuses to marry him),"King/Haakon Thrushbeard" (as punishment for her conduct, the shrewish princess is forced to marry a minstrel, who takes her out of her kingdom into his own, then forces her to do manual labour to survive [first as basket-maker, then as kitchen-maid at court]. The minstrel she has married turns out to be the same prince whom she had mocked at her own court as one of her suitors at the start of the story, and they are reconciled), "The Nicky Nicky Nye" (Jamie's aunt Mary tells him to observe certain rituals to appease the titular freshwater spirit, his young wife Nora accidentally desecrates their water well, the green hand and head of the Nicky Nye emerge every now and then from the water and frighten her; only when the freshwater spirit threatens her baby does mother Nora confront and vanquish her fears).
  • The Merchant of Venice: "The Three Caskets" (gender-flipped; a common girl chooses the plain leaden casket and becomes the crown prince's bride), "The Two Caskets/The Lady's Daughter and the Stepdaughter" (Scandinavian version of "Frau Holle": the kind stepdaughter, upon leaving the underworld, chooses a plain wooden casket that turns out to be full of treasure; while the spoiled heiress, her stepsister, upon leaving the underworld, chooses an ornate, jewelled casket that turns out to be full of vermin).
  • Much Ado About Nothing: "Genevieve de Brabant," "The Countess of Toggenburg" (a treacherous advisor manages to convince his married liege lord that his wife is unfaithful; the ostensibly killed wife survives and lives an ascetic life; the husband, upon learning the truth, punishes the treacherous advisor, then, having thought his wife dead for a long time, suddenly comes across her by chance, they recognize one another and she forgives his spouse, both leave the cloister and return to the castle hand in hand, reconciled).
  • Twelfth Night: "The Warrior Damsel/Belle-Belle/Fât-Frumos/Fantaghirò/Fa Mulan" (the heroine, heiress to a military family and raised as a boy, joins the army in her ailing father's place; she is hailed as a military hero; gender confusion and romance ensue, no twin brother [she is either an only child or the eldest/youngest out of many sisters]), "The Three Crowns/Fifine" (the heroine leaves her home in drag to escape a loveless arranged marriage; gender confusion and romance ensue, no twin brother [she is an only child]), "The Turkey Girl" (Spanish King Lear version [see under King Lear] in which the innocent youngest princess cross-dresses in exile), "The Twelve Huntsmen" (the heroine cross-dresses to be close to her fiancé, who has accepted an arranged marriage, without being recognized; gender confusion and romance ensue; in the end, he recognizes his ex-fiancée, they reconcile and marry for love, the intended bride forgives her fiancé and accepts his decision, no twin brother [she is an only child]), "Silverwhite and Littlebeau/The Twin Knights/Oliver and Arthur" (the estranged twin's fiancée/wife mistakes his twin brother, whom she does not know of, for her partner; he puts a sword in between them in bed to represent their chastity; when the betrothed/married twin is rescued, he jumps to conclusions and kills/seriously injures his single brother; only upon realizing the sword of chastity in bed does he realize the truth and manage to heal/resurrect his twin; all three are reconciled).
  • The Comedy of Errors: "Silverwhite and Littlebeau/The Twin Knights/Oliver and Arthur" (the estranged twin's fiancée/wife mistakes his twin brother, whom she does not know of, for her partner; he puts a sword in between them in bed to represent their chastity; when the betrothed/married twin is rescued, he jumps to conclusions and kills/seriously injures his single brother; only upon realizing the sword of chastity in bed does he realize the truth and manage to heal/resurrect his twin; all three are reconciled).
  • Pericles: "Snow White" (an innocent maiden persecuted by her envious stepmother/guardian, who commands that she should be assassinated; the maiden is sent by the sympathetic hitman into exile, where she winds up living among rough manly men [mining dwarves in the folktale, pirates in Shakespeare]; she wins the heart of a young prince and claims her rightful heritage).
  • Cymbeline: "Snow White" (an innocent maiden persecuted by her envious stepmother/guardian, who commands that she should be assassinated; the maiden is sent by the sympathetic hitman into exile, where she winds up living among rough manly men [mining dwarves in the folktale, woodsmen in Shakespeare]; she wins the heart of a young prince and claims her rightful heritage), "The Trojan Trunk [motif found, for instance, in the Decameron]" (Othello version in which the villain manages to convince that he's slept with another man's wife/fiancée by producing a jewel of hers and/or knowing where she has a certain birthmark and/or what her bedchamber looks like; the villain had entered the couple's bedchamber in secret, concealed inside a trunk [hence my "Trojan trunk" designation]; the brokenhearted husband/fiancé commands that his partner be put to death, or leaves her to her fate; she survives and attains her former status; the estranged couple reunite when, once he is made aware of the truth, their paths cross once more by chance, they recognize one another and reconcile).
  • A Midsummer Night's Dream: this one is a true confluence of fairytale traditions: beautiful and redoubtable fey king Oberon and his queen; trickster sprite Puck or Robin Goodfellow, who may be one of the inspirations for Robin Hood; love potions and the plants used to brew them, in particular the wild pansy (Viola tricolor), called by folk names "heartsease," "kiss me quick," and "love in idleness."


Here is the Pecorone account of the Forged Letters episode. Notice anything strange compared to other versions?

Ma la madre del re, per aver tolto costei, non si volse trovare a sì fatte nozze; ma con molta collera se ne andò ad una sua terra. [···] al re suo marito convenne con grosso esercito andare ad una isola che si era ribellata; [···]  il vicerè lo scrisse al suo signore; e colui che portò la lettera arrivò nel castello dove dimorava la madre del re, e quivi si posò, e diede nuove alla madre del re, la quale da doppia ira mossa, quando la notte il corriere dormiva gli cambiò le lettere che ’l portava, [···]; e il giorno seguente, onorato il corriere, lo licenziò, commettendogli che alla tornata facesse la via di là oltra; il che egli promettendogliene, si partì, e cavalcando arrivò all’oste, e pose la falsa lettera in mano del suo signiore, il quale leggendo e intendendo così fatta cosa, ne rimase stupito, e nondimanco scrisse al suo vicerè, che sarebbe presto; e spacciato il medesimo messo con lettere, se ne restò molto dolente. Il corriere prese le lettere, e come egli aveva promesso, passò, dal castello ove dimorava la madre del suo signore, ed ivi si riposò, e la notte mentre che dormiva, la donna gli tolse le lettere del figliuolo, e lettele ed inteso il tenore, ne restò dolente; e in vece della vera, ne scrisse una falsa, [···] Il corriere, non sapendo di ciò niente, si partì, e giunto al vicerè, gli presentò la lettera, il quale leggendola ne restò maravigliato, e domandò il messo chi gli aveva data quella lettera; al quale egli disse: Il re proprio; e in segno di ciò egli si turbò tutto, leggendo quella che gli mandaste.

Indeed. Have you discovered it? Here, simply, "il corriere dormiva," not specified if whether through ethyl-induced (or otherwise drug-induced) stupor, but more because of sleep as a biological need and due to exhaustion/overexertion from having spent all day riding on horseback (compare the throne-room climax of "Stenbocks kurir" by Carl Snoilsky!). Interestingly, the same circumstances happen in The Maiden Without Hands, compiled by the Grimms, in which Satan himself is the antagonist:

Nach einem Jahre mußte der König über Feld ziehen, da befahl er die junge Königin seiner Mutter und sprach ›haltet und verpflegt sie wohl und schreibt mirs gleich in einem Briefe.‹ Da schrieb es die alte Mutter eilig und meldete ihm die frohe Nachricht. Der Bote aber ruhte unterwegs an einem Bache, und da er von dem langen Wege ermüdet war, schlief er ein. Da kam der Teufel, welcher der frommen Königin immer zu schaden trachtete, und vertauschte den Brief mit einem andern, darin stand, daß die Königin einen Wechselbalg zur Welt gebracht hätte. Als der König den Brief las, erschrak er und betrübte sich sehr, doch schrieb er zur Antwort, sie sollten die Königin wohl halten und pflegen bis zu seiner Ankunft. Der Bote ging mit dem Brief zurück, ruhte an der nämlichen Stelle und schlief wieder ein. Da kam der Teufel abermals und legte ihm einen andern Brief in die Tasche, darin stand, sie sollten die Königin mit ihrem Kinde töten. Die alte Mutter erschrak heftig, als sie den Brief erhielt, konnte es nicht glauben und schrieb dem Könige noch einmal, aber sie bekam keine andere Antwort, weil der Teufel dem Boten jedesmal einen falschen Brief unterschob: und in dem letzten Briefe stand noch, sie sollten zum Wahrzeichen Zunge und Augen der Königin aufheben.

Here, the mention of a desperate need for rest due to exhaustion is explicit: the messenger takes a rest and ultimately falls asleep "da er von dem langen Wege ermüdet war," "Tired from his long journey, he fell asleep." 
"But the messenger, weary with the long distance,
rested by a brook
and was in fact so tired 

that he fell asleep."
One may speak of exhaustion, or burnout, in modern terms, and recall (never a better image) the Snoilsky tableau of Stenbock's Messenger reeling and finally collapsing in the throne room:

Men vilket sorl i trappan!
Nu dörr på dörr slås opp.
Fontanger och peruker
en viskning genomlopp.
En kammarsven förkunnar:
"Kurirn, ers majestät!"
Med vördnad träder hovet
tillbaka några fjät.

