Bad to the Bone? – The Intriguing Outsider in King

Lear and OthelloThe declared villains in both Shakespeare plays are Edmund and Iago. Although they pretend to be adjusted to the cultural framework of their present environment, they are bearing evil ideas and plans in their minds and systematically set up targets which they fulfil step by step.
Both characters see themselves as outsiders to society. Although they are well-integrated and accepted by respected characters, they do not get rid of their negative motifs such as revenge, hate, greed, and envy. These base motifs seem to be indeed the catalysers for the chaotic turmoil they cause. Edmund and Iago are dangerous to the stable community because their real emotions, ideas and plans are disguised, hidden within their heads and only verbally expressed when they are alone. The villains share their most intimate thoughts and analytic views with us, the audience. They justify their evil deeds against innocent characters by their negative attitude.
Edmund, on the one hand, interprets his educational exile outside the familiar boundaries as an exclusion from the warm family nest wherein Edgar had the privilege to stay. Edmund realizes his discrimination because he is born out of wedlock. He deciphers societys rules in a negative sense: thus, he feels legally neglected and unfair treated bearing the comparison with Edgar in mind (e. g. heritage). By destroying the conventional framework of written and unwritten laws, Edmunds misdeeds are in a sense justified because his illegitimate status or unnatural nature urges him to fight against the conventional and institutional exclusion from financial benefits and rights. Edmund deciphers the subtle structures of his environment which tries to degrade him on a low, base level (first sololiquy: I, ii, 1-22). However, by questioning the rules, values and conventions of society, Edmund shows the audience that society as such does not fulfil the needs of mankind – the situation is turned upside down: it is the society which is stale and dull and not him (I, ii, 124-40). Society itself and its legal members are an obstacle, a plague, which has to be destroyed step by step.

But what justifies Iagos evil deeds? He seems to be a legal member of Venetian society. However, Iago feels neglected by his social environment, being not taken into consideration for a higher rank in the army. On top of that he often thinks that his wife Emilia deceived him with Othello (I, iii, 369-70). Like Edmund, he as well succeeds in manipulating the other characters like chess figures and sees in his well-managed manoeuvres a sport (Am I to put our Cassio in some action/ That may offend the isle. II, iii, 52-3). By winning the trust of their victims, they are creating a net/ that shall enmesh them all (II, iii, 328-9) and they remind us that “we work by wit and not by witchcraft,/ and wit depends on dilatory time.” (337-8). Both know the weaknesses and flaws of their victims and thus try to gain power over them. The question which might turn up is: why do the legal and conservative members trust those they should not? I mean, Edmunds status as a bastard is alarming enough. It is an easy task for him, however, to win and abuse the trust and love of his father, Lears daughters, etc. for his own advantage. Although Edmunds illigitimacy is one reason for his ruthless plotting, his impure and sinful origins force him to act villainously, he breaks his stigmata, however, in the end some good I mean to do/ Despite of mine own nature. (V, iii, 243-4).

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Edmund and Iago show us how fragile and instable the framework of society is by causing destruction with simple means of intrigue. Villains, whether in tragedies or comedies, cause the instability we want to see and thus thrill us.


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