Throughout the literary ages, the perception of morality and life are constantly evolving to change people’s views on morality. Moral and ethical ideas were once chivalric traditions of honour, but have been changed from humanity’s freedom as individual beings to reject social principles and customs.
Oscar Wilde once said ‘I am quite incapable of understanding how any work of art can be criticised from a moral standpoint’1, yet staged as the Machiavellian antagonist within Shakespeare’s masterpiece ‘Othello’, Iago acts on his emotions and feelings of jealously and personal competition, which leads Iago to corrupt Othello because of his evil nature – leading an issue to a moral standpoint.
When Othello had the occasion to appoint a lieutenant with “Three great ones of the city in personal suit”, it appealed to Iago but only to find that Othello had already chosen Cassio.
It appeared to be a matter of personal preference only, for he could give no reason for the choice of choosing Cassio.
This capricious choice lago at once took as a very great slight upon him, A. C Bradley commented on the “the usual lunacies” in Shakespeare’s tragedy plays that “It has been held, for example, that Othello treated lago abominably in preferring Cassio to him. “2 Once this is done, Iago reveals to the audience that “In following him, I follow but myself.
” This is a paradox as Iago follows Othello not out of “love” or “duty,” but because he feels he can exploit and dupe his master, thereby revenging himself upon the man he suspects of having slept with his wife.
Furthermore, Iago expresses his deception to Roderigo to “wear my heart upon thy sleeve” to demonstrate to the audience that people who reveal their true motives makes themselves a victim. This therefore concludes that the day he decides to establish outwardly what he feels; inwardly, Iago explains, it will be the day he makes himself most vulnerable.
In comparison to this, in ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’ Basil reveals to the reader that Henry “has a very bad influence over all his friends”. This depicts Henry as being something of a powerful entity who no-one cannot say “no” to as a result of his philosophical ideology. This is quite similar to Iago as he purposely influences those who are around him just for his own gain and satisfaction as his “outward action doth demonstrateThe native act and figure of my heart”. Upon telling Dorian his ideology, Henry ‘was amazed at the sudden impression that his words produced’.
From this, Wilde’s use of trajectory, readers can infer that Henry’s ‘amazed’ feeling of seeing what his philosophy has done to Dorian, seems to be his motive for the continuous corruption he places on Dorian further in novel. Iago reveals his deception to Roderigo and the audience that he is “not what I am” because Iago is consciously aware he is going to corrupt Othello. The parallel used to show Iago’s alter ego can be linked with Henry since he believes “there is no such thing as a good influence. All influence are immoral.
” It could be suggested that Henry’s character is used as a parallel structure in the novel to show no remorse for his influences he has over Dorian and the latter for Iago over Othello. Iago believes that people who serve a cause or a person are acting sincerely, but they are indeed acting on their own behalf as they “trimmed in forms and visages of dutyKeep yet their hearts attending on themselves”. This shows Iago believes people look loyal by their appearances but, on the inside, they are thinking about themselves rather than the person they serve.
In comparison, Henry seems to have the power to corrupt as his ideological viewpoint is that “to influence a person is to give him one’s own soul”. Here, this suggests that Henry is giving Dorian a new soul – to corrupt him – to make him whole again. In contrast to this, In ‘Enduring Love’, Jed has an infatuated belief that Joe loves him and that “there’s nothing I can do but return your love. ” Jed he believes that through a higher powerful entity “To bring you to God, through love” Joe will eventually love him.
Through religion, Jed considers that he could manipulate Joe’s feelings through the “the purpose… [of] Christ that is in you and that is you. ” However, in ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’, it could be argued that Henry seems to purposely challenge Victorian values. During the Victorian era people took literal truth and moral ethics from the bible and because of this, it was thought that if religion were accepted by all, ‘evil’ forces would not be able to corrupt humankind.
But Wilde challenges this through a provocative statement that “great sins of the world take place” “in the brain, and the brain only”. With the use of repetition, this point emphasises that corruption of the soul or the mind is purely based on biology and not relied on an unknown source known to human kind. Similarly, with reference to ‘Enduring Love’, it could be considered that because Jed’s fixation on “without an awareness of God’s love you’re living in a desert” Jed believes that God’s love should be the reason to corrupt Joe’s mind, a mind of science.
A further reason why Henry might want to poison Dorian’s mind is because Henry is jealous of Dorian’s “most marvellous youth” as Henry believes it is “one thing worth having” above all else in the world. To support the claim that aesthetic beauty and age seems to contribute for the corruption of one’s one psyche, Othello descends into questioning one of the reasons to why his wife might be unfaithful to him has he has “declinedInto the vale of years”.
This metaphor taken from the phrase “vale of tears” seems intended in a more neutral sense; the “vale of years” is the broad, flat stretch of middle age beyond the slope of youth. Before murdering Desdemona, Othello admires her beauty like “thy rose” that has “vital growth”. He seems to be infatuated by her beauty that the only way he could possibly get rid of his jealousy of her, is to get rid of her beauty by killing her. According to Henry, when you grow old, “you will feel it, you will feel it terribly.
