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Alana Kelley
Professor Barbara Bono
English 310: Shakespeare Late Plays, Spring 2016
Final paper

The Id, the Iago, and the Super-Iago:

The Abject-Ego and Regulating Desire in Shakespeares Othello

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Sigmund Freud separated the psychical apparatus into three main categories; the
conscious, preconscious, and unconscious. The conscious mind, is that which we see and interpret
the world. The preconscious mind is all the memories and desires which we arent currently
conscious of, but that we can quickly access if we want to. The unconscious mind consists of
desires and impulses of which we are not aware. Freud believed that the main motivations behind
all human behaviors are drives from our unconscious brain. Freud has labeled these three psyches
as the Id, the Ego, and the Super-Ego. With an extensive explanation of these three psyches,
William Shakespeares Othello will be able to be analyzed according to Freudian psychoanalytic
theory and, specifically, the role of Iago as physical representation of Othellos abject superego.
With the argument laid out we can now state the definitions of the presented terms as they will be
relatively applied to Othello.
In his text An Outline of Psychoanalysis, Freud summarizes the main characteristics of the
three categories. The id is the set of uncoordinated instinctual trends; the super-ego plays the
critical and moralizing role; and the ego is the organized, realistic part that mediates between the
desires of the id and the super-ego. The super-ego can stop one from doing certain things that
one's id may want to do. 1
With the possibility of social humiliation and psychical castration combined with the
provocation from Iago, we can assert Iago as both the instinctual drive of the Id and the morally
conscious drive of the Super-Ego in his influence on Othellos Ego and also the influence these
psyches have on Othellos sexual-libido. To summarize the term libido for its contextual
application we will say that it is a persons sexual desire(s). Iago as acting influence of both Id and
Super-Ego, we can assert the multitude of his power in the eventual overthrowing of the Egos
Freud, Sigmund. Trans. & Ed. James Strachey. The Psychical Apparatus. An Outline of
Psycho-Analysis. W.W. Norton & Company Inc., 1940. Print. 14-16.
Freud, Sigmund. Civilization and Its Discontents. N/A, 1929. PDF. 733.

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libidinal desires, as they are placed in Desdemona, Othellos wife and love-object, due to the
sexual-libidos dominant control upon the subject. In his text Civilization and Its Discontents
Freud highlights the curious effects a love-object has on its possessor,
I am, of course, speaking of the way of life which makes love the
center of everythingwhich looks for all satisfaction in loving and
being loved. we are never so defenseless against suffering as
when we love, never so helplessly unhappy as when we have lost
our loved object or its love.2
Heeding the extremity of the love-objects power over the subject, there is now greater emphasis
on the manipulative role Iago plays within Othello and within Othello in breaking this strong link
between the subject and object. Freud also elaborates on what can be connected with Othellos
fear of social humiliation/castration and any external conflicts that might be arise due to the
suspicion, and repression of the suspicion, of the love-object, or as Freud terms it the libido,
We have learnt that libidinal instinctual impulses undergo the
vicissitude of pathogenic repression if they come into conflict with
the subjects cultural and ethical ideas. By this we never mean that
the individual in question has merely intellectual knowledge of the
existence of such ideas; we always mean that he recognizes them as
a standard for himself and submits to the claims they make on him.
Repression, we have said, proceeds from the ego; we might say
with greater precision that it proceeds from the self-respect of the

Freud, Sigmund. On Narcissism. Literary Theory: An Anthology. Ed. Julie Rivkin. Michael
Ryan. Maiden, MA: Blackwell Publishing Ltd, 2004. 415. PDF.

