The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 13.0045 Saturday, 12 January 2002
From: Brian Haylett <
Date: Tuesday, 08 Jan 2002 15:42:12 +0000
Subject: Ancient Iago
A small but niggling point: how do people interpret 'ancient', when used
of Iago? Custom, and the source, seem to demand 'ensign',
'standard-bearer'. But has not the English army always assigned this
role to a junior officer - a second lieutenant? Why would an Elizabethan
writer employ the title for someone who expected to have Cassio's job,
if not Othello's?
'Ancient' can, of course, mean 'senior'. Do we think Shakespeare
intended this meaning, or did he feel that the secondary meaning 'old
and trusted' was important enough to justify the military imprecision?
The alternatives seem to be either that the role of ensign has been
degraded (I think not) or that there was only a three-man officer
command in the Venetian army.
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