” The adverb of manner “terribly” supports the claim that men in particular, seem to be almost afraid of aging and would do anything to take away these feelings of inadequacy caused by growing older, as shown by Othello and Dorian. Nevertheless, through the use of third-person objective narrator in ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’, the readers start to see how far Henry’s ‘mere words’ of corruption is going and because of how ‘terrible they are’, we get to see Henry gain a powerful control over Dorian as he was ‘dimly conscious that entirely fresh influences were at work within him’.
However, it is debatable whether Dorian would have wanted to change this as he “would give everything! ” to be young and to stay young. In contrast to this, unlike Dorian, Othello was oblivious to any external forces at work for corrupting his perception of reality. The only person to see the change was Emilia who believed that a “wretch have put this in your headLet heaven requite it with the serpent’s curse! ” The metaphoric allusive allegory to the “serpent’s curse” refers to the curse that God laid upon the serpent for deceiving the innocent Eve.
By this, Emelia means that whoever has put these ideas into Othello’s head deserves the same fate. According to Genesis 3:15 the snake was cursed to crawl on the ground and therefore be susceptible to man’s heel crushing its head (this vulnerability is a direct result of Satan’s sin). This foreshadowing of what will really happen to Satan someday – thus the religious allegory could be suggested that Emilia believes the man who corrupted Othello, should be crushed.
Here, the audience notices Shakespeare’s deliberate use of dramatic irony that as far as Emelia is concerned the “serpent” is her very own husband Iago. In addition, Shakespeare illustrates the power and the extreme manipulation he can create with his protagonists, once again reinforcing that portrayal of the Machiavellian character. In all three texts, delusion seems to be one of the prevalent effects on the individuals because of the corruption they have been exposed to.
In ‘Othello’, the audiences capture Othello’s obsessive impulse of his undying love for Desdemona as “Perdition catch my soulBut I do love thee, and when I love thee not, Chaos is come again”. This indicates that Desdemona’s image means the world to Othello and therefore; if he stops loving her, the entire universe stops making sense for him and the world is reduced to “Chaos. ” The effect of the corruption Iago has put on Othello is starting to progressively show and if he found out Desdemona’s ‘hidden agenda’, he would be devastated and the love wouldn’t be there, therefore his world would be in ruins.
Shakespeare personifies chaos to highlight the feeling of not having Desdemona anymore, which would be a cruel phenomenon that Othello could not merely tolerate. This reinforces the idea that Othello would rather be dead than alive if he did not have Desdemona, which for some could be seen as foreshadowing Othello’s decline from grace. In contrast, Wilde portrays the element of losing oneself “when one is in love, one always begins by deceiving one’s self”. It could be argued that Othello is deceiving himself and not thinking rationally as he is overreacting.
However, one could argue that this is almost an instinctual impulse he has and quite a literal one – without Desdemona in his life, he would fall apart and throughout the play when Othello seems to trust her less and less, it is quite visible to the audience that his mind seems to implode and fly into disparity. Equally in Enduring Love, McEwan puts Jed in a similar situation and claims to “understand” what Joe is “feeling” and believe he “feels it too. I love you. ” Pathos is created and we can only sympathise with Jed because of his mental illness.
But, as the story progresses we see that he is deceiving himself once Joe consistently tells him he is “not interested” in pursuing any form of relationship with Jed. At this time, we see that Jed still does not listen, and further deceiving himself into believing it was God’s wish that they should be together. For Dorian, however it is explained that his ‘sudden mad love for Sibyl Vane was a psychological phenomenon’. The ambiguity behind the attributive adjective ‘mad’ suggests to readers that Dorian’s mind has emphatically changed over the course of seventy-two hours of meeting Sybil.
The obsession with aestheticism and beauty is driven further since the text was written in the Victorian period when ‘mad’ could have been taken for someone who is literally insane, thus leaving a connotation of Dorian’s poisoned mind and his descent into madness and obsession for perfection. Alternatively it could mean that because he is young himself, he is first feeling what it feels to be in love with someone. It could be said since Sibyl was considerably younger than Dorian, he wants to fall in love with her to retain the youth that he so desperately wants to cling onto.
Corruption of morality does not happen solely to the protagonists, but also to the supporting characters, such as the strong-willed, pragmatic character Emilia. When Emilia reveals to the audience in her monologue that her “husband hath a hundred timesWoo’d me to steal it” we see; even though Iago has not directly poisoned her mind, she has now done something immoral that she had not done before. Since the Elizabethans took the Seven Deadly Sins literally, it could be argued that Emilia stole the handkerchief because she wanted to do “nothing but please his fantasy”.
