Iowa City, Iowa, May 7, 1879
Shakespeare's Iago personifies two constituents of mind--intellect and will. These alone are the springs of his action, the source of his power. What he lacks in emotion he has gained in intellectual acuteness, but the result is deformity. The character is not unnatural; it is fiendishly natural. His reasoning power is abnormally developed; but he has no feeling, no sympathy, no affection, no fear. His is the cold passion of intellect, whose icy touch chills the warm life in all it reaches. He is an intellectual athlete, and is unceasing in his mental gymnastics. His contempt for all good is supreme; his greatest crime is his greatest pleasure; and his own hypocrisy gladdens and intoxicates him. Whatever is most mean, whatever is most hard, whatever is vilely atrocious and dangerously difficult, he seizes with greedy glee. Skeptical of all virtue, to him love is lechery, truth-telling stupid goodness, and lying a daring to be ingenious.
The emotions are the native soil of moral life. From the feelings are grown great ethical truths, one by one, forming at last the grand body of the moral law. But Iago is emotionally a cipher, and his poverty of sentiment and wealth of intellect render him doubly dangerous. Here we have the key to his character--he is possessed of an inflexible will, of an intellect, pungent, subtle, super-sensual. He not only knows more than he feels, he knows everything, feels nothing.
The other characters of the tragedy of Othello--a tragedy which Macaulay pronounced Shakespeare's greatest--are but puppets, moving at the will of this master. He reads them at a glance, by a flash of instinct. He wastes no words on Roderigo other than to make the "fool his purse." But upon Othello he plays with more subtlety, and infinitely greater zest. Upon him he exercises his crafty ingenuity; and the "double knavery," the "How? how?" whets him keen. Now flashes forth the invisible lightning of his malignant mind, and woe to all virtue within its reach. Now we see his character in all its artful cunning, all its devilish cruelty. With what marvelous skill he makes his first attack! He does