Av två drabanter ledes
en halvt avsvimmad man,
i tunga ryttarstövlar
med möda vacklar han.
Vart steg på golvet lämnar
ett spår av Sveriges jord.
Han bjuder till att tala —
då tryta sans och ord.

miércoles, 30 de marzo de 2016


When I hit puberty, I became acquainted with Stephen King (among other fictions) for the first time. And the first book that interested me, and that I saw the film of on TV, was Needful Things, the first novel King wrote after going through rehab.
The title of the novel comes from the name of the shop that the (ostensibly) charming yet (actually) sinister stranger Leland Gaunt opens and runs within the quaint, idyllic New England village of Castle Rock (doesn't the name of the place recall the fortress setting of Othello?). The shop, yes, is called Needful Things, and Mr. Gaunt sells anything his customers are looking for (from books or CDs to, let's say, drugs, or sacred relics!) at surprisingly low prices. However, Gaunt expects every single customer to, in exchange for the goods, play a prank on someone else in Castle Rock. Knowing the power dynamics within the community, the shopkeeper expects the practical jokes to escalate and lead to feuds between the various local households, towards utter chaos and violence. And so it happens. Exactly as Mr. Gaunt expected. To add insult to injury, he manages to escape in the heat of the turmoil and set up another shop, called Answered Prayers, in another village in another New England state: just like the Thénardiers, Leland Gaunt thrives and manages to escape every sanction that the laws may impose on him, not regretting anything at all. It is implied that he has followed this MO of granting wishes to sow discord and unreason, and harvest souls, for centuries, maybe millennia, gathering souls in exchange for the things their victims want the most.
My father explained to me his headcanon that Gaunt was Satan incarnate.
As I lay reading essays and thinking of how Iago exploits the desires of others (pretty much like the prototypical "little red demon on your left shoulder"), I thought of Leland Gaunt. Like the shopkeeper, Iago is ostensibly charming, loyal, or concerned, yet always sinister at heart, sowing discord and unreason by offering his victims what they hope for or desire the most. Of course Iago sells "needful things" as well...
Indeed, one of the unique characterististics of Othello is that the final action of the play is so little the result of previous actions, and so much the consequence of changes in opinion wrought in the characters during the play. And perhaps the best way to see what these opinions are is through the activities of Iago. Iago is a villain, no doubt; but his villainy is not shallow; he has a clear grasp of what is most important to everyone (with the possible exception of Emilia), and he acts on all the persons only through their own opinions. In each case, the individual can be justly regarded as responsible for his own troubles; Iago only precipitates something that was already there. He works like a confidence man; only the quality intrinsic to the one he tempts enables him to succeed. He is a faithful mirror of all around him; he adapts himself to those with whom he speaks. In a sense, we would not know the other characters in the play without Iago. We would see them only as they appear in ordinary life, without penetrating the masks that conceal their real natures. Iago alone lets us know from the outset those weaknesses in others that would otherwise stand unrevealed until the crises of their lives. Iago shows the hidden necessity in men, the things they care about most; he has a diabolic insight. He offers men what they hope for, and, in so doing, he causes their characters to undergo the extreme test. For example, it is possible that Roderigo might have forgotten Desdemona and married someone else. But in appealing to Roderigo's defeated suit, in offering him hope, Iago makes him display his petty and absurd nature, full of spite and envy, capable of extreme folly and crime in a spirit of innocent stupidity. Roderigo is such a fool as thinks he can buy the favors of a queen. Iago is only the catalyst of Roderigo's folly. If Roderigo had not come to ruin, his salvation would have been sheer accident. Now, Iago proposes as his supreme task to encompass the downfall of Othello; and it is through Iago's actions and speech that we can see his catalytic agency upon Othello, and thereby see the necessity which shapes the tragic end. 

In last year's blog advent calendar, I wrote about wishes and weakness for a long time:

"The Stoics, enemies of the Epicureans and a great influence on totalitarianisms, said there were four passions to be shunned, and I think the strongest, and my personal favourite, is desire, also called hope. To me, it has got a power that neither joy, grief, nor fear possess. Desire, also known as hope, is the expectation of a future good, the wish for a future good. It can move mountains, start wars, lead to a signature at Runnymede, or to a victory at Breitenfeld, make an unusually intelligent princess meet her intellectual equal and become his partner, but also make a resented non-com betray the young lieutenant who "usurped" his commission. Yes, desire packs the most potent punch of all four passions, and it is also the source of positive emotions... but of disappointment, regret, ennui, fear of the inner emptiness... as well.
But... can a person bereft of emotions and passions be truly virtuous, or an empty shell?"

And I wrapped that essay up with these words:
"To wrap it up, let's reflect on the Tale of the Three Brothers, compiled by Beedle the Bard. As you may know, Death grants each of the titular bros a wish. One chooses invincibility, another chooses resurrection of a loved one, while the third one, who had been ruminating his wish the most, opts for something that will let him escape Death: the Reaper gives him his own invisible cloak. While the two more impulsive brothers, who made irrational wishes thinking only of the short-term effects, died untimely and violent deaths, the third one lived to a ripe old age. Many few people make such sensible wishes: desire is a passion, and thus, usually beyond the limits of reason. Most of us make irrational wishes on impulse and thinking only of instant gratification, as seen in Othello and The Rape of the Lock, the Westeros 'verse and Doki!Doki PrecureZenkiShugo Chara Doki!, and the tales compiled by Beedle the Bard, the Tale of the Three Brothers being the clearest and most extreme example."
We should also add Needful Things and Miraculous Ladybug to this list of narratives, as well as many seasons of Kamen Rider. And Yu-Gi-Oh ZeXal. And the Evillious Chronicles. That makes a whole catalogue of fiction about the pernicious effects of desires. Your Heart's Desire, More Than Mind Control, and The Heartless are among my favourite tropes for a good reason.

In Buddhism, the tempter demon who personifies unwholesome impulses and passions is known as Kama-Mara: Desire-Death. Desire leading to Death, the life-drive and the death-drive as being two halves of a whole, eros kái thánatos. Kama-Mara has three "daughters" or offshoots: Attraction, Aversion, and Attachment. The Attraction, whose original name (tanhä) literally means "thirst," is the desire to hold on to pleasurable experiences and be separated from unpleasant ones. In itself, it can be classified into three kinds:
1) desire for sensory pleasures, power, ideals... (life-drive for pleasant experiences),
2) desire for identity and security (life-drive for the self to exist),
3) desire to escape suffering (death-drive, for escape from negativity).
It's non-deliberate, unsatisfactory, and addictive, hence why it is traditionally symbolized by (ethyl) intoxication, the metaphor that most conveniently embodies all of these aspects.
Desire [i.e. taṇhā] causes suffering by its own nature because it is inherently unsatisfactory. Desire means deprivation. To want something is to lack it, to be deprived of it. We do not want things we have, we only want things we don't have. Desiring means not having, being frustrated, suffering. Desiring is suffering. This is a most important insight, one which we drive into secrecy by our refusal to acknowledge it, thus creating the esoteric knowledge we then seek.
The Attachment, raga or "passion," attachment or desire for what we like, which produces frustration, is, for being grasping, traditionally compared to a so-called sticky trap, such as (to quote the most famous example of one in Western culture) the Tar Baby in Southern US lore: Brer Fox makes this dummy out of tar and attempts to use it to trap Brer Rabbit. Offended by the Tar Baby's ostensible lack of manners, the Rabbit tries to punch the sticky stranger, only to get his left paw stuck in the tar figure. Trying to free himself with the right paw he has free, he subsequently gets his right paw stick into the tar as well. Then, Brer Rabbit tries to free himself with his feet, first the left and then the right: all four of his limbs get, one by one, stuck in the tar trap at the end of the day (Also: in Spain, the tar baby or "muñeco de brea" is a popular folk motif). The tar baby stories refer to problems worsened by intervention. 
Raga is described as being sticky and absorbing, grasping like the tar baby of folklore. It's part of human nature, irrational, and indelible... psychological, yet more primordial and inextricable than reason:
When we experience something like chocolate, for example, as pleasant, we a establish a neuronal connection that equates chocolate with the physical sensation of enjoyment. This is not to say that chocolate in itself is a good or bad thing. There are lots of chemicals in chocolate that create a physical sensation of pleasure. It’s our neuronal attachment to chocolate that creates problems.
The same thing about chocolate can be said for ethanol, or sweets, or fat, or bright colours, or cuteness, or love, or power, or excitement. All seven deadly sins are inherently various forms of raga, which arise from different self-preservation, social, and sexual concerns:
  1. Pride is, at heart, self-esteem, being pleased with one's own status, taken to the extreme.
  2. Envy is a useful tool for comparing one's own status to that of others, and it drives one to surpass others, and thus to rise, in status.
  3. Anger is the fight half of the fight-or-flight reaction, meant to impose on enemies and to defend one's own rights and possessions.
  4. Laziness, or rather apathy, is just the state of mind when one is in a no-mood without any emotions and just needs to relax after too many passions and too much pressure.
  5. Greed is just raising one's number of possessions for extra security. For being extra secured.
  6. Gluttony is just like greed but applied to consumption of substances: overfeeding for extra security. For being extra secured.
  7. Lust is love of the erotic kind that has grown too passionate and beyond the lover's control.
Raga is (together with ignorance and hatred) considered one of the three poisons that cause suffering in the Buddhist tradition (at least, there are three in the mainstream: other traditions, with five or six poisons, also count raga in their ranks), and, likewise, the deadly sins top the charts of human weaknesses in the Judeo-Christian Western tradition.
The Japanese names of some of the Catholic deadly sins (greed and lust, to be more precise) end with the kanji  yoku, "desire," the Japanese equivalent of the Sanskrit raga. This is interesting indeed, showing a confluence/convergence of Western and Eastern hamartiology.
A key offshoot of raga is restlessness or excitement, a mental factor characterised by disquietude, like rippling waters or a fluttering flag. The reason why I dwell upon it is obvious:
Restlessness (or agitation) has the characteristic of disquietude, like water whipped by the wind. Its function is to make the mind unsteady, as the wind makes a banner ripple. It is manifested as turmoil. Its proximate cause is unwise attention to mental disquiet.
It has mental excitement as characteristic like wind-tossed water; wavering as function, like a flag waving in the wind; whirling as manifestation like scattered ashes struck by a stone; unsystematic thought owing to mental excitement as proximate cause; and it should be regarded as mental distraction over an object of excitement.
The commentaries illustrate with similes that when there is uddhacca, there is no steadiness, there is not the stable condition, the calm, of kusala. When there is uddhacca there is forgetfulness of kusala, whereas when there is mindfulness, sati, there is watchfulness, non-forgetfulness of kusala, be it generosity, morality, the development of calm or insight. Mindfulness is watchful so that the opportunity for kusala is not wasted.
What is auddhatya? It is restlessness of mind which is associated with passion-lust (raga) that gets involved with things considered to he enjoyable. Its function is to obstruct quietness.
Excitement is the fascination with an attractive object and belongs to the category of desire. It is a mental incapacity due to the mind moving towards an object, and it causes restlessness. It is a hindrance to calm abiding.
Flightiness of mind (rgod-pa) is a part of longing desire (raga). It is the subsidiary awareness that causes our attention to fly off from its object and to recollect or think about something attractive that we have previously experienced instead. Thus, it causes us to lose our peace of mind.
Excitation is a technical term that specially pertains to meditation: The mind is agitated because it is drawn away compulsively to some object of desire.
Every psychopath, be it Iago, Mr. Gaunt, or whoever it might be, is a master at recognizing this sensation in others and playing upon it. And so are less sinister manipulators, such as the publicist psychologists behind advertising. Restlessness, or excitement, is one of the so-called universal unwholesome mental factors, yet it is deeply rooted within our limbic systems. 
In the present-day Western culture of the Age of Information, raga is the leading keystone and the leading catalyst. Whether publicists or psychopaths, many clever people are sowing seeds of desires in our minds, hearts, or rather limbic systems. Like the messenger in the Forged Letters episode of the Constance saga, or like Iago's victims, or like the villains of the week in Doki!Doki PrecureZenkiShugo Chara Doki!, Miraculous LadybugYu-Gi-Oh ZeXal, and many a season of Kamen Rider, like the two foolish of Beedle's Three Brothers or the residents of Castle Rock, we in real life are prone to be waylaid and walk down the sinister primrose path. The key message in all of these plots is that we humans are weak or flawed, endowed with the potential to do wrong, even if our intentions are good.
We have already mentioned women's immunity to Iago's tricks. Add his mastery of disappointment as a catalyst for his victims' actions. And the way he "grants wishes": granting the wishes of the male cast when he is near (in Dokidoki Precure, most of the victims of the week, whose hearts are corrupted, are significantly male as well, the corrupter also being male, and pitted against an all-female heroine team which purifies the victims and seals the immortal corrupter away!), the wishes backfiring and shattering the lives of those who made them. Does Iago grant wishes to have his own wishes granted? Of course.
I see Iago as a more or less chaotic neutral, leaning on chaotic evil character, a personification of unreason not unlike the Norse Loki, the Spanish Don Carnal, or the Lord of Misrule. Or the Devil on Tarot (arcane XV), which represents the pulsions of the id, passions, unreason beyond good and evil. The keywords are all there: "Chaos is come again". Not evil in a demonic sense, yet a tempter and a trickster who temporarily disrupts and revolutionizes the social order, before and during his own reign as de facto governor, by granting wishes at a great price... but for which reason? There is the lieutenancy mentioned... but is this actually for no reason, Iago's character being unreason (the unreason of wish-making, of intoxication, of insecurity, of paranoia, of passion...) incarnate itself? Mind that his name means "usurper", which, in a story where identity, and the loss of it, are the central themes, is the key word to it all...

