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Home :: Archive :: 1999 :: March ::
Re: Iago
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 10.0378  Friday, 5 March 1999.

[1]     From:   Brian Haylett <
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        Date:   Thursday, 4 Mar 1999 15:52:29 -0000
        Subj:

[2]     From:   Roger Schmeeckle <
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        Date:   Thursday, 4 Mar 1999 13:59:35 -0800 (PST)
        Subj:   Othello; Iago

[3]     From:   John Savage <
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        Date:   Friday, 5 Mar 1999 10:10:31 -0500
        Subj:   SHK 10.0359 Re: Othello; Iago

[4]     From:   John Savage <
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        Date:   Friday, 5 Mar 1999 10:10:51 -0500
        Subj:   SHK 10.0359 Re: Othello; Iago


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Brian Haylett <
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Date:           Thursday, 4 Mar 1999 15:52:29 -0000
Subject:        Re: Iago

Kenneth Requa wrote: I made a comment referring to Harold Bloom's
assertion that Iago must have been a truly loyal subject at one point in
order to earn the trust of Othello and friends and that he experiences a
"fall" at or before the beginning of the play.

At one level, this leads to the fallacy that Knights detected in
Bradley: the fallacy of assuming that characters exist outside the play
and that it is possible to speculate on what happened before or after.
The fact is that we are not told why Iago is so senior and, literally,
that is the end of the matter. However, that need not be the end if we
think it relevant to consider what Iago represents.  John Vyvyan (The
Shakespearean Ethic, 1959) said "The tempter is the fault in the hero's
soul made flesh". On similarly allegorical lines, Harold Goddard (The
Meaning of Shakespeare, 1951) saw Iago as the spirit of War within
Othello. I incline towards the latter on this occasion, but in either
case Iago would be "our ancient" because he has been the preferred side
of Othello himself. If we take Goddard's assumption, then it would be
apt that Iago is displaced when Othello ventures into marriage and that
Othello's own insecurity in this new life gives Iago fresh strength. I
am afraid I got down my Goddard today after hearing Harold Bloom
praising him on BBC TV last night; but Goddard (at least!), deserves
consideration: "Othello regarded Desdemona's love for him as a dream too
beautiful to be true. Hence, when it is suggested to him that it is not
true, this is in a sense nothing but what he has been ready to believe
all along."

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Roger Schmeeckle <
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Date:           Thursday, 4 Mar 1999 13:59:35 -0800 (PST)
Subject:        Othello; Iago

>A question from a student discussing Othello in class:
>
>The other day when my AP Lit class was discussing Othello we were trying
>to come to a conclusion as to why Iago is who he is and how he manages
>to gull everyone so effectively.  During the course of the discussion I
>made a comment referring to Harold Bloom's assertion that Iago must have
>been a truly loyal subject at one point in order to earn the trust of
>Othello and friends and that he experiences a "fall" at or before the
>beginning of the play.  My teacher had apparently never considered that
>idea and I wondered what opinions others might have.  Thanks!
>
>Kenneth Requa
>Springfield High School
>Springfield, IL

Since you invited opinions, I provide mine.  I make not claim to having
studied or researched this, and I might change my opinion, especially if
someone points out to me that it is contradicted by something in the
text or that it is unreasonable.

Iago is motivated by envy.  He is bitter because he has been passed over
for a promotion that went to one he considers his inferior.  He sees
himself as a better soldier, disregarding other considerations that
rightly were considered in making the promotion.  He has many
counterparts in the modern world.  For instance, sergeants who are
envious of the new lieutenant just out of West Point, who has no combat
experience; or employees who have worked ten years for a company, only
to see some college graduate start at their own level in the company.

My further opinion, and this is really speculative.  Shakespeare, at
some time in his career, entertained the notion of a series of plays
dealing with the various deadly sins.  This project was carried out in
the seven great tragedies, although, in the course of time and
composition, other factors may have assumed far greater importance than
the deadly sins motive.  In accordance with that hypothesis, Othello,
the play, is intended to exemplify the dreadful consequences of envy.

     Roger Schmeeckle

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           John Savage <
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Date:           Friday, 5 Mar 1999 10:10:31 -0500
Subject: Re: Othello; Iago
Comment:        SHK 10.0359 Re: Othello; Iago

>Harold Bloom's assertion that Iago must have
>been a truly loyal subject at one point in order to earn the trust of
>Othello and friends and that he experiences a "fall" at or before the
>beginning of the play.

Sorry, I don't see it.  Iago is a con man, and as such he would have
been convincing to Othello at all times, but he, Iago, would never have
changed.

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           John Savage <
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Date:           Friday, 5 Mar 1999 10:10:51 -0500
Subject: Re: Othello; Iago
Comment:        SHK 10.0359 Re: Othello; Iago

>My own interpretation has to do with
>military discipline, how Henry lets slip the dogs of war in their attack
>on Harfleur, and how he's horrified at the possibilities he's let loose.

I'd see it differently.  Henry V says the most horrible things to get
Harfleur to surrender-"the blind and bloody soldier with foul hand
defile the locks of your shrill-shriking daughters...your naked infants
spitted upon pikes"-but we're entitled to believe he didn't really mean
any of them because once the surrender takes place he says, "Use mercy
to them all for us."
 

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