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Home :: Archive :: 2001 :: May ::
Re: Othello and Emilia
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 12.1267  Wednesday, 30 May 2001

[1]     From:   Ed Friedlander <
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        Date:   Monday, 28 May 2001 11:17:23 -0500
        Subj:   Othello and Emilia

[2]     From:   Abigail Quart <
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        Date:   Monday, 28 May 2001 12:51:05 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.1256 Othello and Emilia

[3]     From:   Stuart Manger <
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        Date:   Monday, 28 May 2001 18:32:04 +0100
        Subj:   SHK 12.1256 Othello and Emilia

[4]     From:   Jo De Vos <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 29 May 2001 11:06:48 +0200
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.1256 Othello and Emilia

[5]     From:   Bruce Young <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 29 May 2001 13:32:12 -0600
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.1256 Othello and Emilia

[6]     From:   Eva Diko <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 29 May 2001 23:43:22 +0200
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.1256 Othello and Emilia


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Ed Friedlander <
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Date:           Monday, 28 May 2001 11:17:23 -0500
Subject:        Othello and Emilia?

Asking whether Emilia had cheated with Othello is perhaps like asking
"How many children had Lady Macbeth?"  But Iago's suspicions ring true.

I do not recall any such concern on the part of "the ensign" in the
novella on which the play was based.  However, Shakespeare must have
wanted to give Iago a motive, so he handles it right away.  Iago tells
Roderigo at the very start of the play that he is angry over being
passed over for promotion.  In the military, this means a ruined career
(probably both now and then.)

Iago is given another motive when Shakespeare mentions his suspicions
about adultery.  I am just a pathologist, but I've seen enough of mental
illness to know how common it is for sociopaths (the truly "motivelessly
malignant") to believe (for no reason) that their partners are
unfaithful.  And from time to time I've seen the results in police lab.

As usual, it seems to me that Shakespeare has both observed life closely
and accurately, and presented it clearly to his audience.

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Abigail Quart <
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Date:           Monday, 28 May 2001 12:51:05 -0400
Subject: 12.1256 Othello and Emilia?
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.1256 Othello and Emilia?

...why would he lie to himself?

I have always thought that Iago's little monologs are spin rehearsals.
He is working out the story he will tell the public if he ever has to
answer a question.

(And I recall having the impression that he was silent at the end
because Othello had just given the story he was planning to use.)

The words Shakespeare puts in a character's mouth when he is introduced
are always telling. Iago says, "If...abhor me." "Despise me if..." He's
daring you to spot the lie.

He says plainly in the opening that he is pissed because, with three
VIPs pulling for him, Othello gave somebody else the job Iago feels
entitled to.

Also, it wouldn't matter to Iago if Othello did or did not screw Emilia.
If someone in a bar made a glancing reference to the possibility, that
would be sufficient. Works in honor killings, I believe.

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Stuart Manger <
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Date:           Monday, 28 May 2001 18:32:04 +0100
Subject: Othello and Emilia?
Comment:        SHK 12.1256 Othello and Emilia?

It seems to me that one of the subtlest and most excitingly bewildering
feature of the Iago soliloquies in 'Othello' is that we gradually
realise that he is exploiting the fairly usual convention of the time
that what is said in such circumstances is 'the truth'. AS we go on, we
understand that it is 'true' only for the moment at which he says it. It
is convenient as a hypothesis for this moment only. At one point he
shrugs / smiles (?) and says 'I know not if it be true, yet.....' he
then tells us he will still act on it as if it were true. For him, truth
is indeed a commodity to buy and sell, and no constant currency. He is
engaging, one of the lads, unstuffy, tells us juicy secrets, intrigues
us with outrageous town / camp tabloid gossip etc, so we come to trust
him. BUT every time we see Othello and particularly Desdemona on stage,
we are confronted by what seems to be the living refutation of Iago's
assertions, aren't we? Yet still, we half trust him. So when we watch
him systematically destroy Othello in that wonderful Act 3 sc 3 we gasp,
and then realise that we too have been duped all along, as Othello is
before our very eyes!

WE laugh as he cons Roderigo, exploits his hopeless infatuation for
Desdemona and makes sure that Roddy brings plenty of loot to Cyprus so
that Iago can feed off him - as well as being a nasty little sexual
innuendo that Roddy should save up his precious semen in his 'codpiece'
(purse) for future 'expenditure'.