Careful the wish you make,
wishes are children.
Careful the path they take,
wishes come true,
not free.
Careful the spell you cast,
not just on children.
Sometimes the spell may last
past what you can see
and turn against you...

After all, this is an unusual play, in which women act and speak their minds, in which military men are insecure and desperate figures losing power at lightning speed, in which chaos is a ladder to a strange fellow who walks about at daylight and moonlight granting wishes at the price of disappointment and regret... The keywords are all there: "Chaos is come again".
Nothing unusual from our own point of view, compared to that of the original Stuart-era audience. Othello is as subversive and as attractive as Game of Thrones for exactly the same reasons. And we hope that our friends in Westeros survive, most of them, their ordeal.
Though the Cypriot fort of Othello is closer to our present-day universe than Westeros is. It's also an huis clos, ie a secluded space, a community crowded within narrow walls (to quote Lew Wallace), far more claustrophobic and easier to map (and thus, to follow the characters within this reduced space) than the thousands of kilometres from Dorne to Winterfell and beyond the Wall. In fact, the setting of Othello is closer to the concept of Noble Academy or Hogwarts. A military encampment with claustrophobic confines, where emotions and power play, with a far more economic cast and space-time frame than in Westeros, are equally intense, and seem even more because they are here concentrated rather than scattered. And a lieutenant's commission can be as wanted and as fought for as the Iron Throne, though at a lower scale.
Do all of these Your Heart's Desire fictions (Othello and The Rape of the Lock, the Westeros 'verse and Doki!Doki PrecureZenkiShugo Chara Doki!, and the tales compiled by Beedle the Bard, the Tale of the Three Brothers being the clearest and most extreme example; Needful Things and Miraculous Ladybug as well as many seasons of Kamen Rider; and the Evillious Chronicles) explore the concepts of kama, tanhä, and raga? Indeed. To me, a seeker of fulfilment, a Seven in terms of the Enneagram, the theme is attractive because it strikes a chord within me.

You may never understand
how the stranger is inspired,
but he isn't always evil
and he isn't always wrong...
Though you drown in good intentions,
you will never quench the fire:
You'll give in to your desire

when the stranger comes along.

Check out this analysis of an advert that equates the right with the norm and life/the left with deviance and death here: http://darksidesubliminal.blogspot.com.es/p/youve-reached-crossroads-in-yourjourney.html#.VvKldVLAq9w

"Alright, this is how evil works. This is why evil loves free will so much. Because humans use it to follow their hearts. And evil takes advantage of that."

Our hearts are, significantly, turned towards the left side (unless we have dextrocardia). Perchance this is the reason why the primrose path is the one most travelled by...

5th of June, 2016

Un navío de mercancías y de paños preciosos había llegado al puerto. Cuando ella se enteró, envió a su servidor para que se informara si la mercancía podía convenirle. Éste regresó efectivamente del barco con todo lo que le gustó.
El capitán del navío, que vino con el ladrón un momento, fue tan maravillado por los ojos de la Emperatriz, que le daría de buena gana todo su cargamento, si ella aceptara acostarse con él. No obstante, el marinero le escondió sus verdaderos sentimientos. Como tampoco obtuvo lo que quiso de ella, se marchó. El segundo día, la señora volvió a enviar de compras a su servidor a la nave, pero esta vez, el capitán llegó a un convenio con él:
—Mi caro amigo, te daré toda la mercancía que quieras, si consigues traerme a tu señora y hacer que se suba al barco, ya que la quiero mucho; cuando haya entrado, tú saldrás.
—Entrégame una recompensa que me guste y te prometo que haré ingresar a mi ama en tu navío. Pero haz de ella lo que quieras solamente una vez adentro.
El marinero le aflojó entonces más de lo que él requería. El servidor fue luego junto a su señora y le dijo: —Mi querida ama, el capitán no quiere separarse de sus paños ni de sus ornamentos fuera de su barco. A no ser que subas tú personalmente a bordo, como te lo pide insistentemente, no te venderá nada. La Emperatriz, que desconocía por completo la estratagema, subió al navío.
Cuando entró, su servidor se marchó. Esto realizado, el marinero, aprovechando el viento vigoroso que soplaba, soltó amarras y se alejó de la costa. La señora le preguntó entonces:
—¿Qué piensas hacerme?
—Te voy a llevar conmigo porque tengo ganas de acostarme contigo. 
—Yo no pienso eso.
—Ofrécete a mí, o serás arrojada al mar. Elige una de estas dos posibilidades.
 —Que sea así. Prepara el sitio para que los demás no miren cuando pasemos a la acción.
El navegante tomó nota de sus palabras e hizo acomodar un lugar en su embarcación. Ella accedió primero y se puso de rodillas para rezar: —Dios nuestro Señor, sálvame de esta circunstancia. Tan pronto terminó su oración, se levantó una tormenta que rompió el navío, matando a todos menos a la Reina y al agresor, que se agarraron cada uno a una tabla. De esta forma, los dos alcanzaron la orilla. 
Cuando la Emperatriz llegó a la costa, distinguió de lejos un monasterio de monjas. Se dirigió hacia él y solicitó allí el descanso por el Amor de Dios. Las religiosas de aquel recinto la albergaron humildemente. Muy pronto la quisieron mucho, ya que se abandonó francamente a ellas. Aprendió todas las virtudes de las plantas en poco tiempo. El resultado le permitió sanar a todos los enfermos que acudían a ella, de manera que empezó a ser conocida en muchas regiones vecinas.
Finalmente, el capitán que intentara violarla se volvió hidrópico y escabioso.
—Señor, estoy dispuesta a obedecerle. Sin embargo, debo prevenirle que mi remedio no funcionará, al menos que confiesen todos sus pecados en público.
Después del resumen del Senescal, el bandolero anunció: —Una señora cabalgaba sola cerca del lugar donde me hallaba. Como me iban a colgar, ella pagó el precio de mi liberación. Pero yo, como un ser ingrato, la entregué al capitán de un barco. 
A continuación, siguió el marinero: 
—Sé que un servidor me cedió a su ama, que era una mujer noble. Quise entonces aprovecharme de ella, pero sus oraciones hicieron levantar una fuerte tormenta que hundió el navío. Yo sólo he sido el único sobreviviente. Ignoro completamente lo que le sucedió a la señora.
Puesto que todos habían terminado, la curadora dijo:
 —Señor, todos contaron la verdad. En recompensa, los voy a sanar.
Aparece luego el navío (la vanidad del mundo) donde se hallan las diversas mercancías (los placeres)El comandante del barco representa el pecador que lo invita por medio de su propio servidor (adulación). Este marinero estira a continuación las velas de la iniquidad, le hace navegar (en el pecado), y quiere arrojarle al mar. En semejante situación, cada miserable debe entonces proceder como la señora: rezar. Así, la tormenta vendrá (la vida buena) y podrá reunirse más adelante con todos los enfermos (los sanos de espíritu), que mediante buenas hierbas (las virtudes), etc.
Tunc venit navis, i.e. vanitas mundi, in qua sunt diversa mercimonia, i.e. delectationes.
Magister navis est homo peccator qui invitat te per servum, i.e. adulationem, et clevat vexillum iniquitatis et ducit te in mare, i.e. in peccatum te intendit projicere.
[··· ] et omnes infirmos, i.e. sensus sanos per bonas herbas, i.e. virtutes, etc.

