The Burdens of Mind Reading in Shakespeare’s Othello: A Cognitive and Psychoanalytic Approach to Iago’s Theory of Mind
Abstract

Abstract:

Critics have generally agreed that Iago’s power over Othello stems from his exquisite attunement to Othello’s temperament. Iago’s evil seems to reside in his talent for what cognitive theorists would describe as “mind reading,” the relative ability to access imaginatively another’s mental world and, in Iago’s case, to cruelly manipulate that world. Inversely proportional to Iago’s mind reading ability would be the mind-blindness or metacognitive deficits of Othello, who seems too obtuse and closed off from others to fathom Iago’s unimaginable designs. This essay attempts to integrate a cognitive and psychoanalytic approach to understanding Iago’s character: if theory of mind helps us to understand Iago’s hyperattunement to others (as well as his problems with self-attribution), psychoanalytic theory helps us to assess the manner in which Iago works through his theory of mind impairments.