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Home :: Archive :: 1998 :: February ::
Re: Iago
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 9.0134  Friday, 13 February 1998.

[1]     From:   Nicholas R Moschovakis <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 11 Feb 1998 16:49:25 -0600
        Subj:   Re: SHK 9.0123  Re: Iago

[2]     From:   Heather Stephenson <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 11 Feb 1998 15:07:30 -0800
        Subj:   Re: SHK 9.0113 I am not what I am

[3]     From:   William Cain <
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        Date:   Thursday, 12 Feb 1998 11:36:26 -0500 (EST)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 9.0123  Re: Iago

[4]     From:   Chris Stroffolino <
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        Date:   Thursday, 12 Feb 1998 12:04:18 -0500 (EST)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 9.0123  Re: Iago


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Nicholas R Moschovakis <
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Date:           Wednesday, 11 Feb 1998 16:49:25 -0600
Subject: 9.0123  Re: Iago
Comment:        Re: SHK 9.0123  Re: Iago

It's worth pointing out that Iago's significant use of this logical
inconsistency has multiple parallels in other Shakespearean passages
which quibble on the personal pronoun and the verb of
existence/predication.  Viola says "I am not what I am" in TN, 3.1.126.
This technique, almost an obsession with Shakespeare, often creates a
peculiarly urgent sense of the radical disjunction between the spheres
of logical discourse and of ordinary language - a disjunction from which
many of his characters suffer in their attempts to comprehend the
universe rationally.

The problem is this: whereas in logic the law of identity (a=a) is
axiomatic, it is not so in ordinary speech (let alone in statements
about human identity) - where the definitions of terms are less stable,
and thus, according to the famous sorites problem, a single grain of
sand can seem to be at once a "heap" and "not a heap." In other words,
to attempt to use the canons of logical discourse to analyze situations
which we originally apprehend as constituted through less stable, more
pragmatic practices of signification (including gendered sartorial
codes, for example) is simply to misunderstand those situations - or at
least Shakespeare often seems to endorse this view. One of the practical
strengths of the stage machiavel is of course his ability to adapt and
react quickly to contingencies of signification, without getting hung up
on expectations of consistency (whether to logical truth or to troth) in
a world of passions and chances.  Troilus is thus the opposite of a
stage machiavel.

Troilus' "This is and is not Cressid" has already been cited, but is
just one example. There are many other occasions on which assertions of
identity seem to contradict each other and/or themselves (sometimes
violating tautology, but at other times rendered logically consistent by
a distinction in tense, as in Oliver's account of his conversion in
AYLI). TN has a particularly fruitful chain of quibbling
identity-assertions, culminating in the oft-noted repetitions of the
phrase "that's all one" in the last scene.

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Heather Stephenson <
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Date:           Wednesday, 11 Feb 1998 15:07:30 -0800
Subject: 9.0113 I am not what I am
Comment:        Re: SHK 9.0113 I am not what I am

When in the guise of a boy, in Act3, Scene 1 of Twelfth Night, Viola
uses the exact  words of Iago: "I am not what I am."

OLIVIA
Stay:
I prithee, tell me what thou thinkest of me.

VIOLA
That you do think you are not what you are.

OLIVIA
If I think so, I think the same of you.

VIOLA
Then think you right: I am not what I am.

Viola is responding to what another thinks of her.  She is recognizing
that  her identity is wrapped up in the perceptions of others.  In her
situation, dressed as Cesario, she  IS a man.  No one in her world (save
the omniscient audience) knows otherwise, thus she is effectively a man
to those around her.  Likewise, Iago has the same recognition of the
role of others' perceptions in the creation of his identity.  If he
appears to love Othello, then he loves Othello (according to those
around him), while staying "true" internally.

What is most compelling about Iago's statement, is that he is discussing
the process of acting out an identity.  In Twelfth Night, the audience
is privy to the knowledge that he (Cesario) truly is not what he is.  We
are witness to a theatrical scene within a theatrical scene.  Yet in
Othello, the audience sees Iago explaining about the acting process-the
"hows" of seeming to be something else, and the ways that "to seem" can
turn into "to become," according to others.

If one considers that at one time, Viola was likely a boy playing a
woman playing a man, the line becomes even more interesting when
juxtaposed next to Iago's. Viola/Cesario embodies the line, "I am not
what I am"  (in this dress, in this court, in this play, in this
theatre), while Iago paints the picture with words, but never acts as
one who loves.

Cheers,
Heather

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           William Cain <
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Date:           Thursday, 12 Feb 1998 11:36:26 -0500 (EST)
Subject: 9.0123  Re: Iago
Comment:        Re: SHK 9.0123  Re: Iago

I have found the comments on Iago, I am not what I am, very interesting.
The line is a devilishly nice opportunity, and a bit of a challenge, for
the actor; I remember McKellen's beautiful delivery, behind a serpentine
puff of smoke, secure in the knowledge that he was revealing something
that the self-absorbed heartsick Roderigo would not fathom.  Roderigo
has the next line-a burst of hapless racist crudity, What a full fortune
does.... He does not respond to what Iago has just said. Not an easy
task for the actors to gauge the looks & gestures that will occupy the
space between the two lines! One of the countless tiny urgent decisions
that Shakespeare sends his actors' way.

Bill Cain (Wellesley College)

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Chris Stroffolino <
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Date:           Thursday, 12 Feb 1998 12:04:18 -0500 (EST)
Subject: 9.0123  Re: Iago
Comment:        Re: SHK 9.0123  Re: Iago

Thanks Terrence Hawkes for bringing up his meta reading once again.
While agreeing with Mr. Hawkes, I would like to take it one step further
by suggesting that Iago is not just the "actor" as well the "character"
but also the "author" (and the "fantasy" and thereby something MORE
elusive than IAGO, perhaps an "ideology" or a "state of mind" or
"activity of mind" or "language"). Allowing for these further
possibilities allows the audience to see how it can be (and may be)
deceived by "Iago-like things" even if the audience also agrees with
Emilia that Othello is a "fool"----chris
 

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