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Home :: Archive :: 2000 :: June ::
Re: Iago
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 11.1159  Tuesday, 6 June 2000.

[1]     From:   Frank Whigham <
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        Date:   Monday, 05 Jun 2000 09:09:22 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 11.1150 Re: Iago

[2]     From:   Don Bloom <
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        Date:   Monday, 05 Jun 2000 09:41:11 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 11.1150 Re: Iago

[3]     From:   Tony Burton <
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        Date:   Monday, 5 Jun 2000 16:08:38 -0700
        Subj:   Fw: SHK 11.1150 Re: Iago

[4]     From:   John Velz <
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        Date:   Monday, 05 Jun 2000 11:46:09 -0500
        Subj:   Othello and Desdemona

[5]     From:   Robin Hamilton <
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        Date:   Sunday, 4 Jun 2000 20:05:12 +0100
        Subj:   Re: SHK 11.1150 Re: Iago

[6]     From:   John Ramsay <
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        Date:   Monday, 05 Jun 2000 15:27:54 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 11.1150 Re: Iago

[7]     From:   Peter Hillyar-Russ <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 6 Jun 2000 07:36:43 +0100
        Subj:   Iago

[8]     From:   Sophie Masson <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 6 Jun 2000 21:14:30 +1000
        Subj:   Re: SHK 11.1150 Re: Iago

[9]     From:   Florence Amit <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 06 Jun 2000 15:26:12 +0000
        Subj:   Re: SHK 11.1150 Re: Iago

[10]    From:   <
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        Date:   Monday, 5 Jun 2000 12:36:18 EDT
        Subj:   Re: SHK 11.1150 Re: Iago


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Frank Whigham <
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Date:           Monday, 05 Jun 2000 09:09:22 -0500
Subject: 11.1150 Re: Iago
Comment:        Re: SHK 11.1150 Re: Iago

(1) Presumably one important contrast necessary to read the line
properly is its non-identity with "I am not what I seem."

(2) Another might be Viola's use of the same line to Olivia in TN
(3.1.141).

Frank Whigham

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Don Bloom <
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Date:           Monday, 05 Jun 2000 09:41:11 -0500
Subject: 11.1150 Re: Iago
Comment:        Re: SHK 11.1150 Re: Iago

Concerning the story of shooting the actor playing Iago so well: I
believe the story is apocryphal. I heard it with regard to an
Appalachian mountaineer who came down the holler and wandered into a
mellerdrammer where he winged the feller about to tie the purty gal to
the railroad tracks. Of course, the fact that it has become apocryphal
does not mean that it didn't happen. I remember once having a man tell
me a strange and funny Army story about an event that had actually
happened to me. Made me slightly light headed at the time, as if my life
were a story.

On a more serious note, the connections of Iago as tempter to the
Tempter can hardly be gainsaid, but beyond that I don't see much
fruitfulness in the point. All successful temptations result in the fall
of the tempted and in the consequent misery of the fallen, as in Macbeth
and Julius Caesar (Brutus). We might even bring in the unsuccessful
attempt on Isabella's (much maligned) chastity in Measure for Measure
(q.v.).

On a different tack, I don't sense the same attractiveness to Iago that
I associate with the Vice of the morality plays. I claim no expertise in
this area, and thus welcome correction and instruction by those who have
it, but my impression of the Vice is that he was usually a drinking
buddy of the hero whose pursuit of good times leads that hero down the
primrose path (thus, Dover Wilson's classic association of the Vice with
Falstaff). He was conscious of doing harm to the hero, of course, but
not in that malicious (or, perhaps, psychopathic) fashion of Iago.