Las enfermedades del magister navis, la rabia (hidropesía) y la sarna (causada por un ácaro), además de causar mucho sufrimiento (la rabia produce disfagia y dolor al tragar; la sarna produce picores muy molestos), podrían (igual que los males que aquejan a los demás pacientes de la reina/curandera) considerarse simbólicas debido a sus síntomas más característicos: la incomodidad al tragar del hidrópico/rabioso contrasta con el disfrute que produce en la garganta la gula; ídem el picor de la sarna pone el contrapunto a la excitación y el calor que produce el tacto de la piel en la lujuria. Los pecados más hedonistas y basados en el disfrute se han trocado, mediante el contrapaso (ley de la literatura alegórica medieval análoga al karma: los castigos de los pecadores reflejan, irónicamente, sus faltas más características), en sensaciones molestas que no cesan y que son un destino peor que la muerte: un sufrimiento del que sólo la confesión podrá librarle.
El magister navis, igual que todos los demás "malos" del cuento, sólo está sano de corazón cuando está enfermo de cuerpo: la carne, análoga al pecado, es vilipendiada: las hierbas que le sanarán simbolizan sin duda la templanza y la castidad, virtudes contrarias a sus sensuales flaquezas, pero estas virtudes, sin embargo, ya están representadas anteriormente como los inagotables sufrimientos que producen la rabia y de la sarna, respectivamente. El dolor al tragar y el picor en la piel ya le han espoleado a llevar una vida más moderada.
Por cierto, la versión inglesa presenta una traducción diferente de este "hydropicus ac scabiosus" como: "and the master of the ship (was) distraught of his wits. (S.XIX)/ "and the master of the ship had lost his reason." (S.XIX) / "and the Master of the Ship was Mad. (S.XVIII)", es decir, que el magister navis perdió la razón. ¿Porqué este cambio de enfermedad? ¿Tal vez porque la rabia suele ir acompañada de síntomas psíquicos (agresividad, lo cual conduce a pensar en el pecado de la ira)? ¿Tal vez porque esta pérdida de la razón representa la sinrazón del pecado que este personaje comete y al que incita a los demás? Me inclino por ambas razones y por una tercera relativa al ciclo de eufemismos: Tal vez el hecho de que "mad" signifique en inglés tanto "loco" como "rabioso" ("mad dog", "mad bat"...) haya provocado esta confusión y, dado a que "mad" pasó a ser una palabra tabú en el siglo XIX, fue eufemizada como "distraught of his wits" o "had lost his reason".

¿La nave como símbolo de la vanidad? En una época en que viajar en barco era inseguro por miedo a los piratas y a las tempestades, y con los barcos tan mal construidos y tan poco seguros (recordemos el hundimiento del Vasa, que, lujosamente decorado de oro y a todo color, era básicamente el gran tablón de anuncios de Gustavo Adolfo), la mayoría de la gente prefería quedarse en tierra firme. Navegar era entonces sinónimo de correr riesgos.
¿Las mercancías como símbolo de los placeres? Ya de por sí, esto remite al actual y omnipresente consumismo, incluso a las estrategias publicitarias, basadas en las emociones positivas y creadas por psicólogos expertos en emociones y motivaciones (la adulación que representa el siervo del magister navis).
¿Y el magister navis? Como símbolo del pecador tentador, recuerda a Leland Gaunt (que, igualmente, ofrece las mercancías que sus clientes desean) y al Yago de Shakespeare (el primer personaje de este tipo que se me viene a la cabeza); que a su vez remiten a dioses del caos y de lo sensual, como Dionisos o Loki. El Señor de la Anarquía (Lord of Misrule), o Don Carnal, representan la forma cristianizada de estos seres. En las fiestas dedicadas a ellos reina el desenfreno sin límites, y los siete pecados pueden practicarse en total libertad... en vísperas de Cuaresma y Pascuas, así como del equinoccio de primavera.

La personificación del mundo y de la carne en la tradición cristiana germana, Frau Welt ("Doña Mundo", personificación, sobre todo, de los placeres sensuales) podría igualmente considerarse una adaptación del personaje de Hela, reina de los infiernos e hija bastarda de Loki. A esta siniestra diosa se la describe como "mitad bella y viva, y mitad muerta y putrefacta". Aunque la mayoría de ilustradores de mitos nórdicos la pintan como viva a la derecha y muerta a la izquierda (similar a Dos-Caras, del "Batverso"), hay representaciones de Hela viva de cintura para arriba y muerta de cintura para abajo (yerma, en consonancia con la austeridad y el frío extremos del inframundo nórdico), o, lo que es más interesante, viva por delante y muerta por detrás: igualita que Frau Welt (cuya mitad posterior, de la nuca a los talones, está infestada de larvas e incluso de serpientes). No es ninguna casualidad. Igual que el que estos personajes de los tentadores correspondan a un arquetipo y Yago, Leland Gaunt y el magister navis desciendan de Loki et consortes, pasados por el tamiz anticarnal y ascético del monoteísmo.


 II, ii, 291-305. Iago can very well appreciate the ambiguous character of reputation for he enjoys a good one himself. But when Iago speaks to Othello, he does so as though there were nothing questionable in reputation (III, ii, 181-188). He knows his man. A noble man never does anything that is considered shameful and the opinion of his fellows is the guarantee of his own goodness. A man who cares about his reputation is likely to perform acts of a nature to gain it; while the man who consults only his private inclinations is likely to be base. But, if reputation is a fickle thing, then the whole orientation of the gentleman or the proud man is placed in doubt. The perfect disciple of Othello is Cassio; he believes completely in Othello; this is the source of his unquestioning devotion and makes him a perfect lieutenant. But, from what he suffers and the undeserving way he loses his reputation, the lesson would seem to be that it is folly to live for the sake of others who do not understand and are acting from their own passions. Cassio expresses what his faith in Othello means when he says that reputation is the immortal part of himself (II, ii, 291-292; cf. 117-135; Romans IX, 18; VIII, 24).

II, ii, 376-379. Shakespeare vividly depicts Othello's first consciousness of the depth and intensity of his need when, after Iago's first tentative barbs, Desdemona arrives to plead for Cassio. He for the first time is a little vexed; all is not perfect as formerly but as she goes away he cannot help admiring her and says, "Excellent wretch!" (III, iii, 104- 106). He sees, with a certain pleasure, that he needs her very much and that it is somewhat in spite of himself, that it has nothing to do with right or justice. A few moments later, when his suspicions become explicit, he denies this and says he would let her go if she were false; he soon realizes that whatever she be, he must possess her or kill her, that he cannot do without her.

Othello does indeed begin by demanding deeds, ocular proof, as was his custom. He does not want to be led by simple sentiments; he wants to do justice. But Iago skillfully shows him that in such matters direct proof is impossible and Othello is satisfied with ritual proofs turned into "confirmations strong as proofs of holy writ" (III, iii, 375-377) by the mad assurance that all men are base and inclined to acts of treachery; jealousy presupposes guilt and seeks for substantiation (III, iii, 219-221, 415-514). 36 III, iii, 312-314; III, iv. 46-52; IV, i, 9-12; ii, 24-27. At the end, even the stars are the signs of a cosmic chastity,
V, ii, 4. 37 III, iv, 43-56. 38 Iago's use of morality is fully conscious and based on his observation of Othello. Actually, the attitude he takes is much nearer that of those who are attached to Othello than his own natural one. Cassio, when dismissed by Othello, speaks in terms worthy of the most severe moralist, "the devil wine, the devil anger," etc. In talking to him, Iago takes a reasonable and tolerant line (II, ii, 292-343). Cassio orients himself according to the pleasure and displeasure of Othello and in his fall from grace blames himself with extraordinary severity; rather than trying to reestablish himself, he falls into a state of repentance and self-castigation. Desdemona is much the same way. Both torment only themselves and Iago sees where this attitude can lead if made cynical use of. If those who love Othello are dependent on his opinion and he is jealous and frightened of losing their love, Iago, by playing on Othello's fear can cause him to make more and more demands on others and so further his own ends (e.g., his suggestion that fear is the best way to control Desdemona, III, iii, 236-238). All he need do is present Othello with new dangers and his standards become ever higher and sterner. Othello's sick fears convert innocent human acts into crimes. The height of the morality comes only from Iago's low view of men. Cassio's harmless weakness at drink and his love for women can in this context be converted into mortal sins.

III, iii 455-456, 471-486, 499-501. By the beginning of Act IV the discussion of the meaning of physical acts has turned into a gruesome and tantalizing game (IV, i, 1-26). The obscenity of Iago is founded on that which is revered by others. For Othello, the purity of Desdemona is all in all. The shocking aspect of Iago's speech is not that he speaks freely about sensual matters, but that for others these things are sacred and Iago profanes what is holy for them. It is only in the context of reverence that Iago's speech is terrible; it is a sort of blasphemy. The relation between Othello and Desdemona, if there is any physical element to it at all, is largely a spiritual one. When he realizes that perhaps physical satisfactions are important for her and he sees his own insufficiency in this regard, her possible infidelity becomes all the more horrible for him. It is not only that she cares for another but that her being is so constituted that he could never satisfy her. He must insist not only on fidelity but chastity; he must change her nature and all men's natures, and all this not for the sake of morality but to preserve for himself that which he wants.

V, ii, 147-156. Othello has smothered Desdemona at line 105 and is persuaded she is dead by line 116. Whether Shakespeare meant that she return to life, or Othello was mistaken and she was not yet quite dead, Desdemona's words, coherent sentences uttered after strangulation, constitute a remarkable occurrence, outside the natural order of things. This difficulty has often been noted. I suggest that this last supreme effort of the poor creature was intended to give a supernatural impression to the audience, and that attempts to rationalize it, by changing the manner of her death or otherwise, miss the meaning. Precisely because of the improbability of what she does, do we know of the intensity of Desdemona's devotion and faith; she gives it a significance beyond the human in a play distinguished by its merely human context, one in which the cosmic reverberations characterizing Shakespeare's other great tragedies are absent. In the theatre, especially that of Shakespeare, improbabilities are the devices for the expression of greater but unutterable probabilities.

