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Home :: Archive :: 1997 :: January ::
Re: Iago, Homosexuality, and Psychosis
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, SHK 8.0149.  Thursday, 30 January 1997.

(1)     From:   Al Cacicedo <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 29 Jan 1997 14:02:55 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 8.0140  Re:  Iago

(2)     From:   John King <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 29 Jan 1997 16:41:03 -0600
        Subj:   Re: SHK 8.0146  Re: Iago, Homosexuality, and Psychosis

(3)     From:   Tom Sullivan <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 29 Jan 1997 17:03:21 -0600
        Subj:   Re: SHK 8.0146  Re: Iago, Homosexuality

(4)     From:   David Jackson <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 29 Jan 1997 23:13:28 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 8.0146  Re: Iago, Homosexuality, and Psychosis

(5)     From:   Richard A. Burt <
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        Date:   Thursday, 30 Jan 1997 06:54:08 -0500 (EST)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 8.0146  Re: Iago, Homosexuality, and Psychosis


(1)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Al Cacicedo <
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Date:           Wednesday, 29 Jan 1997 14:02:55 -0400
Subject: 8.0140  Re:  Iago
Comment:        Re: SHK 8.0140  Re:  Iago

If Iago really is a "bastard," that might go towards explaining his behavior --
consider Shakespeare's other "bastards!"  Has anyone thought of Iago's role in
the ultimate death of the Moor as an echo of the Spanish Sant-Iago Matamoros?
Santiago, St. James, is the patron saint of Spain, of course, and was often
invoked during the reconquest in precisely the role of Moor-killer. In a
new-world context, by the way, the good saint is sometimes represented as
Santiago Mataindios, Indian-killer.

(2)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           John King <
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Date:           Wednesday, 29 Jan 1997 16:41:03 -0600
Subject: 8.0146  Re: Iago, Homosexuality, and Psychosis
Comment:        Re: SHK 8.0146  Re: Iago, Homosexuality, and Psychosis

>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.

I agree that Shakespeare's creation of Iago certainly derives from previously
existing theatrical traditions, and that his actions are motivated as much by
plot requirements as they are by anything else.  But, one of the many great
things about Shakespeare is that even his stock characters tend to be fleshed
out in a remarkable way, even if they only have a couple of lines.  If his
motivations were irrelevent, why would he drop tantalizing and contradictory
hints about them all through the play? He states right out front that he is
bitter about his lack of advancement and jealous because he suspects Othello
with Emilia, but neither of these are enough to motivate the monstrous actions
he takes in any "normal" person; perhaps he believes that these are his
reasons, and there is an underlying motivation of which even he is unaware;
perhaps he doesn't care about these things at all and merely puts them forward
to cover his real purpose (therefore making him dishonest even with the
audience- an idea which appeals to my sense of completeness).  Whatever the
case, I think that, although Shakespeare was writing a stock character out of
necessity to the story, he intentionally improved upon that formula (as he did
on all the others he used) by making that character an enigma, littering the
play with dead-end clues that create questions about Iago's motivation, but
never answering any of them.  As for his sexuality, there are certainly lines
which point up this possibility, but there are just as many that point in the
opposite direction.  Shakespeare seems to be telling us there is no real
answer, and appropriately he leaves Iago behind a veil of silence, with his vow
never to speak again.  With this in mind, I think the best thing an actor
tackling this role can do is to be open to all possibilities, and remember that
part of the fun of the play for the audience is to try to figure out Iago for
themselves.  If an actor answers all of these questions and makes those answers
clear in his performance, the audience can only judge Iago, and they miss the
thrill of trying to unravel him.  This is all, of course, just my opinion, and
I know there are many thousands of others about this subject out there.  But I
do think that Shakespeare was enough of a practical theatre technician to want
to do as much as he could to stimulate his audience's interest, and that many
of these kinds of debates about questions of motivation, etc. can be answered
at least partially by looking at them with this in mind.

John King

(3)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Tom Sullivan <
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Date:           Wednesday, 29 Jan 1997 17:03:21 -0600
Subject: 8.0146  Re: Iago, Homosexuality
Comment:        Re: SHK 8.0146  Re: Iago, Homosexuality

If homosexual love for the Moor is the motive for Iago's villainy, then I'm
surprised no one has mentioned the last scene (Branaugh's portrayl), when Iago,
wounded, crawls to the bed and apparently dies at the Moor's feet. Isn't this
final act of devotion more significant than all the humping and crotch grabbing
so meticulously analyzed thus far?