I have tended to think of Iago as being a peculiar off-shoot of the
"stage Machiavel" tradition, akin to Marlowe's Barabbas and
Shakespeare's own Richard III.

don bloom

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Tony Burton <
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Date:           Monday, 5 Jun 2000 16:08:38 -0700
Subject: 11.1150 Re: Iago
Comment:        Fw: SHK 11.1150 Re: Iago

Sean Lawrence's useful reminder that the Biblical phrase "I am what I
am" is unlikely to have been known by Shakespeare when he wrote Othello
(barring the intriguing notion that he had access to those who knew the
Hebrew and that they-his personal acquaintances-Englished it as the King
James translators did seven years later) suggests that we shift our
focus of attention on this intriguing phrase away from Biblical
intertextuality (without ignoring it permanently) and back towards the
problem of dramatic delivery.   Let me propose that the solution lies in
emphasizing the two uses of "I" differently, so as to imply two
different meanings; for me, one points to a higher or truer "I", that is
to be contrasted with a lower "I", the quotidian self of seeming and
appearance only.

Perhaps the expression can be compared helpfully with Hamlet's similarly
difficult words to Ophelia, "I did love you once. . . I loved you not."
They may, of course, be explained as the reflection of a deranged mind
or antic disposition, but only at the cost of dismissing the whole
nunnery scene exchange.  Yet, by changing the emphases on the key words
"I", "love", or "you" we get a richer sense, of two contrasting levels
of reality:  the higher or enduring "I", "you", and "love" and the lower
mutable forms of each.  The simplest and most satisfying to me of the
various permutations- which I will not explore here-is to believe that
Hamlet is saying that he loved the real, the honest Ophelia, but that,
changed as she is into her father's puppet, she is something he never
loved. In this reading, the change in emphasis is principally with the
word "you".

So, returning to "Othello", can we not say that Iago is affirming his
own consciously artificial and Protean persona, both admitting and
warning that he is untrue even to himself (the higher, enduring self,
that is) in adopting a path of consciously intended malignity?  All we
need to make this clear is to use different emphases on the first and
second "I" (and possibly the "am" as well, if one wishes to highlight
the potential for a Biblical connection).

Tony B.

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           John Velz <
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Date:           Monday, 05 Jun 2000 11:46:09 -0500
Subject:        Othello and Desdemona

To: Marti Markus on audience response to Oth.

In a performance years ago, perhaps it was the production of the play
(N.Y. 1946) starring Paul Robeson and featuring the young Jose Ferrer,
someone is said to have shouted from the balcony in 5.2, "Don't do it
you fool!!  Can't you see she's innocent?"

No alienation effect in that production!

Cheers,
John Velz

[5]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Robin Hamilton <
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Date:           Sunday, 4 Jun 2000 20:05:12 +0100
Subject: 11.1150 Re: Iago
Comment:        Re: SHK 11.1150 Re: Iago

From:           Sean Lawrence <
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>If I may speculate a bit, I think that this is one of those phrases,
>like "Fair is foul and foul is fair" that serve to quickly indicate the
>utter perversity of the character speaking, not so much by travestying
>the scriptures as by inverting conventional binaries.  God's statement
>in Exodus indicates that he doesn't require a name to subsist in
>himself, that he is a signifier long before being a signified; Iago
>assumes a name, but only in order to defy it, promulgating false
>signifiers.

Iago's "I am not what I am" would seem to be part of line of similar
statements in Shakespeare.  I can think of, offhand, 3HVI, where Richard
says "I am myself alone", Parolles "Simply the thing I am shall make me
live" in +All's Well+, and of course Lear's "Who is it that can tell me
who I am?"

I'm sure there must be more instances.

This may well be part of a larger exploration on Shakespeare's part of
the relation between signifier and signified (or in perhaps parallel
Shakespearean terms, between name and nature), put most explicitly by
the Duke in +Measure for Measure+

I have  on Angelo imposed the office,
Who may in th'ambush of my name strike home,
And yet my nature never in the fight
T'allow in slander.                             (I.4)

Or Prospero's comment on Antonio's behaviour:

      ... he did believe
He was indeed the Duke.  Out o'th' substitution,
And executing th'outward face of royalty
With all prerogative ...                   (I,2)

Again, I'm sure there are other examples that could be adduced.