The coldest Iago I ever saw was Frank Finlay's darkly hooded reptilian
eyes to Olivier's startling Moor.

To cross answer another posting: if you had Olivier blacked up and a
truly black actor auditioning, who would you pick for the Moor?

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Jo De Vos <
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Date:           Tuesday, 29 May 2001 11:06:48 +0200
Subject: 12.1256 Othello and Emilia?
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.1256 Othello and Emilia?

As amatter of fact Iago himself says that it may not be true dut he
will" do as if for surety ".In other words he likes to believe it is
true because it suits his purpose.

Jozef De Vos
Vakgroep Engels
Universiteit Gent

[5]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Bruce Young <
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Date:           Tuesday, 29 May 2001 13:32:12 -0600
Subject: 12.1256 Othello and Emilia?
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.1256 Othello and Emilia?

Susan St. John asks whether we are to believe Iago when he says Othello
has slept with Emilia and wonders, "why would he lie to himself?"  If he
had made the accusation publicly, presumably we wouldn't believe him,
since "honest" Iago turns out to be notoriously unreliable-or rather,
deliberately devious and slanderous.  But since he makes this accusation
while soliloquizing, he must believe-or at least be trying to convince
himself-that what he says is true.

But apart from his soliloquies-and perhaps Emilia's admission to
Desdemona that she'd tempted to commit adultery (4.3)-I see nothing in
the play, nothing in anything Othello or Emilia or the others say or do,
that substantiates Iago's suspicion.

One of Iago's soliloquies includes these lines:

 I hate the Moor,
 And it is thought abroad that 'twixt my sheets
 H'as done my office. I know not if't be true,
 But I, for mere suspicion in that kind,
 Will do as if for surety. (1.3.386-90)

He admits he's not sure Emilia has committed adultery with Othello, but
says he's willing to believe it anyway.  Why?  First of all he seems to
be grasping for reasons to justify his hatred of Othello.  (He does the
same with Cassio, saying he fears "Cassio with [his] night-cap too"
[2.1.307].)

But what Iago says also fits with his tendency elsewhere in the play to
make sordid accusations and imagine the worst of others.  Besides waking
Desdemona's father with gross images of the young couple's lovemaking
and telling Roderigo that his-and Othello's and Desdemona's-love is
nothing more than lust (1.3.333-52), Iago is negative and cynical about
women in general.  He makes this clear in Act 2, scene 1.  Though his
words here come across as humorous banter, in which the women at least
partly join, I think we are meant to approve of the women's responses to
his accusations:

Emilia: "You have little cause to say so."

Desdemona: "O, fie upon thee, slanderer!"

Iago himself admits: "I am nothing if not critical."

I think we are meant to discount Iago's accusations, even when he
believes (or half believes) them.  Emilia knows of Iago's suspicions
about her and directly denies them:

       Some such squire he was
 That turn'd your wit the seamy side without,
 And made you to suspect me with the Moor.  (4.2.145-47)

What makes her denial especially interesting (and believable) is that
she identifies whoever has turned Othello against Desdemona as the same
sort ("Some such squire") that has sullied her own husband's thoughts
against her.  In other words, she unwittingly points to Iago as the
source of his own suspicions.

But why would Iago choose, without any solid evidence, to believe his
wife unfaithful?  Probably for the same reason he sees everything else
in a sordid and negative light: he envies and feels accused and
diminished by the goodness, happiness, and love of others (note what he
says about Cassio: "If Cassio do remain, / He hath a daily beauty in his
life / That makes me ugly" [5.1.18-20]); and so he wants to "raze the
sanctuary" (to borrow Angelo's words from another play) and destroy the
bright things that make him seem deficient, especially to himself.

At least that's how Iago seems to me.  To have Emilia be unfaithful-and
thus to have his ugly suspicions validated-seems to me to run counter to
the play's whole point about Iago's character.

Bruce Young

[6]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Eva Diko" <
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Date:           Tuesday, 29 May 2001 23:43:22 +0200
Subject: 12.1256 Othello and Emilia?
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.1256 Othello and Emilia?

> Also, what is the source or meaning of Iago's admonition to Roderigo to
> go out and make money (he repeats it over and over) instead of killing
> himself for love (in Act I sc iii).  I am reading the Folger single
> edition, and the notes make no mention of it at all.

Put money in thy purse: Proverbial saying (Tilley M1090), meaning
'provide yourself for success' (cf. The New Cambridge Shakespeare)

Regards,
Eva Dikow

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