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Shakespeare: Othello

4. Iago

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About this Lecture


In this module, we think about the critical reception of the character of Iago, focusing in particular on: (i) Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s famous description of Iago’s “motiveless malignity”; (ii) A. C. Bradley’s account of Iago’s actions in terms of his jealousy of Cassio, and the importance of envy/jealousy as a motivating factor in other Shakespearean tragedy (e.g. Macbeth/Banquo in Macbeth, Antony/Octavius in Antony and Cleopatra); (iii) Bernard Spivack’s formalist approach to the play, in which Iago represents the character of the Vice, a popular (if villainous) figure in Medieval morality plays; (iv) Barbara Everett’s historicist approach to the play, where we note that Iago shares his name not only with the patron saint of Spain (= Santiago), one of whose epithets was Matamoros (‘The Moor-Slayer’), but also the new king of England; (v) the 1995 film of Othello, directed by Oliver Parker, in which Iago’s hatred of Othello is driven by homoerotic desire; and (vi) Kim F. Hall’s view of Iago as a ‘white devil’ and the problematisation of the idea of ‘whiteness’ as a marker of moral purity.

Reading List:
– A. C. Bradley, Shakespearean Tragedy (1905)
– Bernard Spivack, Shakespeare and the Allegory of Evil (1958)
– Robert Watson, 'Othello as Protestant Propaganda', in Claire McEachern and Deborah Shuger (eds.), Religion and Culture in Early Modern England (1997)
– Barbara Everett, '"Spanish" Othello: The Making of Shakespeare's Moor', Shakespeare Survey (1982)
– Kim F. Hall, 'Othello and the Problem of Blackness', in Richard Dutton and Jean E. Howard (eds.) A Companion to Shakespeare's Works (2006)


In this course, Professor Lisa Hopkins (Sheffield Hallam University) explores six aspects of the critical reception of Shakespeare's Othello. In the first module, we think about the critical reception of the handkerchief, beginning with Thomas Rymer's criticism that Shakespeare could allow so much human suffering to depend on something so insignificant. After that, we think about the ways in which the play has been read in religious terms, before turning in the third module to the critical reception of race in the play. In the fourth and fifth modules, we think about the critical reception of the characters of Iago and Othello, respectively, before turning in the sixth and final module to the critical reception of women in the play.


Lisa Hopkins is Professor of English at Sheffield Hallam University. Her principal research interests are in Renaissance drama, especially Marlowe, Shakespeare and Ford. She is also interested in the influence of Darwin on fiction, adaptation, and the work of Bram Stoker. At the moment, she is completing a book on From the Romans to the Normans on the English Renaissance Stage. She is a co-editor of Shakespeare, the journal of the British Shakespeare Association, and co-editor of the Arden Early Modern Drama Guides.

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Hopkins, L. (2020, January 06). Shakespeare: Othello - Iago [Video]. MASSOLIT.

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Hopkins, L. "Shakespeare: Othello – Iago." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 06 Jan 2020,

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