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Home :: Archive :: 2008 :: August ::
Othello and Cassio
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 19.0516  Thursday, 28 August 2008

[1]  From:    Larry Weiss <
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      Date:    Wednesday, 27 Aug 2008 12:31:58 -0400
      Subj:    Re: SHK 19.0504 Othello and Cassio

[2]  From:    Edmund Taft <
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      Date:    Wednesday, 27 Aug 2008 12:53:09 -0400
      Subj:    RE: SHK 19.0504 Othello and Cassio


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:       Larry Weiss <
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Date:       Wednesday, 27 Aug 2008 12:31:58 -0400
Subject: 19.0504 Othello and Cassio
Comment:    Re: SHK 19.0504 Othello and Cassio

 >Cassio is a gentleman; Iago is not. (Don't ask me to prove this -
 >I'm just recalling study from many years ago.) Therefore, Cassio
 >should be the officer, Iago the sergeant.

I believe that this is made more explicit in Cinthio, but it is surely evident 
from Shakespeare's text as well. For example, Othello is able to command Iago to 
offer his wife as a personal servant to Desdemona. No gentleman would ever 
consent to such a thing and no one but a monarch would dare ask a gentleman to 
so degrade his wife.

What I find more interesting about the class distinctions in this play is what 
it says about the Venetian meritocracy and its impact on the play's 
characterizations. Othello is clearly not aristocratic or even gentle; yet he 
has risen by dint of his skill at arms to the highest military office in the 
republic and the governorship of its most crucial outpost. Even so, his access 
to the parlours of the elite despite his foreign birth and blackness, to the 
extent of being able to woo and win a senior aristocrat's daughter (and 
obtaining the imprimatur of the Duke over the objection of the lady's father), 
is remarkable.

In this context, Iago's pique at having been passed over for the lieutenancy in 
favor of a curly-haired darling Florentine arithmetician, who can't even hold 
his liquor and spends much of his time dallying with harlots, is more 
understandable. In a strictly stratified class system Iago would not have had a 
chance, and he would have understood that from childhood and not regarded it as 
a personal affront that Cassio was promoted over him. But in a meritocracy, Iago 
(who is by far the most intelligent character in the play, and knows it) feels 
the lash of that acutely.

[2]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:       Edmund Taft <
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Date:       Wednesday, 27 Aug 2008 12:53:09 -0400
Subject: 19.0504 Othello and Cassio
Comment:    RE: SHK 19.0504 Othello and Cassio

As Don Bloom points out, Cassio is a gentleman while Iago is not. Just as 
important, Cassio knows the theory of war, Iago the nuts and bolts of how things 
get done. So it's quite normal for the ensign to feel that he knows more than 
the lieutenant. Chiefs often feel that way about young Naval officers today -- 
and they are often right.

But I don't think that Othello's choice of Cassio over Iago is the result of a 
character flaw. Othello's flaw is that he has insufficient regard for his own 
merits, but he is very shrewd about the abilities of others. His monumental 
mistake of trusting Iago is only a mistake because Iago decides to act in an 
unmilitary manner. If Iago were giving advice about, say, fortifications, 
Othello could trust him and would be right to do so.

Ed Taft


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