II, i, 119-191. In this scene all of Iago's little rhymes reflect Desdemona's situation in one way or another, especially the central one.

The Earl of Shaftesbury, in the most penetrating criticism of Othello that I have read, asserts that the marriage of Othello and Desdemona is a mismatch, a monstrous union founded on the lying pretentious of a charlatan and the unhealthy imagination of a misguided young girl. For him the tragedy is not the consequence of Iago's vile machinations but the natural fruit of seeds that are sown in the characters of the heroes and in their relationship. The simple moral of the story is, according to Shaftesbury, that such marriages between foreigners who have nothing in common other than their desire for novelty are to be avoided and condemned. Only the sick taste of one not satisfied at home could have led Desdemona to her choice; only a moral education that did not move the phantasy and the sympathy of the girl could account for her blind search for the incredible and the exotic. And Shaftesbury, echoing the moral taste of the pre-romantic critics, sees the denouement as the just punishment of faulty beings. However narrow this understanding of the play may be, it raises in a clear and honest fashion the fundamental question: what is the character of the relationship between Desdemona and Othello? The interpretation of Othello has tended to neglect the question and has concentrated on the psychological development of the jealousy. But this jealousy has no meaning except in relation to the kind of man who suffers it and the reasons why he is particularly susceptible to it. We are presented with the picture of a couple who have married in an unusual way but who are nonetheless very much in love and who are led to disaster through the external actions of a hostile world. We are asked to believe that a paragon of strength and confidence is transformed into a furious beast driven by suspicion only because he has been tempted by a devil. It is not enough to say that such is the nature of jealousy: we can easily imagine many men, exposed to the same temptations, who would never have succumbed to them. Even the most superficial reader is struck by the slightness of the proofs which convince Othello of Desdemona's infidelity. Is not Othello ripe for the doubt which comes to afflict him? Are we to believe that the jealousy which erupts so unexpectedly is not the fruit of a soil long prepared and cultivated, albeit unconsciously? Does not Shakespeare always incorporate in the life of each of his tragic heroes precisely those elements which make him the aptest vehicle for the emergence of that phenomenon which he, above all others, exhibits? 
The latter alternative is clearly the correct one; for it alone is in conformity with what we known of Shakespeare's genius and of the nature of tragedy in general. In other Shakespearean tragedies, disaster develops directly from the character of the tragic hero and, even more, out of precisely those features of it that constitute his greatness. Macbeth's pride and ambition, which raise him above other men in daring and vision, are the direct cause of his murder of Duncan and his entry upon a tyrant's career. Macbeth's crimes are consequences of Macbeth's greatness of soul, and the enormous impact of the play comes from the impression of overpowering force conveyed by the hero, joined to our sense of the inevitability of his destiny.
Consider Hamlet's responsibility for the deaths of all those he loved and the failure of his attempt to do justice. Is it not bound up with those traits that cause us to admire him-his conscience and his admirable sensitivity to his fellows? If this were not the case we should either regard these men simply as criminals, or as beings who may deserve our pity; but they would certainly not move our deepest emotions, nor call forth our respect. As it is, we see them as examples of human greatness; they move in areas of experience from which ordinary mortals are cut off. But this very superiority in human quality seems to lead to crime and disaster. It is this combination that constitutes the unique quality of tragedy. What virtues, then, make Othello's jealousy necessary and in some measure excuse it? Why must the great general with the sovereign self-control murder his innocent wife? Because Iago told him she was unfaithful? This is to degrade the work to the level of psychological "realism," a realism which contents itself with the analysis of passions, no matter by whom they are felt nor to what end. It is to deny that Shakespeare regarded his heroes' emotions as truly interesting only insofar as the one who experiences them is worthy of attention and his objects serious. In this perspective Othello appears a weak fool and Desdemona's death a senseless slaughter that can evoke only horror and disgust. Tragedy is founded on the notion that in the decisive respect human beings are free and responsible, that their fates are the consequences of their choices. All that is a result of external force or chance is dehumanizing in the tragic view. But Othello so interpreted is only the story of an easily inflamed man who has the unfortunate accident of meeting an Iago. This does not do justice to the sentiment we have in seeing the play and it is the task of interpretation to render articulate what is only felt, and to elaborate the larger significance of the characters and the action.
To this end we must go back behind the jealousy to the strange love that united Othello and Desdemona. It is in their love that the seeds of the ultimate disaster are sown; and it is not an easy union to analyze, this marriage between an old, black, foreign warrior and a young, beautiful, innocent noblewoman. In fact, the first act is devoted almost exclusively to a development of the character of the marriage and its ambiguity. The suggestions as to the source of the union include lust, profit and the purest admiration for virtue. In a sense the entire play is motivated by the beliefs of the actors about the nature of the love and it is these beliefs much more than any acts that are the moving causes of the tragedy. Indeed, one of the unique characterististics of Othello is that the final action of the play is so little the result of previous actions, and so much the consequence of changes in opinion wrought in the characters during the play. And perhaps the best way to see what these opinions are is through the activities of Iago. Iago is a villain, no doubt; but his villainy is not shallow; he has a clear grasp of what is most important to everyone (with the possible exception of Emilia), and he acts on all the persons only through their own opinions. In each case, the individual can be justly regarded as responsible for his own troubles; Iago only precipitates something that was already there. He works like a confidence man; only the quality intrinsic to the one he tempts enables him to succeed. He is a faithful mirror of all around him; he adapts himself to those with whom he speaks. In a sense, we would not know the other characters in the play without Iago. We would see them only as they appear in ordinary life, without penetrating the masks that conceal their real natures. Iago alone lets us know from the outset those weaknesses in others that would otherwise stand unrevealed until the crises of their lives. Iago shows the hidden necessity in men, the things they care about most; he has a diabolic insight. He offers men what they hope for or are afraid of and, in so doing, he causes their characters to undergo the extreme test. For example, it is possible that Roderigo might have forgotten Desdemona and married someone else. But in appealing to Roderigo's defeated suit, in offering him hope, Iago makes him display his petty and absurd nature, full of spite and envy, capable of extreme folly and crime in a spirit of innocent stupidity. Roderigo is such a fool as thinks he can buy the favors of a queen. Iago is only the catalyst of Roderigo's folly. If Roderigo had not come to ruin, his salvation would have been sheer accident. Now, Iago proposes as his supreme task to encompass the downfall of Othello; and it is through Iago's actions and speech that we can see his catalytic agency upon Othello, and thereby see the necessity which shapes the tragic end. The play begins in an atmosphere of conspiracy, and our first acquaintance with Othello is through the eyes of an enemy. The beginning is a sort of foretaste of Iago's skill, showing him expertly manipulating Roderigo.
What predisposes us immediately in favor of Othello -that he is beloved of Desdemona despite his alien birth and color- must have given pause to Shakespeare's audience. If this is not taken into consideration, Othello seems the victim of merciless persecution and his greatness and weakness are lost to our eyes. It is against this background that Shakespeare tells his story. Indeed the absence of the ordinary external accompaniments of marriage suggests that this is a marriage of true love. It differs from conventional marriages, supported by money, beauty, similarity of position and education. A love purified of all accidental and physical elements would certainly be a great human achievement, a transcendence of mundane attachments. It would be a love of the true rather than of the familiar. But can marriage exist in such a rarefied atmosphere? Once marriage is purged of conventional dross, what really remains? What is the cause of the love of Othello and Desdemona? It is certain that Iago's lascivious description of their romance is false, designed to shock refined sentiment. Othello may well be entirely past the stage of caring for physical pleasures ("the young affects in me defunct"-"to be free and bounteous to her mind")" and if the marriage ever reached consummation, it was not before Cyprus. Not even Desdemona regards Othello as physically desirable. Putting aside for a moment the notion that she was just a silly inexperienced child and Othello a fortune hunter, their relation would appear to be an example of what has come to be known as a platonic love, a love not lacking in passion, rather one of the most intense passion, but completely beyond physical need, based on mutual admiration. This raises the question of what precisely was admired by each.
And how then did the love affair come to pass? Surprisingly enough, not through the deeds of Othello but through his speeches. Although he protests himself to be only a man of action and lacking in eloquence, his influence over Desdemona has its source in the terrible tales of his past. Othello represents himself as a poor speaker and one who depreciates mere words. But he seems to influence others almost entirely through his speeches. He is impressive for what he is supposed to have done, but his own testimony is the only real source for our belief in those great actions. He gives witness to his own might and is believed. In his great speech recounting the course of his wooing, he makes it seem that it was the gentle Desdemona who made the advances and that he was the wooed. Desdemona admired him for his incredible deeds and his great sufferings. He loved her because she pitied him; he loved her for her love of him, which is a sort of confirmation of his own worth. He is lovable for his sufferings, and pity is the source of her love. This presentation of the love affair is in harmony with Othello's self-sufficiency. He is admirable and needs little beyond himself. Desdemona is the crowning acquisition of a virtuous life. The relationship is a sound one because Othello is a man in possession of himself, of notable quality, and Desdemona cares for someone both solid and noble. 