Tom

(4)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Jackson <
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Date:           Wednesday, 29 Jan 1997 23:13:28 -0500
Subject: 8.0146  Re: Iago, Homosexuality, and Psychosis
Comment:        Re: SHK 8.0146  Re: Iago, Homosexuality, and Psychosis

Thanks to Kirk Herndershott-Kratezer for checking the material and providing
the detailed "blow-by-blow". The obvious lesson is: check your source before
jumping to conclusions based on recollection. Secondly, he points up the key
fact that Iago as played by Branagh is what he is; why is it necessary to try
to simplify by striving for some classification (e.g. "the reason that he
behaves the way he does is because ... oh, that's it--he's gay! ... And here's
the evidence ... (based on interpretation of vague recollection of what one
thinks one saw in the movie)").

What was interesting to me was the demonstration of how Iago uses Emilia (while
apparently talking to us), and that was far more telling to me than what his
latent sexual orientation might be (since it could be any number of variations,
based upon what we see in the film). Categorization leads to narrow-minded,
self-serving, questionable analysis. And I state that categorically.

David Jackson

(5)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Richard A. Burt <
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Date:           Thursday, 30 Jan 1997 06:54:08 -0500 (EST)
Subject: 8.0146  Re: Iago, Homosexuality, and Psychosis
Comment:        Re: SHK 8.0146  Re: Iago, Homosexuality, and Psychosis

I must say I am surprised by the amount of response my note about Branagh's gay
Iago has generated. I am even more surprised that some have found such a claim
for Branagh's performance controversial.  Now one person suggests that Iago's
homosexuality in the Parker film is an "iffy proposition."  It appears that
this person would grossly gape on and behold Casssio / Emilia topped.  Of
course there is not going to be any literal evidence of Iago's gayness in this
film or any other.  We are talking the conventions of an R rated mass marketed
film.  Within those conventions, no penetration will be shown in any sex scene
(in addition to the heterosexual sex scenes in this Othello, see also the sex
scene with Hamlet and Ophelia in Branagh's Hamlet or the sex scene with Rivers
in McKellen's Richard III.)  And within those conventions, gay sex is implied,
not shown.  So of course we don't see Iago's hand on Cassio's dick.  Of course
we don't see Iago's dick in Emilia's ass.  (Even in Zeffirelli's soft-core porn
version of Cassio's dream, we don't see Cassio's dick, as I noted in an earlier
message).  In the Parker film, the fact that neither hand on dick nor dick in
ass is shown implies that both acts are occuring off screen.  If Branagh's hand
goes steadily up Cassio's thigh but does not touch his dick, why not continue
show the groin area?  Why is it suddenly off screen?  If Cassio is not having
sex with Emilia, why not continue to show both of them? Why does the camera at
the moment Emilia cries out, close in on Iago alone?  Do I really need to
answer these questions?

I don't think so.  I'll just say that my note was based on a reading of the
conventional ways in which popular mall house films signify gay sexuality.

I should add too that the fact that Emilia is fully clothed is no argument that
she isn't having sex with Iago (such an argument is based, it seems to me, on a
rather strange idea of sex).

The scene with Emilia begins with Iago lying apparently asleep (Emilia can't
see Iago's face, we can) in bed.  Emilia comes to bed and obviously wants to
get laid.  Iago does not respond--not until she mentions the handerkerchief.
This excites him.  He gets up, she turns on her back, lying down.  The obvious
(I think it really is obvious) unstated arrangement here is that Iago has to
fuck Emilia in return for her having gotten him the handerkerchief.  The fact
that she remains clothed is another measure of his disinterest in doing so.
His flipping her over on her stomach signals both is disinterest in sex with
her and a compromise--he'll fuck her alright, but he'll fuck her the way he
wants to--in her ass.

Of course, a husband sodomizing a wife does not mean the husband is gay.
Within the conventions of mass-marketed film, however, it generally does, and
it does in this case (the explicit sex scenes with Cassio and Desdemona and
with Othello and Desdemona imply no sodomy whatsoever).

All of this to defend a rather modest claim about the way the film signifies
Iago's sexuality and Branagh's interst in a Shakespeare gayly done.  I make and
have made no claim about (a) anal sex and sexuality / sexual identity in
general or (b) what the Parker film does with a gay Iago.

I am interested in a queer rather than a gay Shakespeare.  This discussion has
made me appreciate, however, why Leo Bersani titled his book "Homos." It's gay
sex that remains, for some, hardest to imagine.
 

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