Inferring the Mind: Parasites and the Breakdown of Inference in Othello

  • Nicholas R. Helms
Part of the Cognitive Studies in Literature and Performance book series (CSLP)


Helms focuses on inference in Shakespeare’s Othello, analyzing the ways Iago uses inference to understand others and to mask his own mental states, also known as levels of intentionality. Inference is a powerful tool for predicting human behavior based upon general principles, but as those principles are applied to more and more complex cases, inference can overload the mind and lead to misreading. Reading the minds of others can be a form of parasitism, a cognitive adaptation Lisa Zunshine describes as “promiscuous, voracious, and proactive.” Helms reads Iago as a social parasite, tracking the development of the parasite character type in Machiavelli’s La Mandragola, Jonson’s Volpone, and Webster’s The Duchess of Malfi.


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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Nicholas R. Helms
    • 1
  1. 1.University of AlabamaTuscaloosaUSA

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