Othello believes that he is universally valued and valuable, that he can go any place and be accepted; without any boundaries to virtue. At the same time, he can only see himself in the opinions of the men about him; this is the contradiction in his situation-he is independent of particular national ways of life but he draws his being from the honors accorded by the State. Is it really possible to become universal? Can a man who has no "natural" home be a statesman?
Othello's problem is best illustrated by the fact that he is a mercenary. Now mercenaries are traditionally regarded as a low form of humanity. They sell their courage to the highest bidder. A mercenary is indifferent to the laws of every state; he does not truly care for what he is defending. The glory that attaches to heroism is not given to those who are better able to kill men than others; to be above the animal or the perverse, the death of men must be understood as the sacrifice of life in the name of some cause greater than life. Even if a mercenary desired to fight nobly, he could not; for he cannot care for what is his own. Nor is it in the nature of men to serve freely those who will not honor them. Hence it is that mercenaries are degraded men.
Othello is a man of great reputation and, as Iago makes clear, there is a decisive difference between reputation and true deserving. Othello is trusted; but in the play we are given no examples of his prowess, unlike the men of action portrayed in other plays. His only military success is the result of chance, of a tempest. For it, he proclaims a victory and his reputation is thereby enhanced. But he is not actually responsible for the victory proclaimed. Desdemona loves him for his stories. He is, as Iago says, a great talker of war. I do not suggest that Othello had never done anything to deserve his reputation; I only point out that we are never given any direct testimony or evidence of what he did, while we are given to see that he imposes himself on others by his reputation. He seems to be a case of men's need for a hero. Every army needs leaders, and those leaders, in order to command, must be respected and even idolized. No matter what their merit, in order to feel the confidence that is necessary to the dangerous enterprise of war, they must be invested with authority. Around them spring up myths, not created by them but arising from the popular need. So that they can subordinate themselves to their leaders, the people endow them with superhuman merits. Othello is a man on whom "opinion throws a more safer voice"; and opinion is a "sovereign mistress of effects." He is known to be valuable because he is generally well thought of. Othello is sure of himself because he is respected; he is respected so that others can be confident in danger. It is a circle which is not grounded in a reality free from opinion. For Othello this means that, if the opinions change, he is lost; for he has no source of confidence outside of a system that is not his own.  His Christianity proves to be not enough to overcome the primeval and necessary prejudices of civil society. In some measure his very character depended on his ignorance of the source of his strength. He assumed his reputation was deserved and was secure. To the extent that he felt this, he could be at home. There was no tension between his foreignness, his universality, and his need for local opinion in which to see himself as in a glass. To use his practical abilities as a warrior Othello needed a home, a place for which he could fight meaningfully, and this required a reputation. The argument of the play is that such reputations are only given grudgingly and conditionally to foreigners. Yet Othello could never accept this and still be able to fight in the proud man's spirit. The massiveness of his self-assurance in the face of the tenuousness of his real position shows that his life is based upon a critical lack of self-knowledge. Othello, although radically dependent, represents himself as completely independent; and the myth of his independence seems to be less for his own benefit than for the sake of those who made him. They could not trust him if they knew him to be their own creation. The very end of the creation requires that the knowledge that it was creation and not discovery be forgotten. This is a necessary self-deception without which the purposes of myth-making would be frustrated. All might have succeeded, there might have been no revelation of Othello's true situation, if he had not gone one step too far.  That step was his falling in love with Desdemona and marrying her. In Desdemona he had chosen the fairest flower of the best family. In marrying her he seemed to prove that h  had fully naturalized himself. In the manner of his wooing he continues the masquerade that not he but Desdemona is the one who needs; she is the lover and he the beloved. He is still the independent being to whom others come because of his qualities. But Iago knows this is not true. It is his awareness of Othello's absolute dependence on Desdemona, of which Othello is himself totally unaware, that allows Iago to bring about the destruction which he plots. 
Love, according to the classical analysis, means imperfection, need. The motion of one being toward another, the recognition of something admirable in another, implies the lack of something in the one admiring. What a man desires to possess, he does not already possess. The desire to possess another human being implies that qualities belonging to the beloved object are lacking to the lover. Hence a perfect being would not love, because he would possess all that is admirable within himself; there would be no sufficient reason for him to go outside himself. He who pretends to love without needing is an impostor. The lover admits by his very love a dependence and in this sense an inferiority to his beloved. The beloved, as beloved, does not return love; the man who is loved for his learning does not love the lover for his ignorance. If he returns love at all, he does so for some other reason, because the lover has some other virtue which in his turn makes him an object of love. One who loves does not, for that reason, have any claim on the affections of the one he loves; on the contrary, he has, in loving, made an admission of imperfection which the beloved is under no obligation to reciprocate. The beloved has the privileged position and the lover, if his affection is not returned, must become conscious of unworthiness, and begin to lack confidence in himself. His value as a human being is called into question; but he has no right to complain, for love is not a question of duty. Nonetheless, every lover desires to be loved in return. For only by the return of love can he possess the beloved; and, moreover, his self-esteem is at stake. He has, at the moment he committed himself, become dependent upon another for his self-esteem. At the same time he has made his situation doubly difficult by having to some extent admitted himself to be undeserving, by the fact of loving. Othello is unaware of his need for Desdemona; he believes that she loves him and he is secure in his estimate of himself. But he truly loves her love and requires it for his very existence. He says he is no more when he is unloved. Iago discerns this; Othello, says Iago, would renounce his baptism for her; "her appetite shall play the god with his weak function." At Othello's first glimmerings of recognition of his situation he says, "when I love thee not, chaos is come again." The world in which he lives was created by his love and is dependent on the continuation of that love. Iago's success is based upon his making Othello realize both his attachment to Desdemona, and also that this attachment does not necessarily deserve a recompense. Othello now needs a proof of love to justify his own existence. The whole house of cards in which he has lived starts to tumble.
When Othello begins to need the proof of love, he also begins to realize that proofs of love may be impossible to come by, especially for "great ones" towards whom those in inferior positions are likely to use all the wiles of persuasion and deception. Except by the omniscient, the motions of the human soul cannot be observed. Acts are never sure proof because they are ambiguous, especially in matters of love. One can never know for certain what another thinks of him, and when that knowledge is required the quest for certainty can be the cruellest of torments to which a human being can be subjected. Iago makes this clear to Othello in masterful fashion, first by refusing to tell him what he knows about Cassio and Desdemona, while claiming that even a slave is free as to his innermost thoughts. As love can only be free, nature has so constructed man that his loves and hates can be hidden from observation, a concealment which is the precondition of freedom. Then Iago with prodigious obscenity, shocking the most revered beliefs and presenting him with pictures of the realization of his most dreaded fears, shows him that one can never tell what an act means. It is at this point that jealousy becomes dominant and triumphs. Othello is admittedly the story of a jealous man and it is in the analysis of the origin and the consequences of this terrible passion that the play fulfills itself. Jealousy is in itself a passion of the weak and the contemptible, or so it is generally felt to be. The other characters who suffer it in the play -Roderigo, Iago, and Bianca -are base figures. So it is that when the confident Othello becomes a victim of jealousy his tragedy is already complete; he has lost all that which he was or pretended to be. Nonetheless, in spite of its intrinsic pettiness, jealousy takes on a certain grandeur when it occurs in a man of Othello's proportions; the size and depth of his hopes lend themselves to his sense of loss and his furies are in proportion to the nobility of his deceived ambitions. And, moreover, jealousy as understood traditionally, was not always a contemptible and ridiculous passion. There was one great example of it which, if it could not stand as a model for others' imitation, gave a certain cosmic significance to the passion: the God of the Old Testament who commands love and promises revenge unto the third and fourth generation for those who are not obedient." Although God's jealousy cannot be an object of human imitation, and far transcends the disappointment of deceived husbands, it could not help but add significance to the jealousy of ordinary mortals. God's anger at those who transgress the commandment has a similarity to the anger of men who are deceived; to understand what God's jealousy is, men must begin from the only experience of jealousy they have, i.e., human jealousy. And with the sanctity brought to marriage by Judaism and Christianity, even the motives take on a certain similarity; the jealous husband takes a just vengeance for the violation of a sacred commandment. The husband is made in the image of the Lord. This is not to say that the Old Testament God justifies human jealousy; it is only that His jealousy gives jealousy in general a significance it would not have in a non-Biblical context. It would be difficulto imagine a Greek play whose hero is primarily characterized by the false suspicion of his wife's infidelity; this would be a subject of comedy. Shakespeare has succeeded in this tour de force because the enlarged sense of the word jealousy unconsciously affects our perception of those who suffer it. Shakespeare's Othello does act out on the human scene a god's role; he is a universal stranger, a leader who can command and punish wherever he goes. He insists on honor and wreaks bloody vengeance on those who disobey. Shakespeare analyzes the sophistry of the heart of a man who tries thus to be divine.