Robin Hamilton

[6]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           John Ramsay <
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Date:           Monday, 05 Jun 2000 15:27:54 -0400
Subject: 11.1150 Re: Iago
Comment:        Re: SHK 11.1150 Re: Iago

> John Ramsay wrote to decry that Burton Cromer doesn't believe it would
> be finically worth the BBCs efforts to release the BBC Shakespeare on
> home video in the NTSC format.  He gives examples of people making money
> on Shakespeare as a counter argument.
>
> I love John's enthusiasm.  I hope that doesn't get lost in my next
> comments.  I question two of his examples.
>
> > Stratfords in England, Canada, elsewhere.
> > Other towns with Shakespeare festivals.
>
> They, of course, operate at a loss.  Most receive subsidies.


Hi, Mike and all, I specifically said Stratfords and other towns. While
the theatres may be subsidized the towns make money from the spinoffs.
That's the problem with narrow, bottom-line accounting like Burton
Cromer's.

[7]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Peter Hillyar-Russ <
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Date:           Tuesday, 6 Jun 2000 07:36:43 +0100
Subject:        Iago

It is perhaps worth noting one 'Christian' allusion in Iago's name. It
is a Spanish form of James, and the cult of Saint James centred on his
shrine at Compostella (Sant'Iago de Compostella) was closely associated
with the successful military campaign to remove the Moslems (or Moors)
from Spain. Thereafter Sant'Iago became the patron of all Spanish
military endeavour.

There seem to be themes relevant to Othello here - particularly at a
time when Spain was a powerful, Catholic, military enemy to Elizabethan
England.

Peter HR

[8]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Sophie Masson <
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Date:           Tuesday, 6 Jun 2000 21:14:30 +1000
Subject: 11.1150 Re: Iago
Comment:        Re: SHK 11.1150 Re: Iago

These are all very interesting comments and ideas. I put my question
because ever since I first 'met' Iago, as it were, I have been chilled
by him, yet in a rather different way to most of Shakespeare's other
villains..  I recently saw a rather irritating (to say the least)
production of Othello in which Iago was portrayed as being evil because
of his supposed repressed homosexuality; in this same reading, Othello
was a block of wood, sexually speaking, Desdemona a flirty tart
(really!) and Emilia a brainless goose. The audience was actually
laughing during all the most painful scenes..it was terrible. And yet
despite the silly interpretation, Iago somehow managed to keep a certain
malignity, even if a rather camp one!

Sophie
Author site: http://members.xoom.com/sophiecastel/default.htm

[9]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Florence Amit <
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Date:           Tuesday, 06 Jun 2000 15:26:12 +0000
Subject: 11.1150 Re: Iago
Comment:        Re: SHK 11.1150 Re: Iago

I think that Iago does have a racist impetus behind his actions, like a
drone in a beehive. But this collectivism does not cause him to be one
of the boys, any more than his being married makes him one of couple.
His isolation, that his name imparts, as well as his drive to manipulate
anyone near him, are his chief attributes. Therefore the quotation from
Genesis, so aptly noticed, is not merely that Iago is deceitful or the
opposite of God, but that he is empty.  "I am not what I am" means that
I am nothing.

Florence Amit

[10]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           <
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Date:           Monday, 5 Jun 2000 12:36:18 EDT
Subject: 11.1150 Re: Iago
Comment:        Re: SHK 11.1150 Re: Iago

>I suggested once that Iago owed
>a greater debt than usually acknowledged to the medieval Vice, and most
>respondents disagreed, but I think the point is relevant to your query.

Some time ago Bernard Spivack also thought Iago descended from the vice
character.  Is his book _Shakespeare and the Allegory of Evil_?

[Editor's Note: Please sign all messages to the list so that I can
properly attribute them. HMC]
 

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