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Home :: Archive :: 2002 :: March ::
Re: Almost Damn'd
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 13.07391  Wednesday, 13 March 2002

[1]     From:   W.L. Godshalk <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 12 Mar 2002 13:42:44 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.07380 Re: Almost Damn'd

[2]     From:   David Bishop <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 12 Mar 2002 16:02:45 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.07380 Re: Almost Damn'd


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           W.L. Godshalk <
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Date:           Tuesday, 12 Mar 2002 13:42:44 -0500
Subject: 13.07380 Re: Almost Damn'd
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.07380 Re: Almost Damn'd

Steve Sohmer: "when Cassio says Iago is a Florentine we believe him
(3.1.39)." Cassio says regarding Iago: "I never knew a Florentine more
kind and honest." One of my students recently suggested that Cassio
means, "I never knew one of my own city to be more kind and honest than
Iago." In this reading, Cassio is the Florentine as per 1.1.20, and Iago
is the outsider (could our James be Spanish?) who is just as kind and
honest as any Florentine.

This leaves us with that pesky phrase "A Verennessa, Michael Cassio"
(Folio 2.1.26). Some suggest that Verennessa is a type of ship: "The
ship is here put in, / A Veronesa" (Riverside). Some suggest that the
ship Cassio is sailing has been borrowed from Verona. Or, of course,
Cassio could be from Verona, or the Third Gentleman could be wrong in
his identification of Cassio as Veronese -- another of the play's many
misidentifications.

Steve would have us question Iago's identification of Cassio as a
Florentine, and, indeed, all Iago's unsupported assertions should be
questioned.

Yours, Bill Godshalk

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Bishop <
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Date:           Tuesday, 12 Mar 2002 16:02:45 -0500
Subject: 13.07380 Re: Almost Damn'd
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.07380 Re: Almost Damn'd

I can't agree with Dana Shilling and Steve Sohmer, among others, about
Cassio. For one thing, I think it's clear from the play that Cassio is a
Florentine. When he says of Iago, "I never knew/A Florentine more kind
and honest" he is not saying that Iago is a Florentine. He is saying
that Iago is as good as the best of Cassio's own countrymen.

Iago mentions that Cassio is a Florentine partly to contrast himself
with those effeminate Florentines. Cassio is "almost damn'd in a fair
wife" because his appearance, manners and character are, in Iago's view,
so feminine as to be damned in a real man. In other words, Iago is
saying, he's a damned fairy. He's so effeminate he'd be almost damned,
in this sense, if he were an actual woman: a fair wife. Even a fair wife
might be damned for being so effeminate. Of course we don't have to--and
don't--take Iago's word for this. The fact that Cassio is a Florentine,
on the other hand, is never contradicted.

Florence has a reputation both for high civilization (one reason Othello
appoints Cassio: he aspires to something higher) and for decadence. They
go together. This is why Cassio has entrappable manners like kissing his
fingers, and kissing women in genteel greeting. His "bookish theoric"
makes him, to Iago, like a fair wife and also a spinster. In this play
an ideal, or a stereotype, of simple "honest" manliness runs up against
a counterimage of "supersubtle"--and feminized--urbanity.

The "Veronessa" is a ship of that type--a specificity that lends weight
to the report. I think that's the point of the word. It would not have a
point if applied here to Cassio. That he's a Florentine does have a
point--multiple points--in the play.

Best wishes,
David Bishop

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