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The impact the love-object has over the subject has been highlighted as one with extreme
dominance. The loss or betrayal of this love-object, due to the standard at which it is held by the
subject, has an even more devastating effect on the subject. Because of this, Iagos early
insinuations regarding Desdemonas infidelity is initially denied and continually repressed by
Othello due to the extreme emotions he feels for her, his love-object, and also because of the
desire to maintain a nature of self-respect, as Freud has indicated. There can now be contextual
and textual implications made in connection with the theories that have been set up by Freud.
In the first act of the play there are skepticisms implied in Iagos language when he is
speaking to Roderigo regarding Othello, I follow him to serve my turn upon him / We cannot all
be masters, nor all masters / Cannot be truly follow'd.4 Treating this short passage with a close
reading we can break down the sections and analyze them further in order to extract the
psychoanalytical features within it. To serve my turn upon him is a foreshadowing of the plays
denouement where Iago eventually inflicts the ultimate aftermath with his service/assistance in
Othellos suicide. The following line, We cannot all be masters, provides further suggestions in
the uncontrollable nature of man. How even though the subject thinks he is in total control of his
emotions, that he is the fully conscious master of his own actions, he is never completely in
control due to the incognizance of primal desires that constantly challenge the ego. In this same
introductive conversation, with the application of the terms Id, Ego and Super-Ego as it pertains
to Iago, he asserts himself as being apart from the Moor, whom we have deemed the Ego in this
context, and in this assertion Iago claims the role of both the regulating Id and the Super-Ego but
also makes note of the intrinsic interconnectivity between himself and Othello, Were I the Moor,
I would not be Iago / In following him, I follow but myself... After proclaiming himself as
Shakespeare, William. Othello. Folger Shakespeare Library. Ed. Barbara A. Mowat & Paul
Werstine. N/A. Web. 10 May, 2016. <>. Line 45-47.

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devoted to and fused with Othello, he then goes on to hint at his superficial appearance and giving
further indications of his deceptiveness,
...not I for love and duty,
But seeming so, for my peculiar end:
For when my outward action doth demonstrate
The native act and figure of my heart
In compliment extern, 'tis not long after
But I will wear my heart upon my sleeve...5
When referring to the native act and figure of his heart, Iago can again be seen as part of
Othellos psychical apparatus, specifically the Id in this case, due to the natural/primal tendencies
this psyche emits upon the ego. It is the Ids native tendency, according to Freud, to evoke the
repressed primal desires upon the Ego. He then ends this declaration with an extremely powerful
confession, I am not what I am, which looms over the entirety of the play, adding to the
installation-dramatic irony.
With Iagos already asserted role as the Id and the Super-Ego, he can then also be deemed
as an abject super-ego, a physical manifestation of something that is realistically immaterial. This
can be supported with Julia Kristevas expansion on the concept of the abject, Abjection is
immoral, sinister, scheming, and shady: a terror that dissembles, a hatred that smiles, a passion
that uses the body for barter instead of inflaming it, a debtor who sells you up, a friend who stabs
you6 With Kristevas description of the abject there is further room for Iagos application to
this definition. Abjection in this case is seen as the Id manifested outside of the psyche and

Shakespeare, Line 65-71.

Kristeva, Julia, and Leon S. Roudiez. Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection. New York:
Columbia University Press, 1982. PDF. 4.

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externally from the physical body, thus appointing Iago as an appropriate embodiment of
The control of the superego over the ego is again highlighted by the sensitivity of the ego
and the delicacy in which that subject balances his desires if it is confronted with any doubt it its
own reason. Iago annunciates this fragility, 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 prepostrous conclusions.7 When Iago makes us of the word nature within this statement,
he is illuminating his own role as the acting Id within the situation, which is the vessel for the
primal (baseness) desires of human nature. This line is, again, another foreshadowing of events.
When Iago makes the reference to the baseness of human nature he also states that the fragility of
this nature, as it is positioned against the regulating ego of the subject, is exposed and in this
exposure the regulation of the ego and the superego are subject to manipulation due to the
underlying repression that is present in the ego.
The only thing more powerful and influential on the ego than the love of the love-object is
the fear of loss of the love-object. With the fear of potential betrayal and loss of his love-object,
Desdemona, Othello resorts to the only solution in which he still maintains control of the loveobject and is safeguarded from castration by the love-object. Through performing the physical
destruction of the love-object himself, Othello maintains the omnipotent control over the object.
This omnipotence and the subjects destruction of the object is derived from a theory conceived
by Donald Winnicott in his essay The Use of an Object and Relating Through Identifications,
...the destruction plays its part in making the reality, placing the object outside the self.8 Since it
has already been established that Othello is the subject and Desdemona is the object, we can now
relate this correlation to the thesis just presented by Winnicott. Through the destruction of the

Shakespeare, Line 368-372.

Winnicott, Donald. Transitional Objects and Transitional Phenomena. N/A, 1953. PDF. 122.

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object, the subject realizes reality. When Othello murders Desdemona and the truth is finally
revealed to him about her faithfulness, he is confronted with the reality and gravity of what he has
just done and, out of the inability to cope with this action, also kills himself out of both
humiliation and unfathomable regret.
Through this manipulation, that leads to both the egos and the love-objects destruction,
Iago satisfies the primal desire put forth by the Id and also is able to regulate dispersing these
desires due to his omnipotent control and influence he has as the Superego.