W. Somerset Maugham, A Writer’s Notebook, 1940:

“Fundamentally man is not a rational animal. It is this that makes fiction so difficult to write; for the reader, or the spectator of a play, demands, at all events today, that he should behave as if he were. We feel dissatisfied when the persons of a story do not act from motives that we accept as sufficient. We expect their behavior to be rational, and if it isn’t we say: “But people don’t act like that.” Our demand for probability grows more and more stringent. We balk at coincidence and accident. We expect the characters that are presented to us invariably to behave like themselves.

The behaviour of the persons in Othello, of Othello himself principally, but to a less extent of almost everyone in the play, is wildly irrational. The critics have turned themselves inside out to show that it isn’t. In vain. They would have done better to accept it as a grand example of the fundamental irrationality of man. I am quite ready to believe that contemporary theatre-goers saw nothing improbable in the behaviour of any of the characters.”

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