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Home :: Archive :: 1998 :: February ::
Re: Iago
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 9.0118  Monday, 9 February 1998.

[1]     From:   Carol Barton <
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        Date:   Sunday, 8 Feb 1998 15:37:22 EST
        Subj:   Re: SHK 9.0113  Iago

[2]     From:   Marilyn Bonomi <
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        Date:   Sunday, 08 Feb 1998 22:00:46 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 9.0113  Iago

[3]     From:   Nora Kreimer <
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        Date:   Monday, 9 Feb 1998 07:59:16 -0300
        Subj:   RE: SHK 9.0113  Iago

[4]     From:   Bill Cain <
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        Date:   Monday, 09 Feb 1998 09:09:28 -0500 (EST)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 9.0113  Iago


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Carol Barton <
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Date:           Sunday, 8 Feb 1998 15:37:22 EST
Subject: 9.0113  Iago
Comment:        Re: SHK 9.0113  Iago

>Why does Shakespeare have Iago say, "I am not what I am."? (1.1.65) The
>line's not glossed in the Pelican, Riverside, nor Arden edition. If Iago
>means he's not what he seems, why doesn't he phrase it that way? Is
>there here a perverted echo of God's identifying himself out of the
>burning bush to Moses as "I am that I am" (KJV)?

That's a really interesting question, Skip, and I have never seen that
line glossed biblically, either.  The easy answer is that he has already
addressed "seeming" several times in that speech (". . . not I for love
and duty, / But seeming so, for my peculiar end" 1.1.60), but given what
we know of Iago, the perversion of Exodus 3:14 is too delicious not to
contemplate, since it would make him God's opposite, and therefore the
devil.  Perhaps he simply means that his "outward show" is so skillful
that, in Othello's mind, he *is* what he only pretends to be, Othello
being as we also know a priori (as re-readers of the play) easily
deceived by appearances.  I hope someone else has a more exciting
answer!

Cheers,
Carol

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Marilyn Bonomi <
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Date:           Sunday, 08 Feb 1998 22:00:46 -0500
Subject: 9.0113  Iago
Comment:        Re: SHK 9.0113  Iago

Skip Nicholson asks

>Why does Shakespeare have Iago say, "I am not what I am."? (1.1.65)

To me, there's a connection w/ other plays, other speeches, as for
example Romeo saying, "Tut, I  have lost myself, I am not here/This is
not Romeo, he's some other where."

Shakespeare seems to like the identity-denying concept... plays it out
also in all that cross-dressing and other kinds of masks and disguises.

Could not Iago simply be SAYING "I am not what I appear to be... I am
not the loyal underling that I portray myself as being and Othello
believes me to be"?  Need he be so hubristic as to make himself the lord
in the burning bush?

Just another take on the line...

Marilyn B.

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Nora Kreimer <
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Date:           Monday, 9 Feb 1998 07:59:16 -0300
Subject: 9.0113  Iago
Comment:        RE: SHK 9.0113  Iago

Occasionally, teaching a Shakespeare text for the 30th time, one
develops a dangerous tendency to think that one can tell why Shakespeare
said this or that, or as in this case, why he gave one of his characters
this or that work. I have heard, to my surprise, myself say that I felt
it in bones that WS must have meant one thing and not another very
clearly!

The textual environment of "I am not what I am" is a very complex scene,
unique in Shakespearean tragedy, since the hero is presented at the
lowest of his moral level, and all we have as audience is what these two
scoundrels are saying. To my mind, in another attempt to penetrate WS's
signification and explicate the twist of the Mosaic statement, this is
like a twinkling red light. In the semantic context of this speech, it
always comes as a surprise to me! I believe (hahaha!) WS meant to warn
us against the evil nature of his Iago. He will not be what he is
(rather, what everybody believes he is) : honest. Caution audience: Iago
is not what he seems. Learn that as from now.

With this linguistic impact upon our mind, we may proceed to understand
the rest of I,i, so that, when the hero comes on stage we are better
prepared to enjoy the tension WS has prepared for us, as we fear the
snare that Iago has prepared for his general. And, as I feel tempted to
see it, the utterance is pointing to the very nature of Iago's evil
against the noble nature of the Moor.

If God says

                "I am that I am",

then this demi-devil must say

                "I am not what I am"

It always comes as a mystery to me, in spite of this explanation. The
first big puzzle in a character who is one of the greatest puzzles in
Shakespeare.

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Bill Cain <
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Date:           Monday, 09 Feb 1998 09:09:28 -0500 (EST)
Subject: 9.0113  Iago
Comment:        Re: SHK 9.0113  Iago

I am not sure I know what this line means, but I think it is an
extraordinary line. As soon as you hear it, and start to absorb it, you
begin to hear the other lines it could have been, or perhaps more
sensibly should have been:

I seem not what I am
I am not what I seem

The order of the words is clear & definite, but the words themselves are
murkily complex in reaching out, and making us puzzle over, other words
that seem to make more (and easier) sense: Why are not those words
there? But maybe they are there-it is hard to keep from hearing them
echoing from the line that Shakespeare did write.

The effect seems perfect for the creepy irrationality and
disorder-producing uncanny strategies of the character that Shakepeare
devised.

Bill Cain (Wellesley College)
 

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