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Home :: Archive :: 2009 :: April ::
Playing Iago
The ShakespeConference: SHK 20.0204  Thursday, 30 April 2009

[1] From:   Louis Swilley <
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 >
     Date:   Tuesday, 28 Apr 2009 13:59:29 -0700 (PDT)
     Subj:   Re: SHK 20.0194 Playing Iago

[2] From:   Joseph Egert <
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 >
     Date:   Wednesday, 29 Apr 2009 15:50:29 -0700 (PDT)
     Subj:   Re: SHK 20.0187 Playing Iago


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:       Louis Swilley <
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Date:       Tuesday, 28 Apr 2009 13:59:29 -0700 (PDT)
Subject: 20.0194 Playing Iago
Comment:    Re: SHK 20.0194 Playing Iago

John W Kennedy <
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 >

 >It is the duty of every director and every actor of roles of
 >villains to make him/her as sympathetic to the audience as
 >possible. In the recent Alley production of "Othello",
 >Desdemona knelt before  Iago, weeping and begging him to
 >help her convince Othello of her  devotion; Iago moved his
 >hand over her bowed head and was about to  caress it in
 >sympathy - but then quickly brought his hand behind his
 >back with his fist clenched.
 >
 >In other words, he rudely and impertinently intruded something into
 >the play's text that is not there.

[L. S.: How does this moment of Iago's sympathy for Desdemona radically 
alter the text? It is, after all, Othello against whom Iago is working, 
not Desdemona. Is it essential to Iago's portrayal that he should NEVER 
show any doubt or regret about what he is doing?  Should we not be 
carfeful that we not present a villain as a sociopath?]

 >Unfortunately there was nothing else in the production to pick up on
 >and continue or reflect  this humanizing moment for the character. In
 >a long-ago production of "Romeo and Juliet", John Woodvine as Capulet
 >raged against his daughter for refusing to marry Paris   --   but broke
 >into tears in the midst of his rage.
 >
 >Thus making complete hash of the plot, which demands that Juliet find
 >herself trapped with no exit.

[L. S.: There was no exit offered. Capulet's weeping did not change his 
determination to see Juliet married to Paris, nor need it. ]

 >These humanizing corrections are necessary; otherwise we are merely
 >given the one-dimensional, "you-must-pay-the-rent" villain of cheap
 >drama.
 >
 >Is cheap sentiment, then, the only alternative? I have known men as 
devoid
 >of conscience as Iago, and they wasted no time on crocodile tears, for 
they
 >were quite certain that they were in the right, in whatever mad sense 
"right"
 >bore for them.

[L. S.: Isn't "mad" the operative word here?  A mad (insane) character 
has no moral responsibility for his actions and therefore very little 
potential as a dramatic figure; he has become merely pathetic. He is no 
more than a deadly storm or plague - or a mad Ophelia. We miss the 
complexity of Iago's tormented character if we excuse him as mad.(Even 
Milton's Satan momentarily regrets his decision to destroy the happiness 
of Adam and Eve. Is he not the more moving character for that?) ]

  [L. Swilley]

[2]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:       Joseph Egert <
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 >
Date:       Wednesday, 29 Apr 2009 15:50:29 -0700 (PDT)
Subject: 20.0187 Playing Iago
Comment:    Re: SHK 20.0187 Playing Iago

Alan Pierpoint writes:

 >"Years ago I saw a stage actor play Richard III and Iago within the 
span of two
 >or three years, the former most entertainingly and the latter pretty 
much the
 >same  --  archly, with a see-how-wicked-I-am wink at the audience. It 
worked with
 >Richard  --  the role invites an amused, self-referential 
interpretation   --  but I
 >felt that it trivialized the role of Iago. The character is just evil; 
the usual
 >explanations of racism and resentment about being passed over just don't
 >account for his evilness."

Iago's class resentment seems deep and abiding in both his conduct and 
ironic echoing of others' patronizing use of 'good' and 'honest'. Like 
Hamlet and Macbeth, he lacks advancement. He may be too perceptive, 
however, to be himself a racist yet ever ready to exploit the racism of 
his compatriots for his own ends. Iago's envy allegorically recalls of 
course the furious envy of the brightest angel Lucifer, darkening as he 
fell, against his Lord for favoring the human Adam (Cassio?) and later 
the redeemer Jesus (the sacrificial "no-body", Desdemona?).

"The actor playing Iago should play him as though he (actor and 
character) were a budding
serial killer[...]."

Budding? Both Othello and Iago have been trained serial killers for much 
of their lives in the endless wars that make ambition virtue.

Peter Groves relates:

 >"in the 1930s Olivier once played the part as motivated by
 >repressed homoerotic desire for Othello."

Such a conception of the role may be not be as unnatural as it first 
appears, given Iago's aside on 'clyster pipes' and report of Cassio's 
dream. Indeed, a creative director would have his Iago gesture bawdily 
on uttering the phrase "prae-posterous con-conclusions", which in all 
its senses may describe what the play as a whole is about. King James in 
his letters to his minions recounts their own leg-crossing bedplay, 
reminiscent of Iago's report. Italian friars and monks would thunder 
against the sodomy rife in their communities, branding this evil a 'fire 
in the city' or burning plague, inviting the wrath of God by flood or 
fire ("Fire and brimstone!"). In their sexual corruption, were the 
Christian 'Sodomites' all that different from their enemy 'Ottamites', 
ever maligned for buggary and promiscuity? Fearing divine wrath, 
Venetian authorities time and again sponsored harsh legislation against 
sodomy on their ships. Is this why the Turkish fleet drowned on changing 
destination from well fortified martial Rhodes (home of the Colossus, 
the Sun God HEL-ios) to passion-ridden Venereal Cyprus? Does it 
prefigure sun-burnished Ot-HEL-lo's own loss of martial constancy on 
untamed Cyprus? Is it Othello's last service to the state to slay the 
last Turk left standing, the Turk within, by suicide? Are both Iago and 
Othello in the end instruments of that state in executing both Desdemona 
and her lord for their gross revolt against Brabantio and his class? 
Isn't Othello the Signory's own still loyal Iago, punished in the end 
for daring to wed the noble Desdemona, both general and ensign fated to 
be dis-placed by the same 'noble' Lieu-tenant Cassio?

Joe Egert

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