By January 30, 2008 27 Comments Read More →

Iagoism: Or, passive aggression is still aggression

In Shakespeare’s Othello, perhaps the most unwatchable/watchable play there is, Othello murders his wife Desdemona believing as he does that she has cheated on him with Casio. It’s an awful business; for one thing, she’s entirely innocent. How does it come about that noble Othello’s moral vision is so entirely clouded that he commits this heinous act?

Well, he needed some help in breaking that terrible taboo. The help comes from Iago who subtly poisons Othello’s mind. Two questions emerge: How does Iago do it and why? Let’s start with the second question first.

Why does Iago destroy Othello (and Desdemona too, let’s not forget)?
This question has puzzled scholars through the ages. Iago has been passed over for promotion: is that the motive? Iago is a racist and Othello is a dark Moor? Is that it? Perhaps Iago is unconsciously attracted to Desdemona? Alternatively, there is a rumour that Othello slept with Iago’s wife, Emelia (at least Iago claims there is such a rumour):

I hate the Moor,
And it is thought abroad that ‘twixt my sheets
He’s done my office. I know not if’t be true
But I, for mere suspicion in that kind
Will do as if for surety.

In other words, any excuse will do. Iago intends to destroy Othello – reasons can come later. Now who behaves like this if not the psychopath? They say that the dingo – an Australian wild dog – must kill every day, whether it is hungry or not. The psychopath must destroy – reasons are superfluous when there is the drive to do evil (title of Liane Leedom’s forthcoming book).

How does Iago destroy Othello’s moral mind?
He does this first through a campaign of misleading and then by a perfect paramoralism.

The campaign
Iago works on Othello to make him suspicious of Desdemona and Cassio. Desdemona drops a handkerchief that was Othello’s first gift to her, and Emilia obtains this for Iago, who has asked her to steal it, having decided to plant it in Cassio’s lodgings as evidence of Cassio and Desdemona’s affair. Emilia is unaware of what Iago plans to do with the handkerchief. After he has planted the handkerchief, Iago tells Othello to hide, and goads Cassio on to talk about his affair with his mistress Bianca, but since Bianca’s name is not mentioned Othello thinks that Cassio refers to Desdemona.
The paramoralism
A paramoralism is a statement which, under the guise of moral speech, serves to undemine the moral thinking of the other person. Iago’s is a single, perfect word: ‘Lie–‘.

Hath he said any thing?

He hath, my lord; but be you well assured,
No more than he’ll unswear.

What hath he said?

‘Faith, that he did–I know not what he did.

What? what?


It is the merest suggestion – Othello’s mind does the rest.

With her?

With her, on her; what you will.

Lie with her! lie on her! We say lie on her, when
they belie her. Lie with her! that’s fulsome.
confess, and be hanged for his labour;–first, to be
hanged, and then to confess.–I tremble at it.
Nature would not invest herself in such shadowing
passion without some instruction. It is not words
that shake me thus. Pish! Noses, ears, and lips.
–Is’t possible?–Confess–handkerchief!–O devil!–

Falls in a trance

Passive aggression is still aggression
Readers have written movingly and bravely about some of the gross, overt abuse and neglect of psychopaths. Do you have an account of this kind of more subtle, roundabout means by which the psychopath gets another to do his destructive bidding?

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27 Comments on "Iagoism: Or, passive aggression is still aggression"

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dr steve, sleep loss is another big thing ive experienced since this s path during and after i still have trouble sometimes sleeping, like my mind will not shut off. and during being with the s apth i was trying to work out what the hell was going on and trying to work things ou in my head stopped me from sleeping well. which makes your head even more clouded. i would also say my s path had some weird physical things going on too. he had restless leg syndrome, was engrossed in stupid tv shows that most adults would not like and made funny little grunting noises while eating, he was also obsessed with super man. very child like a lot of these things i thought when you put them all to gether he also had weird twitches on his face sometimes too. also he would get very giggly and highly strung when he was in a good mood, maybe something happens during development . these things he did also made me think somethings not right with this guy, i mean apart from all the other bad things he did. i work with kids and i saw a lot of things kids do in his ways and habbits. does anyone else see things like this or is there any factual evidence about them being developmentally delayed or something to make them so childlike and have other health problems like the twitches ect.