This stranger comes in a gentle guise, insisting on nothing from anyone. He takes the respect and affection given him as free gift and is himself a lover. But from his love emerges jealousy and an insistence more intense than could have previously been imagined. Jealousy, as Iago says, is doubt. It is the accompaniment of love that is unrequited or suspected of being so. Jealousy implies a lack of self-assurance; the man who knows he is worthy of love will not be jealous-if his wife is unfaithful, he will no longer deem her worthy of his love. He is himself the touchstone; this is precisely the attitude that Othello thinks he must take and says he will take.3 He will forget Desdemona. Jealousy is contemptible because it bespeaks imperfection; he who suffers it must either think himself unlovable or the one he loves corrupt; but nevertheless he continues to love and think it right to love and be loved. Jealousy rarely, if ever, sees itself as jealousy. Rather is it reflected in the soul it possesses as justice. The revenge worked by jealousy is said to be the desert of the victim. She was unfaithful. But is being unfaithful necessarily a crime, if the one who insists on love does not deserve it? A man who passes sentence in his own interest, for the sake of preserving what is his own or punishing what refuses to be his, is not a judge but a tyrant. He insists that love be given; but only conformity, not love, can be gained by force; love is a free gift. A love which insists on return is violence. However that may be, the jealous man cannot admit that it is jealousy that motivates him, for he would then confess himself to be acting for himself and contrary to the interests of those he judges. He must pretend that he has been wronged, that he truly deserved love. And the proof of deserving love is being loved. 
Othello appears as a judge. Indeed, his only actions in the play are judgments. We have two such examples, the comparison of which is instructive for our understanding of Othello's real claims. Those judgments are of Cassio and Desdemona. His judgment of Cassio is in a way a preparation for that of Desdemona. It gives us a hint of Othello's merits and limitations as judge. Cassio, inveigled by Iago into drinking, causes a disturbance. Othello arrives on the scene. He is completely in command and assumes that all will bend to his least word or gesture; his jealousy has not yet risen. He summarily dismisses Cassio. To do so is perfectly correct from the point of view of human justice. Cassio is a soldier and has been drinking before going on duty. The unfortunate circumstances that led him into trouble do not excuse him from the responsibilities of an officer. But Shakespeare has presented the scene in such a way that we know that from the point of view of complete justice this is a miscarriage. Cassio has been duped and has been made to appear fully responsible. The real culprit is Iago. Othello is a decent general doing justice on the basis of acts done. He does not try to pry into hidden motives. He judges by the surface. Every judge must believe that he knows the principles of justice, and that he is personally disinterested in those judged. He must have some source of knowledge which he believes to be certain, or he could not in conscience judge other men. Judges receive this knowledge from the law. Othello proceeds with Cassio according to the rules of military discipline. These rules are limited in scope. Yet they express what all would admit is a true form of justice, whose limits are due to the limited nature of their purpose-military disciplineand not to partiality or hypocrisy. The judgment of Desdemona is in sharp contrast with this. Here Othello judges not external actions, but intentions, the innermost movements of a soul. He does not need proof of acts. He is led by his uncertainty to assume the guilty act. Rendered mad by this assumption, he wants only to prove that Desdemona is unfaithful. He still regards himself as the dispenser of justice. But now it is no longer the health of the military order that supports his authority, but his right to be loved. His need for her love has been converted into a duty for her to love, a duty which he takes it upon himself to judge. But a judge should have no interest in the one he judges. As his doubt has grown, his whole way of life and manner of understanding has changed. He is no longer free and open of manner nor trusting of disposition. He is suspicious. Acts no longer mean to Othello what they seem to mean. Decent appearances now conceal an underlying viciousness. And this viciousness can be said to be physical passion. Chastity has become a cult with him. Desdemona's free offer of a chaste love, which was so unexpected and which he accepted as his due, he now insists upon. Now, however, he believes this offer to be unnatural; men are naturally lustful beasts; chastity without compulsion becomes unintelligible to him. Desdemona must be sequestered from society and compelled to spend her life in prayer if she is to be purged of the appetites that make her unworthy of Othello. On the basis of his need he wishes to force men counter to their natures; what was supposed to be love now turns into a tyranny. With it comes a peculiarly low view of mankind. Iago becomes the high priest of this cult, leading Othello "by the nose." Iago converts all men into obscene beasts in Othello's eyes. Tie shows Othello that the love and honor due him is destroyed by physical passion; human beings are naturally led to care for things of the flesh. In order to be believed in, Othello must change this; his jealousy, under Iago's guidance, becomes a demand for inhuman purity, for a renunciation of the worship of the body. Iago has only to suggest obscene motivations and Othello is ready to wreak vengenance on any who are suspected. Iago makes use of an intense hate and fear of lust on Othello's part to further his own ends. Iago becomes a moralizer on the very bases of his lewd preoccupations. His moralizing reaches its almost comic peak when he comments on Cassio's fate, "This is the fruit of whoring." He is a priest who makes use of Othello's new morality to conceal his private ends. I know of no play within which physical passion is believed to be so much the source of the action and, in reality, is so little the source of any important thing. More subtle vices of the soul are the roots of the action. The new attempt to control souls leads of necessity to a new method of understanding men. Souls cannot be seen. Of course a justice which saw men's souls naked would be vastly superior to the old justice, in which judgment was rendered only on the basis of acts committed. But perhaps the old way was founded on a prudent reserve, or modesty, which recognized the limitations of human vision. The result of the new way is not truly to see the soul but rather to reject all the evidence of action and to turn to signs which in themselves have no meaning. Desdemona is judged by the handkerchief, that handkerchief on which the whole judgment turns. It is a magic charm, of superhuman quality, and only through it can she control Othello. When she does not appear to show sufficient respect for this object, this mere thing, she is guilty and her soul is laid bare. Mere routine or ritual is the basis of the judgment of Desdemona. The attempt to do away with the superficiality of the old law leads to a mysticism which is even more distant from truth. Othello commits his terrible crime for the sake of justice. The horror of the murder only reflects the fact that justice must be stern. If Othello is right about Desdemona's deed and is further correct in assuming that her only salvation would be in loving him, then his cruelty would be but terrible responsibility. He may justly say that "I who am cruel, am yet merciful." Mercy can appear in this gruesome context because Othello's bloodiness is an integral part of the human scene in the new context created by him, and any attempt to soften the lot of those under his sovereignty can be regarded as mercy. On the basis of the new justice of love, a cruelty and passion that never before existed comes into being.
Othello sought to accomplish an extreme human feat; he attempted to be a hero without a home to sing his praises and write his epitaph. He did this under the guise of universality; only if a man is liberated from the influence of and need for the laws and ways of a particular nation can he go anywhere and be a hero. But this universality, Shakespeare seems to tell us, is a lie. If a man can liberate himself from a particular time and place it cannot be as a hero, statesman, or soldier. Such careers are by their nature bound to the fortunes of nations, all of which have special needs and traditions. Those who follow these pathways seek glory as their reward, and glory is dependent upon a public. The hero is perforce attached to the place whence his glory comes and he must believe somehow in the special importance and excellence of that place. This represents a denial of the universal standpoint; it is part of the necessary narrowing of the statesman's horizon. Othello's universality only conceals a desire to be limited and local; it is itself an inflated shadow of the ordinary human's limitations; the eternal aspiration to be oneself and oneself alone is burlesqued and travestied; what should be truly an end in itself, and masquerades as such, is but a means in Othello's usage. He pretends to be lovable because he is good, but actually his goodness is only an appearance to enable him to be loved. As long as he believes his own myth he can be gentle, for he thinks that what he demands from men is natural. But when he comes to doubt, he believes that what he demands is against nature. His jealousy then becomes his weapon to bend men to his will. His barbaric nature now reveals itself; but it is barbarism transformed and intensified. 
His final tragedy consists not so much in killing Desdemona, but in the discovery of his own injustice-that his justice is not justice at all. He discovers that what he thought was justice was but a way of gratifying his own appetite, an appetite whose existence it was of the essence of his being not to recognize. His jealousy arises when he realizes that he is a dependent being, that he needs. His tragedy is complete when it becomes clear that he does not deserve fulfillment but only desires it. He has done terrible deeds under the conviction of his own wisdom; but he is nothing. Othello is a figure of enormous proportions; no reader can fail to sense this. Yet he is curiously insubstantial. And this is Shakespeare's meaning; he is a name without a substance. He lives in men's minds and needs more than'in any reality. Both for his own sake and for that of the state, he had to be thought a perfect being, but he was only a being afflicted with human passion. The intensity of the ending comes from the loud bursting of an enormous bubble which vanishes into nothingness.
Shakespeare appears to tell us that it is not good to introduce influences that are too foreign, regardless of the guise under which they may come. The benevolence of foreign influences is always ambiguous. What is not native will at some point go against the grain of what is native; it must then tyrannize or succumb.  Universality on the purely political level does not conduce to the common good.

