To Assert Eternal Providence: The Religion of Iago

Shakespeare is a subtle author when it comes to religion, and throughout Othello Iago never directly addresses his religious beliefs. Yet one passage in particular, that of Iago’s attempt to persuade Roderigo to control his passions, makes the case for Iago’s true atheism. He says:

Virtue! a fig! 'tis in ourselves that we are thus or thus. Our bodies are our gardens, to the which our wills are gardeners: so that if we will plant nettles, or sow lettuce, set hyssop and weed up thyme, supply it with one gender of herbs, or distract it with many, either to have it sterile with idleness, or manured with industry, why, the power and corrigible authority of this lies in our wills. If the balance of our lives had not one scale of reason to poise another of sensuality, the blood and baseness of our natures would conduct us to most preposterous conclusions: but we have reason to cool our raging motions, our carnal stings, our unbitted lusts, whereof I take this that you call love to be a sect or scion.

Rich with Biblical imagery, this passage is more than an attempt at manipulation. It reveals Iago to be a profound disbeliever in God who seeks to elevate himself and his credo of reason to the level of a deity.

The most telling...

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