One of the most important questions of our lives is what makes some people good and others evil. For guidance we look to our own experiences, to the beliefs of any religion that we might follow, to our political and cultural leaders and of course to art. Surely one of the marks of the great artist is his or her ability to encapsulate and determine the most important elements about the debate over what makes some people take the path to a moral conduct while others become evil. William Shakespeare is one of those artists who, for centuries, has helped us to establish the nature of good and evil by presenting us a wide variety of complex characters that allows us to understand better the human motivation. This concept of motivation is experienced, throughout history by many characters and we will concentrate our analysis on Iago, possibly the most heinous villain in Shakespeare and on Krogstad, a secondary character in Ibsen's " a Doll's House" but with a major function. These two men play significant roles in destroying a marriage and yet the results of their involvement are different.Iago ruins Othello and instigates the murder of Othello's wife while Krogstad liberates Nora from her marriage giving her the opportunity to find her freedom. While Iago and Krogstad are secondary characters they play primary roles in causing a dramatic change in the outcome of the plays. if, apparently these two characters have something in common the purpose and the motivation of their actions are very different.
Nils Krogstad in trying to blackmail Nora becomes an instrument of truth for us and for Nora because his letter reveals Torvald's true nature. While Krogstad causes much Nora much distress throughout the play, he is indirectly responsible for her freedom. His threatening and his letter open her eyes to the fact that she is a prisoner in her own home. If Krogstad's actions have as an outcome something good, this can't be said when referring to Iago who is presented as the epitome of deceit and malice. Maybe the play itself should be renamed after him because, throughout the play, we witness the rise and fall of Iago's character. Throughout his words and actions Iago is capable to manipulate others for his personal benefit. Not only that, but he also manipulates people to get him closer to what he wants to achieve as he causes Othello to see the infidelity of his young and beautiful wife Desdemona with his favorite lieutenant, Michael Cassio. He also uses the vision Roderigo has of a union with Desdemona to manipulate Roderigo. He is no doubt the driving evil force of the play pushing Othello and everyone around him to a tragic ending.
In terms of the motivation and the purpose of their actions Iago and Krogstad are two different characters. Indeed, Krogstad is the antagonist in "A Doll's House" but he is not necessarily a villain. Krogstad is a person who has been wronged by society as he committed the same crime Nora did, forgery of signatures. Though he did break the law, his mistake was relatively minor but the society has labeled him as a criminal and prohibited him to go beyond his past. Additionally Krogstad's claim that the cause of his immoral behavior was when Mrs. Linde abandoned him for a man with money so she could provide for her family makes it possible for us to see Krogstad as a victim of circumstances. Even if society's unfair treatment of Krogstad is not a justification for his actions, it tempers in the same time out perception of him as a despicable character. It can be said that his actions are indeed motivated because when Torvald becomes director of the bank in which Krogstad is employed and threatens him with dismissal, he naturally has to fight back: "If necessary, I am prepared to fight for my small post in the bank as if I were fighting for my life...It is not only for the sake of the money; indeed, that weighs least with me in the matter. There is another reason...my sons are growing up; for their sake I must try and win back as much respect as I can in the town. This post in the Bank was like the first step up for me -- and now your husband is going to kick me downstairs again into the mud" (act 1, "A Doll's House's Text"). As can be seen Krogstad has reasonable motives for behaving as he does: he wants to keep his job at the Bank in order to spare his children of the hardships that come with a spoiled reputation.
In Iago's case things are a little bit different, his most terrible characteristic being the utter lack of convincing motivation for his actions. In the first scene he claims to be angry at Othello for not making him a lieutenant while at the end of the same act, scene 3 he says that Othello may have slept with his wife Emilia: "It is thought abroad that 'twixt my sheets / He has done my office" (I, scene 3, 369-370, Shakespeare Homepage). Iago reconfirms his suspicion again in the first scene of act 2 explaining that he lusts after Desdemona because he wants to get even with Othello: " wife for wife."(act 2, scene 1, 286, Shakespeare Homepage). None of these claims explain adequately Iago's deep hatred of Othello and this exact lack of motivation is what makes his actions more terrifying. He is capable to take revenge on anyone around him in order to achieve his goals, Othello, Desdemona, Cassio, and Roderigo and enjoys the pain and the damages he causes. What makes Iago such a compelling and powerful figure is his talent of understanding and manipulating the desires of those around him. He takes the handkerchief from Emilia and he is aware of the fact that he can deflect her questions; he is able to tell Othello of the handkerchief and knows that Othello will not doubt him. Practically Iago is a character who writes the play's main plot, takes a key part in it and gives all kind of directions to the others, most notably to the noble Moor Othello. During the play's "corruption scene"(act, scene 3) Iago tells Othello that "men should be what they seem"(act 3, 127, Shakespeare Homepage) referring here to Cassio but the irony is obvious enough as Iago has already disclosed to Roderigo in the opening scene "I am not what I am"(act 1, scene 1, 65). At this moment in the play Iago tries to clarify somehow this seeming paradox although his explanation does not, by far, justify his own actions:
Though I do hate him as I do hell-pains / Yet, for necessity of present life, / I must show out a flag and sign of love, / Which is indeed but sign." (Act 1, scene 1, 154-157).
In terms of responsibility for their actions the cases of Iago and Krogstad differ to a large extent. Although Krogstad blackmails Nora he is not responsible for destroying Nora's marriage, because her marriage or better said her happiness was only in her mind; his actions determine Nora to realize her unhappy life, the fact that she no longer wants to be the "fascinating, charming little darling." When Nora closes behind her the door of her doll's house she is in fact opening the her life's gate, proclaiming the revolutionary message that only perfect freedom and communication makes a true bond between men and women and that she is now free of any bondage of duty.
Instead, in Iago's case we can speak of a true Machiavellian figure capable of doing anything to overcome his enemies and achieve his goals; referring to the concept of…