She has gone against her own moral and social standing and the Elizabethan’s values to be a good wife and to save the embarrassment of not being able to satisfy her husband, thus resulting in her pride being saved. In comparison, Dorian consciously corrupted the mind of Sybil Vane by having no sympathy and crushed her by saying she is “nothing to me now… I will never think of you. I will never mention your name. ” Dorian’s changed course of judgement has made him conform to the lowest of the low to insult Sibyl, the girl he thought he loved.
The repetition of the adverb “never” left a mark on Sybil and since at no time in the future, Dorian will ever think of her or mention her, it leads no hope for her and believing that she is worthless, she decided to commit suicide by drinking poison. Likewise, in ‘Othello’ we see a change of his character dramatically when he reveals to the audience his “bloody thought with violent pace”. Evermore, Desdemona falls dangerously in love with Othello and because of this Desdemona gets called a “Devil! ” by Othello and he ‘[Strikes her]’.
Thus seems like both Desdemona and Sybil Vane are punished for unintentionally falling in love with ‘the wrong person’ which results in both of them losing their lives. Furthermore, the corrupted mind of Othello has affected the perception of how Lodovico sees the new, ‘darker’, changed Othello as he cannot believe that this is “the natureWhom passion could not shake?. ” In comparison to this, it is also seen when Basil seems horrified by the sudden change of Dorian’s behaviour when Dorian exclaims about Sybil Vane’s death as “What is done is done.
” Both Basil and Lodovico cannot believe what they have witnessed and thus could be said that because of the corruption of Othello and Dorian’s mind, Lodovico and Basil’s perception about morality have also been changed, resulting in corruption having affected them inadvertently. Murder is a contributing factor to the consequences of corruption to the mind and soul. Iago’s aside to the audience clearly shows us that he does not care “whether he kill Cassio,Or Cassio him, or each do kill the other” because “Every way makes my gain. ” Iago does not care who is involved and who get killed as long as his overall outcome is achieved.
When Iago ‘[Stabs RODERIGO’ Roderigo calls out “O damned Iago! O inhuman dog! ” The pre-modifying adjectives in Roderigo’s blasphemous call, tells the audience that Iago is so embroiled in immorality and corruption that he is like the devil’s spawn. He is the reincarnation of the devil as it could be seen that Roderigo has damned Iago to hell. In addition to this, when admiring Desdemona in her sleep, Othello decides to “put out the light, and then put out the light. ” The meiosis Shakespeare uses here means Othello is resigned to an immoral and corrupt act.
Also the metaphoric irony emphasises Desdemona’s innocence. He describes her with words that suggest her brightness and innocence alongside the fact that he is determined to condemn and kill her. Furthermore in ‘Enduring Love’ the realism portrayed through the first person narration, shows how Joe succumbs to the realisation that he ‘was the man who was selling me a gun. ’ Here, it appears to the readers that he is now prepared to do anything and has become so obsessed with getting Jed out of his life, he is prepared to go against his previous moral code.
In the same way, Dorian Gray’s morality fails him miserably as his mind has totally descended into madness as he ‘dug the knife into the great vein… crushing the man’s head on the table, and stabbing again and again. ’ The structural repetition of “again and again” graphically highlights the immoral behaviour Dorian has because of the influence Henry had over him about morality. This supports Wilde’s view that ‘The promising youth [Dorian] plunges into ever kind of mean depravity’.
As well as murder, suicide is an essential part of how the characters seem to escape from their madness. For instance in ‘Othello’, Othello pictures himself as “a turbaned Turk who “Beat a Venetian and traduced the state”. Here is one of his own enemies, which he most certainly became in the end. According to Isaac Asimov “Othello’s use of the reverse phrase in his last agony is like a return to his origins”. 4 However, Othello dies speaking of himself in the third person, perhaps signifying his lost identity. Along with Iago, we “Look on the tragic loading of this bed”.
Equally important is in ‘Enduring Love’ when Jed ‘slit his throat in front of us’ which could suggest his suicide was influenced by his own delusions about religion whenever he blurted out his tainted perception of it to Joe, making Joe reject Jed’s words and Jed himself. Likewise in ‘Dorian Gray’ the definitive catastrophic moment is when ‘a dead man’ was ‘lying on the floor’ ‘with a knife in his heart’ the readers simultaneously ‘recognized who it was’. According Wilde5 ‘Dorian kills conscience, and at that moment kills himself.
’ It is seen here that for Dorian to be completely free of being ‘withered, wrinkled, and loathsome of visage’ he had to kill himself to save himself from more immoral acts.
1 Taken from the selection of The Letters of Oscar Wilde [noted in The Picture of Dorian Gray: A Norton Critical Edition]. 2 From the essay, Shakespearean Tragedy: Lectures on Hamlet, Othello, King Lear, Macbeth. (page 208) 2nd ed. London: Macmillan, 1905. 3 Extracted from the ST. JAMES’S GAZETTE, article ‘A Study in Puppydom’ (June 24, 1890). 4 Online source: Part II. Roman 23. The Tragedy of Othello the Moor of Venice