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Home :: Archive :: 2001 :: December ::
Re: Iago's Evi
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 12.2869  Thursday, 20 December 2001

[1]     From:   Edmund Taft <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 19 Dec 2001 13:34:22 -0500
        Subj:   Iago's Evil

[2]     From:   Jim Slager <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 19 Dec 2001 15:03:49 -0800
        Subj:   Re: Iago's Evil

[3]     From:   John Velz <
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        Date:   Thursday, 20 Dec 2001 00:24:23 -0600
        Subj:   Iago's Evil


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Edmund Taft <
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Date:           Wednesday, 19 Dec 2001 13:34:22 -0500
Subject:        Iago's Evil

Sophie Masson asks,

"The thing that interests me above all is--why would we need
explanations for Iago's evil?"  Well, why is book after book written
about Hitler?  There is a human need to understand -- or to try to
understand -- the terrible destruction pure evil is capable of
inflicting on other humans.  Interestingly, studies of Hitler are all
over the place, just like analyses of Iago.  Some historians see
Hitler's evil as internal and psychological; others see him as a product
of the post-WW1 humiliation of Germany, and thus responding to the
"will" of a defeated, angry, and frustrated Germany. Still others blame
Wagner and Nietzsche, genetic dysfunction, the lack of a second
testicle, the disease of anti-Semitism, and/or his experience as a
failed artist. Most recently, a new study of Hitler claims that his evil
was a product of his hidden homosexuality!

Shakespeare scholars will note that some of the "causes" of Hitler's
actions are also employed to explain Iago's evil. Iago is an artist, a
real-life playwright who conceives of and then executes the script of
Othello's and Desdemona's destruction, and he is very fond of the word
"will."  He can also be seen as harboring latent homosexual feelings for
Othello, especially in the "marriage scene"
at the end of 3.3 (477ff.). In my view, he anticipates Milton's Satan,
who, like Iago, suffers from a general sense of "injured merit."

I have also wondered who is Iago's real target. Is it Othello or
Desdemona?  The latter is a living, breathing refutation of everything
he believes about women. (They are all whores in Iago's mind.)  Could it
be that she is the one he wants to defile? At least her image in the
eyes of Othello?

As we all know, Iago's last words are, "What you know, you know" --
which suggests that deep within each of us is the answer to the question
of the origins of Iago's evil. Whatever it is, it is not just his; it's
ours.

--Ed Taft

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Jim Slager <
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Date:           Wednesday, 19 Dec 2001 15:03:49 -0800
Subject:        Re: Iago's Evil

Sophie Masson writes: "I have read with interest people's contributions
re Othello and Iago.  The thing that interests me above all is--why
would we need explanations for Iago's evil?"

I've heard it said that Shakespeare has only two truly evil characters:
Iago and Richard III.  Have you ever considered the parallels between
RIII and Hitler (both took power over a strong nation after their side
suffered defeat only to eventually suffer death in an even greater
defeat) and Iago and Bin-Laden (neither wish recognized power for
themselves but work undercover to inflict great damage on a hated enemy:
Othello and US).

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           John Velz <
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Date:           Thursday, 20 Dec 2001 00:24:23 -0600
Subject:        Iago's Evil

Sophie Masson writes well about Iago's unmotivated evil.  S.T. Coleridge
had much the same idea in his characterization of Iago's soliloquies as
"the motive hunting of motiveless malignity."

Cheers for evil, esp. motiveless.

Someone else commented recently that we are drawn to evil.  The point
was made when Tony Sher played Richard III with magnetic glee in his own
evil.  The big house at Stratford was almost entirely empty at interval,
but I returned to my seat after merely stretching my legs.  There were
four women sitting together perhaps five rows ahead of me.  When there
was a break in their conversation I hissed out sotto voce "I just LOVE
evil!!!"  They were scared silly for just a moment and then they looked
around at harmless me and laughed and laughed.  I joined in their
laughter.

John

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