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Home :: Archive :: 1997 :: January ::
Re: Iago, Homosexuality, and Psychosis
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, SHK 8.0146.  Wednesday, 29 January 1997.

(1)     From:   John Cox <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 28 Jan 1997 14:11:20 -0500 (EST)
        Subj:   Iago

(2)     From:   David Skeele <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 28 Jan 1997 17:16:15 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 8.0140  Re: Iago

(3)     From:   Ian Doescher <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 28 Jan 1997 20:22:36 -0500 (EST)
        Subj:   Re: Iago, Homosexuality, and Psychosis

(4)     From:   W. L. Godshalk <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 28 Jan 1997 22:46:39 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 8.0140  Re: Iago

(5)     From:   
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        Date:   Wednesday, 29 Jan 1997 13:43:08 GMT
        Subj:   Re: SHK 8.0126  Re: Gayness


(1)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           John Cox <
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Date:           Tuesday, 28 Jan 1997 14:11:20 -0500 (EST)
Subject:        Iago

Brad Morris wonders out loud if "Shakespeare was among the first to create such
a character [as Iago]."  Actually, he wasn't.  As Bernard Spivack argued some
forty years ago, Iago is a direct descendant of the Vice, a sixteenth-century
dramatic invention that was unique to English theater. Spivack's argument is
flawed in many ways, but his basic insight is sound, and his book, *Shakespeare
and the Allegory of Evil* remains useful.

John Cox, Hope College

(2)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Skeele <
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Date:           Tuesday, 28 Jan 1997 17:16:15 -0500
Subject: 8.0140  Re: Iago
Comment:        Re: SHK 8.0140  Re: Iago

>Rather than being driven by a frustrated homosexual desire for Othello (a case
>for which can certainly be made, I can't deny that), I have always thought of
>him as, well, the Classic Asshole, if you'll excuse the expression. He's just
>plain nuts, and I think Shakespeare was among the first to create such a
>character. I wonder if we as 20th-century citizens believe wackos of Iago's
>sort didn't exist until recently.
>
>I'm sure many will disagree with me, but that's my opinion. I could be wrong.
>
>Brad Morris

Though I imagine many actors and directors find it useful to think of Iago as a
prototype for the 20th-century sociopath (I certainly have in playing him for
auditions), I don't think we can look at Iago as some sort of ground-breaking
psychological study by Shakespeare.  I think it has been more convincingly
argued that Iagos had been seen on stage for quite some time in the form of the
Vice (Or "Classic Asshole," if you will) of the medieval morality play.  Of
course, this kind of non-explanation of Iago's behavior ("he behaves this way
because it is *his function*") is rather unexciting, and not very helpful to a
modern actor seeking a motive for the malignancy, hence the serial-killer
angle.

                                                        David Skeele

(3)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Ian Doescher <
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Date:           Tuesday, 28 Jan 1997 20:22:36 -0500 (EST)
Subject:        Re: Iago, Homosexuality, and Psychosis

I find the question of Iago's sexuality very interesting, especially since I am
going to be playing the "psychotic, nasty bastard" (Brad Morris'
interpretation) soon.  Are there any books, public papers, etc. on the topic?
I'd be grateful for information.

Ian Doescher

(4)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           W. L. Godshalk <
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Date:           Tuesday, 28 Jan 1997 22:46:39 -0500
Subject: 8.0140  Re: Iago
Comment:        Re: SHK 8.0140  Re: Iago

Brad Morris wants to see Iago as a sociopath (if I may paraphrase bastard and
Asshole in this way).  And Bruce Smith argues that he is not presented in the
script as a homosexual.  But there are Shakespeareans who believe that the
marriage of Othello and Desdemona would end as it does--without the help of
Iago. Iago's conniving and plotting is basically ineffectual--they say.  It's
the malignant culture that does in the marriage.

Yours, Bill Godshalk

(5)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           
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Date:           Wednesday, 29 Jan 1997 13:43:08 GMT
Subject: 8.0126  Re: Gayness
Comment:        Re: SHK 8.0126  Re: Gayness

On 1/26, Richard Burt wrote:

>More on Branagh's Othello.  Of course, one should be troubled  Gayness is
>nearly always signified through connotation, as D.A. Miller and others have
>pointed out. That said, the connotations here are rather evident (perhaps to
>some only one second look).  In the scene I mentioned, Branagh / Iago flips
>Emilia over on her stomach  (and then penerates her--she lets out a cry that is
>meant to suggest that he has just penetrated her ass. Earlier in the film when
>getting Cassio drunk, Branagh keeps fondling Cassio's groin.

I think that the connotations are less evident on second look.  The Iago/Emilia
scene, which takes place starting about 52 minutes into the film, procedes in
this order:

Iago is face down on a bed.

Emilia enters, and lays face down to his right.

She touches his side, hip, thigh, and ear.

He rolls over onto his back.  She is now to his left.

He rolls on top of her:  they're face to face.  He grinds his hips against her
pelvis and nuzzles her neck while stroking her right arm.

He flips her over toward the camera, onto her stomach.  She cries out.  (With
alarm? suprise? arousal? or perhaps some combination of the three?)  He is now
resting on her back.

He tugs twice at her skirts.  Each time she gives slight cries -- again, their
emotional inflection is unclear.

He lifts the handkerchief with his right hand.  She makes  a slight sound.

He sits up quickly, pushing at the small of her back as he does so.  She grunts.

Cut to a MS of Iago, directly addressing the camera.

Iago doesn't penetrate anything.  He can't, since he's fully clothed.  And I'm
not certain that her cries are *meant* to suggest any one particular thing.
They're cries, and are open to interpretation.  The scene is sexual, but it's
not at all clear whether the implied sex is anal, vaginal, virtual, or
something else entirely.

Nor, in the drinking scene (at about 30 minutes into the film), does Iago
fondle Cassio.  At one point, he puts his hand between Cassio's legs, but since
C's groin is out of frame, and since Iago's hand and arm are angled away from
his groin, I doubt there's any fondling going on.  The other times Iago touches
Cassio in this scene are:  holding him by the right arm when, standing, Cassio
stumbles; clapping Cassio's shoulder; pulling him away from Montano; checking
Cassio's chest for wounds; and hugging him, during which his visual attention
is into the camera.

On that same day, Ian Doescher noted that,

>Another scene in the movie that shows Branagh is
>trying to express Iago's homosexuality is a scene in which Iago and Roderigo
>sit under a wagon, discussing the romantic encounters of Desdemona and Cassio
>(I think the text is II.i).  Couples are having sex above and to both sides of
>them, and in order to heighten the intense sexual feeling, Iago's hand starts
>to wander up Roderigo's thigh and eventually reaches the promised land, at
>which point Roderigo finally bursts into a moment of rage against Cassio and
>Desdemona, determined once more to do Iago's dirty work.  This is another
>signal given to us of Iago's homosexuality, and a much more explicit one than
>the anal sex.

Iago does make a grab, but again, I'm not sure that the implication is that
Iago is overtly (or covertly) homosexual.  Since he's talking about Cassio and
Desdemona at that point, the grab may be to alert Roderigo to what he wants to
use on Desdemona -- which would be in keeping with Iago's view of sexuality
anyway -- and which Cassio, as Iago tells it, *is* using.  None of this denies
that gayness is frequently suggested through connotation, whether visual or
verbal.  These scenes may be homoerotic, or have homoerotic overtones, but as
visually stated Iago's homosexuality is at best an iffy proposition.

Kirk Hendershott-Kraetzer
 

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