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Home :: Archive :: 2009 :: May ::
Playing Iago
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 20.0210  Saturday, 2 May 2009

[1] From:   Larry Weiss <
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     Date:   Thursday, 30 Apr 2009 12:21:30 -0400
     Subj:   Re: SHK 20.0204 Playing Iago

[2] From:   Lynn Brenner <
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     Date:   Thursday, 30 Apr 2009 12:46:22 EDT
     Subj:   Re: SHK 20.0204 Playing Iago

[3] From:   Lynn Brenner <
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     Date:   Thursday, 30 Apr 2009 14:08:49 EDT
     Subj:   Re: Playing Iago, etc

[4] From:   Alan Pierpoint <
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     Date:   Thursday, 30 Apr 2009 14:56:50 -0400
     Subj:   Re: SHK 20.0204 Playing Iago

[5] From:   Mike Shapiro <
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     Date:   Thursday, 30 Apr 2009 18:29:13 -0700
     Subj:   RE: SHK 20.0204 Playing Iago

[6] From:   Robert Projansky <
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     Date:   Saturday, 2 May 2009 03:16:17 -0700
     Subj:   Re: SHK 20.0204 Playing Iago


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:       Larry Weiss <
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Date:       Thursday, 30 Apr 2009 12:21:30 -0400
Subject: 20.0204 Playing Iago
Comment:    Re: SHK 20.0204 Playing Iago

This from Louis Swilley:

 >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

I suppose we can understand Leontes in this fashion, but neither he nor 
(I believe) most members of the audience are willing to exonerate him as 
a victim rather than an active agent.

And from Joe Egert:

 >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.

I don't see Iago as a typical proto-democrat reacting against the unjust 
privileges of the upper classes. Ironically, Venice's incomplete 
adoption of meritocratic policies  --  the kind of thing that allows 
someone like Othello to become commander-in-chief  --  causes Iago to 
resent more acutely the slight of being passed over in favour of a git 
like Cassio. Iago sees himself (correctly, to my mind) as the only truly 
intelligent person he knows. His actions are all designed to prove that, 
to himself at least.

[2]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:       Lynn Brenner <
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Date:       Thursday, 30 Apr 2009 12:46:22 EDT
Subject: 20.0204 Playing Iago
Comment:    Re: SHK 20.0204 Playing Iago

 >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.

I think Iago has to be powerfully affected by Desdemona's appeal for 
help. But that doesn't mean he must be moved to sympathy for her.

Take Liev Schrieber's Iago at the Public Theatre a few years ago:

When Desdemona appealed to him, weeping, she leaned momentarily against 
his shoulder, and his hand hovered over her head, almost caressing her 
hair. But the fleeting look on his face was an unforgettable combination 
of erotic and homicidal excitement.

Schrieber's Iago had boundless contempt for his victims, correctly 
anticipating all their reactions, and affecting total control over his 
own emotions  --  but he clearly hadn't expected Desdemona to come so 
close to crying in his arms, and in that brief moment, we saw naked 
uncontrolled emotion on his face. It still gives me chills to remember it.

Lynn Brenner

[3]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:       Lynn Brenner <
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Date:       Thursday, 30 Apr 2009 14:08:49 EDT
Subject:    Re: Playing Iago, etc

 >In a long-ago production of "Romeo and Juliet", John Wood 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.>

Nonsense! Surely Capulet's tears were for himself. After all the trouble 
and expense he has gone to  --  raising Juliet, decking her out in 
costly finery, paying for all those music lessons, arranging a good 
marriage  --  the ungrateful girl is going to make him a laughingstock 
in front of Paris's family and the rest of the nobility. It's more than 
enough to make the poor man weep in rage and self-pity!!

The tears make him human, but they don't make him sympathetic.

Nine times out of ten at least, playing a villain for sympathy is 
self-indulgence: It's the actor, not the character, who wants to be liked.

Besides, if Shakespeare wants the audience to like a villain, you can be 
sure they will. Richard III is irresistibly charming despite being 
ruthlessly evil; but I'm hard put to think of a less likeable character 
than Iago. I don't feel any twinges of sympathy for Capulet, either. 
That doesn't mean they're not human; in drama as in life, there are 
human beings one can't stand.

Lynn Brenner

[4]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:       Alan Pierpoint <
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Date:       Thursday, 30 Apr 2009 14:56:50 -0400
Subject: 20.0204 Playing Iago
Comment:    Re: SHK 20.0204 Playing Iago

Joseph Egert writes:

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

Okay, veteran serial killer. But are you suggesting that all soldiers, 
or all soldiers who kill people, are serial killers, or on the same 
moral plane as Iago? Are you putting Othello on that plane?

[5]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:       Mike Shapiro <
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Date:       Thursday, 30 Apr 2009 18:29:13 -0700
Subject: 20.0204 Playing Iago
Comment:    RE: SHK 20.0204 Playing Iago

John W Kennedy

 >Then why except their grammar and vocabulary?

Because human motivation and instincts related to the seven deadly sins 
do not change very much over the centuries, the human perspective 
regarding such does. For instance, the way we approach an extra marital 
affair today is different than how looked in 1603. Today we know we are 
in for a roller coaster ride. So we might experience surrender to the 
instincts that would be recognizable to today's audience (Same Time Next 
Year). In 1603 the psychology regarding such was different and actors 
had the base attitudes and behavior of their community from which to 
draw. I want to experience the infectious truth of the now, not the 
staged presentation of a document.

Mike Shapiro

[6]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:       Robert Projansky <
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Date:       Saturday, 2 May 2009 03:16:17 -0700
Subject: 20.0204 Playing Iago
Comment:    Re: SHK 20.0204 Playing Iago

 >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.

Absolutely not so.

 >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.

How could a caress there be anything but a phony one, the diametrical 
opposite of sympathy for her? And why would such a gesture make him 
sympathetic to the audience as he blows off her request without the 
slightest offer of help? Maybe aborting the gesture means that 
particular Iago played it as suddenly thinking a false show of  sympathy 
too risky for the little he might gain from it, i.e., the  physical 
self-indulgence of his sense of power over her, the  gratification of 
literally holding her head in his hand, just as he  holds her life in 
his hand.

 >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.
 >These humanizing corrections are necessary; otherwise we are merely
 >given the one-dimensional, "you-must-pay-the-rent" villain of cheap
 >drama.

Capulet, played as he's written is as human as anybody  --  more, 
really, and not in the least villainous. What does he have to cry  about 
in that scene? Nothing. And we know that when crossed he doesn't get 
weepy, he gets tough. Gawd, what did that actor do when they found 
Juliet dead? Just because an actor can think of something to do doesn't 
mean he should do it.

Villains need not be made sympathetic to be interesting (think Idi  Amin 
or Richard B. Cheney), and interesting is what really counts in  the 
theater. We aren't given a one-dimensional villain anywhere in 
Shakespeare, and certainly none who needs to be humanized against the 
text to attain sufficient dimensionality. Shakespeare doesn't give 
Shylock a word of affection to say to or about Jessica, but years ago 
Dustin Hoffman,  in NY, chose to make up for Shakespeare's  shortcomings 
by slathering a big blob of wordless affection on his  Jessica. His 
attempt to humanize Shylock and make him sympathetic was  awful and his 
dumbshow stopped the play dead in its tracks.

I have never seen Iago played badly but I suppose playing him against 
the text and thinking up clever actions to help do it would be a  great 
way to start.

Best to all,
Bob Projansky

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