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Home :: Archive :: 1997 :: February ::
Re: Iago's Homosexuality
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 8.0246.  Thursday, 20  February 1997.

[1]     From:   Terence Hawkes <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 19 Feb 1997 05:53:37 -0500
        Subj:   SHK 8.0236  Iago's Homosexuality

[2]     From:   Trace Shelton <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 19 Feb 1997 14:48:45 -0600 (CST)
        Subj:   Homoerotic Iago

[3]     From:   Ann Marie Olson <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 19 Feb 1997 21:09:23 -0600
        Subj:   Homosexuality and Sin


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Terence Hawkes <
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Date:           Wednesday, 19 Feb 1997 05:53:37 -0500
Subject: Iago's Homosexuality
Comment:        SHK 8.0236  Iago's Homosexuality

Dear Trace Shelton: Your main problem lies in the term 'latent
homosexuality'. This is a rather crude Twentieth Century concept which
has underwritten so many modern interpretations of Othello that it's
almost become a cliche. Discard it. It's certainly misleading in this
case because it draws on notions of 'homosexual' and 'homosexuality'
that have only fairly recently been invented. Some of the most
interesting things about Shakespeare's audience are the ways which
they're DIFFERENT from us.  Have a look at Bruce R. Smith's excellent
'Homosexual Desire in Shakespeare's England" (Chicago 1991), especially
pp. 61-4.

T. Hawkes

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Trace Shelton <
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Date:           Wednesday, 19 Feb 1997 14:48:45 -0600 (CST)
Subject:        Homoerotic Iago

Thank you Joan Hartwig, David Reed, and Brad Berens, for your responses,
and especially for the inclusion of helpful source material.  I would
like to say a few things in further defense of my assertion that Iago
holds "homoerotic" attractions for Cassio, as well as Othello.  If
Iago's malice towards Othello can be said to stem from a jealousy of
Desdemona as object of Othello's affections, it seems a jealousy of
Cassio for his recent promotion fuels this hatred as well.  I believe
that while it seems obvious that if there is love/lust displayed by Iago
toward anyone, it is Othello.  However, it is my contention that Cassio
is a close second.  Othello offers the allure of the exotic other, as
Desdemona so excellently explains in I,ii, and contrary to David Reed's
assertion that Iago is disgusted by this eroticism, Iago is very much
taken in by the grandeur and mystery of Othello, hiding this attraction
behind a facade of revulsion.  This loathing actually stems from a
loathing of his own "lust of the blood and permission of the will"; that
is, his forbidden enthrallment with Othello and Cassio.  Othello, as
"the Moor", is associated with magic and charms, even in the opening act
of the play, and Iago perhaps feels the Moor has cast a spell over him.
Cassio weaves his magic in a different way, by affecting the part of the
Castiglionian courtier.  Iago is angry, embarrassed, and at the same
time, enticed by Cassio's smooth conversation and good looks, as
displayed in II, i.  He later speaks that it is to Desdemona's credit to
love Cassio, being a "handsome, young" and "devilish knave."  When Iago
creates for himself a love of Desdemona, he does it out of defense for
his own ego, "suspecting" as he does that Othello has "leap'd into his
seat."  Much has been made of "honest" Iago's perpetual dishonesty, and
he is even dishonest with himself, as evidenced by these
self-creations.  To accept my position, one has only to believe that
Iago's dishonesty with himself applies to sexual orientation as well (if
that is possible before the nineteenth century).  He projects his own
faults onto others in the play, and in the scene of Cassio's "dream", he
places his own homoerotic passions into the fictionalized Cassio.  As
for the use of the term "homosexual", it is a question I intend to deal
with in my paper, though I believe the term was invented to describe a
type of behavior, rather than, as some "new-inventionists" would seem to
assert, that the "homosexual" evolved as a result, or at least around
the same time as, the word itself.

Sincerely,
Trace Shelton
Texas A&M University

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Ann Marie Olson <
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Date:           Wednesday, 19 Feb 1997 21:09:23 -0600
Subject:        Homosexuality and Sin

Thoughts sparked by comments on sin in M for M and on homosexuality in
Othello and Midsummer, along with references to Foxe's Martyrs: I'm
rather a novice here compared to some of you, but I question some of the
comments which seem to indicate that these interpretations of the plays
are absolute. It seems to me that in Measure for Measure, more than in
any other play (including, surprisingly, Merchant of Venice),
Shakespeare questions the very nature of justice and ethics. Isabella is
forced to choose between two very different sets of instructions. She
not only endorses the unsullied virginity of the convent, she questions
the adequacy of their rules. Why? Is she afraid that without external
enforcement of morality, her own virtue may collapse? I don't think so.
She's too naive and indignant when she (finally) realizes what Angelo is
proposing. She's too certain (albeit erroneously) of what Claudio's
response will be to such a proposal. (Would it be interesting to do
these scenes from M for M alongside scenes from something like Indecent
Proposal . . . $100,000 to sleep with your wife?) So what's a novice to
do? Seek the advice of a holy friar. Presumably, she sources her moral
code in the church, since she aspires to be a nun. Now the
representative of the church (or so she understands him to be) tells her
to preserve her virtue through deception. I find nothing in the play to
suggest that she doubts the Duke's assurances that her action "keeps you
from dishonor in doing it" (II.i.237). Her naivete is central to her
character. Isabella is praised as a model of the virtuous woman and
castigated as a manipulative deceiver. I tend to think that she isn't
really the point of the argument so much as an example of its
consequences. The culpability of the Duke is a much larger issue, one
introduced in the first scene and threaded throughout the play.
Shakespeare's audience knew Scripture far better than most of us do
today. They also knew Foxe's Martyrs, the most widely-read book second
only to Scripture according to Bayne's article in Shakespeare's
England.  Isabella seems cast as a potential spiritual martyr as Claudio
is as a political one. The Duke is, after all, conducting a grand
experiment to see whether virtue can survive power (I.iii.53-4). In the
context of his admission that Vienna's immorality is a consequence of
his own too-permissive rule, the play seems to suggest that we are
sinners all, a familiar idea to Renaissance playgoers who were fined if
they didn't attend church. Shakespeare raises the questions. Does he
ever arrive at the answers? I tend to think that Isabella's silence
after the Duke suggests his "motion" in the final scene is suggestive of
the argument as a whole.

Homosexuality: certainly Iago's jealously can be explained by sexual
motivations. Can it not also be motivated by political ambitions? Yes,
the homosexuality is one plausible interpretation, but not the only
one.  And what about the frequent assumption that Oberon wants the
changling child as a catamite. Yes, that's one interpretation, but I
fail to see that it is demanded by the text. His "I do but beg a little
changling boy, / To be my henchman" (II.i.120) seems to suggest the
innocence of his claim. Henchman can imply simply a follower or page.
True, he does reveal that Titania later dispatches the child to his
bower. But in the sylvan setting, this may suggest simply an arbor and
does not demand (or even explicitly suggest) sexual activity or
interest.

I'd welcome response to these thoughts.

Also, a little off the subject-can anyone help me find a Latin course on
CD-rom? I've found French, German, Italian, Spanish, etc., but no Latin.
Any info would be appreciated.
 

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