Let us turn now to Desdemona. Her selfless devotion to Othello and her sweetness make her a peculiarly undeserving subject for tragic suffering. Her death seems deeply offensive. It must be asked if there is anything in her nature that makes her fate in any way appropriate. Is she senselessly destroyed, a harmless bystander caught in the backlash of the unreeling of Othello's life? The answer to this question is dependent on an understanding of her love. What was the source of her involvement in this strange romance? The absolute source was Othello's speeches. But this is not enough in itself; we must discover to what these speeches appealed. We learn that she was ordinarily a very quiet and shy girl, a soft and gentle character. But at the same time we know that she was independent, that she knew her own wishes. She wanted to love something beyond. And this Othello provided. His stories of strange lands and great adventures seemed to give evidence of an experience and knowledge beyond the conventional. She felt that her limited life was not sufficient; we see in her an embryonic passion for the universal, a desire not to be duped by life. But she is undirected. What is merely different and strange impresses her as more significant and real. Whether Othello believes them or not, his stories contain much that could not possibly be true; they are, as Iago says, fantastic.They appeal to Desdemona's imagination which was watered with loneliness and shyness. She is exactly as her name describes her: superstitious.Her devotion to Othello exalts her, and her choice to seek for meaning beyond accepted belief lends her a dignity which the ordinary cannot have. But it was a choice conceived in error; Othello was a creation of her mind. She believed his speeches about his deeds. And, paradoxically, her love sought in Othello something independent and free, while that very love made him dependent, and bound his seeming universality to something particular. They passed each other by, as it were, on the path of love. Most paradoxical of all, instead of winning her freedom she became all the more enfettered to the thing she was trying to escape. Desdemona gave herself completely and with passion to something beyond the physical, but to a something conceived in error. In giving up all for the sake of cosmopolitanism she was a follower of the most characteristic expression of the political community: its myths about its leaders. Desdemona, the only figure in the play who is indifferent to popular opinion, becomes a prisoner of the opinion about Othello. 
Desdemona's superstition is not the only cause of her death. Her fidelity is also a necessary condition. She was not only attracted by Othello's stories, but she believed and insisted on keeping faith with him no matter what he did. The appearance of his actions is unimportant; he must be followed and loved regardless of his deeds, for his ends are inscrutable. She believes in him so completely that she must deny the validity of common sense in order to justify him. What appears like injustice from an ordinary point of view must appear to Desdemona as justice punishing some supposed vice or sin in herself or others. If he is to be believed in, although he acts contrary to ordinary human standards, then she must say that those standards are meaningless or are misconceived in this higher context. She accepts that new way of judging souls that resulted from Othello's jealousy; the clear appearance of things is rejected and some mysterious standard dependent on Othello's whim becomes the rule. Of course the real source of this standard is Othello's need to make himself loved absolutely and uncontingently. But that true source is transformed and represented as a hidden meaning to life, one that can be revealed only through Othello. And in Desdemona there begins a sort of self-examination; no longer does she look to the surface meaning of words and deeds, but her conscience bids her to search out faults which her reason does not see. Cassio did much the same thing when dismissed by Othello; all moral value comes from Othello and what he does not approve is bad. Othello does not depend on nature but nature on Othello. This leads to new habits of mind, new virtues. 
Desdemona, in her conversation with Emilia, states her principle clearly: fidelity and only fidelity-everything subordinated to it. It is noble, without doubt, but it certainly is not so reasonable as the statement of Emilia, who makes fidelity dependent on the deeds of the husband. Her morality is an easygoing one that does not attach so much significance to chastity. In herself she is not so fine a person as Desdemona, but perhaps true and untragic nobility cannot be reached by the sanctification of marital fidelity. And Emilia, for all her inferiority, may yet serve to point this out. For Emilia, the simple world of common-sense meanings and the evident justice of acts must dictate to fidelity: fidelity cannot be unconditional. For Desdemona, everything must be interpreted in such a way as to preserve her faith. 
Desdemona's faith in Othello leads her to a certain disregard for the truth which has not often enough been observed. We see her practicing deception three times in the play, and each time with great significance for her fate. In the first place she hides her relationship with Othello from her father, and presents him with the fait accompli. However indulgently we may look upon her love for Othello, there is no question but that she is guilty of disobedience; and her love comes into conflict with most sacred duties. The love of Othello leads the best of children to a contempt for her niche and a willingness to break the law for his sake. In any case of conflict of loyalties, Desdemona chooses without hesitation in favor of Othello; it seems that this shy girl gained so much strength and confidence, or such fanaticism, from her love that she is capable of doing things in a cool spirit that others would be unable to do. In the second case, she lied to Othello about the handkerchief. Here is perhaps the clearest indication of her superstitious nature: she was so frightened by the significance Othello attached to the handkerchief and the tale he told her about it that she did not dare to let him know that she had lost it. This untruth led directly to her own death. And finally, she seems to tell a lie even after death. She says that Othello did not kill her.
She still tries to preserve his reputation; for she would die in vain if he were evil. His reputation lives in her and not in him. To the end, she must see things as she wants them to be rather than as they are. Believing is seeing. Desdemona's death is in large measure due to her own errors. They were noble errors, errors which elevated her above the level of ordinary humanity, but they deserved punishment. We take her side because she does so in the name of something higher. But perhaps from a third and highest standpoint we must come to the defense of society  and see her defection as a result of a monstrous misconception. Perhaps the true cosmopolitanism can be attained only by renouncing the dearest hopes of practical life. Marriage is a part of political life, of society. One cannot purify it of its political element without depriving it of its substance.
ment without depriving it of its substance. 
Desdemona has been compared to Cordelia and Miranda, and with much justice. She is independent, courageous, and gentle, as is the former, and she has a sweet ingenuousness like the latter (in the spirit of "oh, brave new world"). But Desdemona lacks Cordelia's love of the truth which causes her to understand her situation so well. Desdemona never recognizes her error and, using the other possible meaning of her name, she says "It is my wretched fortune." Shakespeare, in the fullness of his meaning, says that her "wretched fortune" is a result of her "superstition." And, unlike Miranda, she has no Prospero to guide her imagination and set her in the right course. Her untutored understanding spawns monsters. Shakespeare in this bleak play shows us no way around Desdemona's problem. She leads a noble life but one that is against law and also against reason. 
Finally, let us consider the last member of the play's trinity, Iago. Iago is clearly the devil. He says so himself and is often so called. But in the case where god is not perfect the devil's negativity may be a source of liberation, an aid to the discovery of the truth. Iago has always been condemned and hated, and certainly what he does is most terrible; but a defense can and must be made for him.
 Shakespeare plays upon a human softness and sentimentality in this work. We so like to flatter our own goodness and warmheartedness that we are unwilling to recognize hard truths. Our natural partisanship with love and lovers causes us to see only Iago's wickedness in destroying the love of Othello and Desdemona; we like to believe that without his intervention all would have been well. But the very terribleness which so moves us teaches us, albeit unconsciously, that this is not just another love story, that there is here an inevitability we wish not to face, one we hide in our condemnation of Iago. 
Iago, as I have said, is only a mirror or an agent that causes the unseen to become visible. Lived over and over again, the love of Desdemona and Othello would end the same way. Yet no matter how often it happened, each time we would be as shocked and surprised as we were the first time; for the result runs counter to our wish and our wishes cause us to bury the truth. Shakespeare is, in the final accounting, very hard. Iago's speeches, read dispassionately, show that he is the clearest thinker in the play. Honest Iago is not merely a tragically misplaced epithet. Iago does tell more of the truth than any other character. It is difficult to understand his motivation; no villain in Shakespeare seems to act without some plausible end in view, an end the value of which all men would recognize, although they might perhaps not be willing to commit the crimes necessary to arrive at it. But Iago, as does the devil, seems to act from pure negativity. I am not what I am. Whatever Othello wants, Iago wants the opposite. He is sub- or super-human. But in opposing Othello he shows that the world dominated by Othello is a world of fancy. He speaks out for a freedom which none of the others recognize. Iago wishes to live his own life free from the domination of other men, and especially of other men's thoughts. He realizes that true tyranny is not imposed by force but imposes itself on the minds of men. For Iago, man can free himself only by thought. He has thought through the emptiness of most beliefs and will not live in subordination to them. He cannot found his life on self-deception, as Othello does. 
His analysis of things generally esteemed leads to several conclusions. He is in the first place a materialist. The solidity of money as a means for living freely is clear, so he does not share the noble man's contempt for it. (The nobleman usually has money already, so is not forced to the salutary reflection on its necessity.) The word "purse" is found in his mouth very often. In the second place, he knows that reputation is often ill gained and worse lost. He not only knows it but demonstrates it in his manipulations of Othello and Cassio, and by his own very good repute. A man must be independent of reputation or he is the slave of public whim. He tells this beautifully to Cassio, and to show how opposite Othello's view is, Iago tells him that reputation is everything and the purse trash. For Iago reputation is trash and he who follows it lives for others. Since reputation is no real sign of true virtue, it follows that straightforward honesty is undesirable. A man must appear to be what the public wants, and freedom to live well depends upon cultivating deception. Iago reveals the strange fact that freedom to pursue the truth requires deception, for the truth runs counter to much necessary prejudice; and he who wants to be open must either be a martyr or deceive himself for the sake of popularity. Moreover, Iago is the only character who has comic lines in an unusually humorless play. The serious things, so piously considered by the others, are subjects of his wit. Part of his freedom comes from being able to laugh at mankind, to see that much of its pretension is comic. Connected with this is his contempt for romantic love. He sees nothing in it beyond physical passion. Love cannot take on such grand significance for him, and the attempt to make it sacred is ridiculous. 
All the bonds that link humanity and make living together possible have been dissolved in Iago. Trust is impossible for him because to trust implies respect for other human beings, a respect in which he is completely deficient. When a man believes that public opinion, or his own sense of shame, are merely devices of the herd to make men live for others rather than themselves, all the monsters of passion are released within him. Iago is jealous, lecherous, and ambitious; his reason and reasonableness allow him to divest himself of all the clogs of convention but give him no stable goals for action. Only his emancipated passions supply him with objects of desire. Iago himself has no idea of what he wants. He is eminently a private man; he can care for no one but himself and his views justify this selfishness, for there is no reason to serve a morality created in the interest of others. [Othello, on the contrary, believed that men are fundamentally what they seem to be (III, iii, 139-151; cf. I, iii, 422-425). Iago has made the distinction between seeming and being, and everything he does is based on it. One must live for the real which is radically different from the apparent while seeming to be what one is not. He can use Othello because Othello cares so much about appearance; and because, once he too has begun to distrust appearance, he believes in the possible reality of anything. Iago's, "I never found a man who knew how to love himself" (I, iii, 344-345), is the expression of the moral attitude that is the result of his views.] He is an example of what is often asserted will happen when men no longer believe in God; he is an atheist. 
Now, if such a private view of life and man is grafted on to the thought of a political man, a man who is interested in public life, the result is the development of a severe and punishing morality. A political man knows of the necessity of society, that the common good can only be served if there is a habit of obedience to law and a deference to custom. If he is convinced that men are by nature bad, then he must believe in the use of force, deceit and terror to make them conform. Iago succeeds in convincing Othello of his own view of mankind yet this does not alter Othello's way of life; he does not renounce public life and vow to pursue his own passions, as would seem reasonable for a man with such an opinion. He decides instead to force men to be what he formerly thought they naturally were. Othello was peculiarly susceptible to this persuasion, for he was stateless. Othello, on the other hand, cannot rest content with obedience grounded on unconscious repetition; he is universal and a stranger and requires that man deliberately choose the good. And it is perhaps true that the majority of men, outside of the particular training which has broken them to the laws, would not be so just, and would be more likely to consult their private interests. Othello is gentle and loving as long as he believes in man's goodness; he becomes a tyrant when he doubts. To fit the cosmopolis of which he dreams men must be transformed, and what was once innocuous in them now becomes a great danger. Iago wants and needs the change he produces in Othello. He does not believe in the common good. But when he can control Othello and use Othello's fears to punish others, he will be in a perfect position to do as he lists. His apparently unmotivated vengeance expresses his freedom. A morality based on ritual and suspicion fits the needs of this hypocrite, informer, and false accuser. Tartuffes can always stand for morality. The devil can quote scripture, especially when he has written it. Iago makes use of Othello's good but misguided intentions, and Othello's tragedy comes when he realizes that his life has been used to destroy others for the sake of an Iago. Iago is Othello's ensign, or standard bearer, in something more than name.
Iago is also a stranger, but he does not need to practice self-deception, since he does not care for honor. For him his profession is simply a job. He has no need to try to add dignity to it.  Of course the result of this is that he cannot participate in the heroic character of an Othello. However revealing his existence may be, and the truth is not an unimportant thing, his is not a life that men would wish to imitate. His critique of ordinary beliefs leaves him in the end with no real purpose in life at all. He opposes established custom in the name of freedom, but this freedom is compatible with the basest and most arbitrary ends. He can trust no one and is full of fear that he himself will be deceived because men are base. His negativity leads only to the breakdown of order and turns his life into a chaos. 
Othello appears then to leave us with this choice: a mean life based on a clear perception of reality, or a noble life based on falsehood and ending in tragedy. Othello is open and loving but deceived. Iago knows well the defects of Othello's life, but certainly offers no alternative worthy of choice. Yet Iago, in the end, is himself destroyed, but not by the baseness he understands and fears. Iago, otherwise so clear-sighted, fails to see one thing. He cannot foresee that Emilia would be willing to die for the truth. The possibility of a simple unadorned passion for nothing but truth is not within his ken. But would not a life expressing such a passion be both noble and, by its very nature, free from deception?