I never read Othello, but it sounds like it was told by a 3rd all-knowing person….someone who knew how all the lies and manipulation led to the tragic ending. For most of us who have been in relationships with sociopaths, we don’t have the benefit of knowing all that has been said and done to hurt us. I know that certain people who were once friendly to me….neighbors, family and friends of my ex are no longer friendly, I know that when my son was in counseling his counselor made the comment that I too had done “bad” things in my marriage…when I honestly did not, but this counselor would not elaborate on what. I know he lies and I can only assume by other people’s reactions that he continually lies about me.
Five years ago, my oldest child was ten. I was invited to go out. I put my three younger children to bed by 9:00 pm and allowed my oldest son to stay up with the babysitter to watch a movie that he had picked out at the video store. My son was excited for the night. He liked the babysitter, looked forward to the movie, and liked the fact that he got to stay up. I left at 9:00 pm and was back by 11:30. When I got back, my son was gone. The babysitter said he talked to his dad on the phone and then his dad came and picked him up. I tried calling my ex, but he would not answer. I called the police to report that my son was taken. The police man put me on hold and came back to say that my ex and my ten year old son had come into the police station earlier that night. He said my son had called him in tears because his mother had “once” again left him to go out. He told the police that my son said he was afraid and wanted his dad to come get him. My ex told the police he picked my son up for his own well-being. He anticipated that I would call and he wanted the police to know the “true” story. The police then told me that this was an issue of the family court and that they would not intervene. When I checked with the babysitter, she said my ex called my son(not the other way around). My son was not crying or scared in any way, and he told the sitter that his dad said he had to go over his house.
I thought this was very manipulative…the message to me from my ex was…you go out, I’ll take the kids and cause you trouble. No one will believe you. I will make you out to be the bad mother.

Dr Steve
Talking about physical consequences of being around bad stuff for seven years in my case, I don’t know if this applies but there is one thing that makes me think is the fact that my blood pressure got so much better. I used to have high blood pressure during the last four years with him. Since I left him for almost six months I don’t even need to take medication and I’m sleeping so much better these days.

Years ago when my children were young we lived in a really nice neighborhood where it was like the old TV show “Happy Days” all the mothers looked after all the herd of little kids between the ages of 4 and 9 that roamed from house to house in the summer time.

We did have problems with one kid though (her mother shoved her out the door in the morning for the rest of the mothers to watch) This chihld was always causing problems in the group of kids. Her way of doing it was “Let’s you and him fight” or “hey, Joe, throw rocks at Sam”

She never actually “did” any of the bad things, but she got the other kids to do them for her . Since there was always chaos when this girl was around and her her mother didn’t participate in our “neighborhood” caretaking, we all got together and decided to ground HER. We explained to our children that they could no longer play with “Susie” and why. Then we told them that they had to stay in the yards of one of our houses, not play in the dead end street—so when Susie would come over, the mother whose yard it was would tell her that she was “grounded” for her behavior and must go home for two weeks. Of course she had no one to play with at home and her mother didn’t want her there messing up the house, so we ended up being successful with this child in stopping her passive aggressive and chaotic behavior, which by the time it had progressed to the rock-throwing stage and stitches was smore than any of the other mothers wanted to have going on. Fortunately, her parents moved not long after that.

Since the rest of the neighborhood mom’s all pretty much agreed on what was acceptable beahvor in the group of kids and made sure that it was taken care of on the spot, our kids had a great place to grow up.

The psychopath’s ability to cause pain and chaos in our lives with a subtle ability to start a smear campaign cannot be over estimated. Most people don’t believe that such “evil” (for lack of abetter word) people really do exist who will do “things like that” for no motive that makes sense to anyone except a psychopath. A “normal” person has a difficult time accepting the “real” truth about a psychopath. Their ability to turn people against their victim is uncany. It destroys lives, reputations, and companies, and even whole countries. Iago is a perfect example of a psychopath and Othello is a perfect example of someone who is duped by the psychopath.

I truly love the play “Othello”. There is no easy answer to why Iago kills Desdemona and Othello. Envy is prominent in his disordered mind and I can grasp that.
The genius of this play to me is how Shakespeare shows how the subtle manipulation of information and events can destroy a life. All these powerful, smart, successful people are manipulated so slickly. They are oblivious to his machinations but the outcome is orchestrated to destroy lives and we get a front row seat to how all the characters work for Iago. He does not have to do it all himself.

It is such a brilliant play. I can’t think of anywhere else where the psychopath is revealed so clearly. We walk away wondering why???????? After my years of personal experience I would say envy, personal gain and for the sheer fun of it. He got to put one over on the great Othello.

This was no easy con but he acted out his evil with such
finesse. An intelligent sociopath or psychopath is a predator who is a wonder to behold. Too bad his brilliance is hell bent on destruction.

Oh…….. I went back and saw that your question was “why did Othello let his vision be so clouded that he did not believe in Desdemona?”

Because he loved her passionately and he was vulnerable. He was led to believe that she did not love him and he could not stand it. You have to love Othello for that even if he did go psycho and kill poor old Desdemona. He was led like a lamb to the slaughter. Being an honorable and brave man himself, he could not believe that others were liars. This is the plight of the man of conscience.

Dr. Hare says that ANYONE can be fooled by a psychopath. God help the people who get in the cross-hares.

QUOTE SEA STORM: “An intelligent sociopath or psychopath is a predator who is a wonder to behold. Too bad his brilliance is hell bent on destruction. ”

Well said, sea storm….very well said. They are “interesting” at least, but if you are the target or the duped minion, they can ruin your life

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