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Home :: Archive :: 2009 :: December ::
Othello's Pronouns and Double Time
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 20.0609  Tuesday, 15 December 2009

[1] From:   Arnie Perlstein <
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     Date:   Monday, 14 Dec 2009 14:47:54 -0500
     Subj:   Othello's Pronouns and Double Time

[2] From:   Bill Blanton <
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     Date:   Monday, 14 Dec 2009 14:05:01 -0600
     Subj:   Re: SHK 20.0602 Othello's Pronouns and Double Time

[3] From:   John Briggs <
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     Date:   Monday, 14 Dec 2009 21:16:10 +0000
     Subj:   Re: SHK 20.0602 Othello's Pronouns and Double Time

[4] From:   Steve Roth <
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     Date:   Tuesday, 15 Dec 2009 09:08:13 -0800
     Subj:   Re: SHK 20.0602 Othello's Pronouns and Double Time


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:       Arnie Perlstein <
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Date:       Monday, 14 Dec 2009 14:47:54 -0500
Subject:    Othello's Pronouns and Double Time

Justin Alexander replied to Jim Fess:

"By itself, the line is fine. But you're failing to look at the actual 
context of the scene:

   IAG: Did Michael Cassio when *he* wooed my Lady, know of your love?
..
   IAG: I did not think he had been acquainted with her.

How could Iago possibly think that Michael Cassio was unacquainted with 
Desdemona at the same time that Cassio was wooing her? What sort of 
seduction is he supposed to be postulating here? "  END OF J.A.'S FIRST 
REPLY TO J.F.

MY FIRST REPLY TO J.A.:
I disagree, Justin, I think Jim is looking at the full context and 
understanding it perfectly. Iago has by III.iii already begun his 
campaign of poisoning Othello's mind against Desdemona. Desdemona has 
just left and Othello reveals that he is in "chaos" inside, because he 
is torn between his love for Desdemona, and the poisonous seed of doubt 
that Iago has already planted in Othello's mind.

And NOW Desdemona has inadvertently given Iago more poison to pour into 
Othello's ear, when SHE says, in the presence of both Othello and Iago 
(and also Emilia), "Michael Cassio, That came a-wooing with you 
[Othello], and so many a time, When I have spoke of you dispraisingly." 
Iago doesn't miss a beat, and as soon as Des and Emilia exit, Iago 
seizes the moment.

Iago may or may not have previously realized that Cassio was there all 
along, playing a very active role as Othello wooed Des (sorta like Don 
Pedro wooing Hero on behalf of Claudio in MAAN), but it doesn't matter, 
because he is a nimble improviser. Now he's going to play that factoid 
up for all it's worth, making sure that Othello (who obviously has NOT 
previously taken a jaundiced eye on Cassio's involvement in the 
courtship of Desdemona) DOES start to question what Cassio's motivations 
REALLY were back there in Brabantio's house -- again, exactly as Claudio 
questions Don Pedro's motivations in MAAN.

And so.... in that context, the F1 version "when HE wooed my Lady" is a 
brilliant pseudo-Freudian slip. It suggests (but in a totally deniable 
way, if challenged) to Othello that Cassio's interactions with Desdemona 
were NOT altruistic, but selfish, on his (Cassio's) own behalf. Of 
course Iago does not think that Cassio was unacquainted with Desdemona! 
He is playing dumb, putting on an act for Othello as he does a dozen 
times during the play, and the faux-Freudian slip is the perfect 
technique, letting Othello feel like a psychological sleuth figuring out 
what Iago has "let slip".


Justin Alexander's other reply to Jim Fess:

 >2. This translation  --  Iago desires Othello more than his wife
 >sexually  --  fits Iago's role in the play.

It's certainly an interesting interpretation of Iago, but the line 
you're postulating doesn't make any sense in the context of the scene.

   IAG: And it is thought abroad, that 'twixt my sheets
       *She ha's* done my Office. I know not if't be true;

She who, exactly? Emilia isn't mentioned anywhere else in the entire 
scene. Even if we accept your conclusion that Iago is talking 
possessively about Othello's sheets, the only logical conclusion would 
be that this "she" is Desdemona (the woman he's just been talking to 
Roderigo about and about whom he's going to continue talking about in a 
few more lines). But Desdemona doesn't make sense, either. How could he 
possibly "know not" if it's true that Othello is sleeping with his wife?"
END OF J.A.'S SECOND REPLY TO J.F.

MY SECOND RESPONSE TO J.A..:
Justin, I think you'll agree that twixt Iago's OWN sheets can only refer 
to some sort of sexual activity occurring in Iago's AND EMILIA'S marital 
bed. Therefore, "she: would have a logical, plausible referent, and that 
would be Emilia. And, given that Iago has been talking about Othello 
both immediately before AND immediately after that sentence, it means 
that whatever was rumored to have happened betwixt Iago's sheets with 
Emilia must have happened with Othello.

With the Quarto version ("he ha's done my office"), it's clear that the 
rumor (which, for all we know, by the way, may well be just a lie Iago 
has made up on the spot to tell Roderigo, to bolster his con job on 
Roderigo) is that Othello has cuckolded Iago and done Iago's husbandly 
duties vis a vis Emilia. That's the standard interpretation and it works.

But.... the beauty of the alternative Folio version is that "She ha's" 
can ALSO logically and plausibly refer to Othello and Emilia going at it 
in Iago's bed! But, in order for it to work that way, the meaning of "my 
Office" is now reversed from the Quarto version -- -in this version, 
Emilia can only be doing Iago's "Office" if Iago has dreamt of having 
sex with Othello!

Read in this light, this second pronoun reversal (and again, with the 
"wrong" version appearing in the Folio both times) reads as a private 
bitter joke that Iago tells himself, knowing that the dull witted (and 
is he also drunk?) Roderigo will not pick up on that second meaning.

And, as the capper to this interpretation, it just occurred to me as I 
was writing this -- "my Office" would be a particularly fitting metaphor 
for a sexual relationship between Iago and Othello, because, after all, 
Iago is Othello's Ensign, and an Ensign is one species of OFFICER, in 
the archaic sense of that word -- he "offices" his services to Othello!

So, as Jim Fess has so aptly pointed out (and, as far as I can tell, he 
is the first person to connect these two textual pronoun switches), Iago 
(and Shakespeare) have played the same game of linguistic cat and mouse. 
Had there been only one of these, it could very well have been a 
coincidence, or perhaps a genuine Freudian slip by Shakespeare. But for 
both of them to come out of Iago's mouth, and to be readable in two ways 
via exactly the same sort of mechanism, cannot possibly be a coincidence 
or unintentional on Shakespeare's part.

Arnie Perlstein
Weston, Florida

[2]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:       Bill Blanton <
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Date:       Monday, 14 Dec 2009 14:05:01 -0600
Subject: 20.0602 Othello's Pronouns and Double Time
Comment:    Re: SHK 20.0602 Othello's Pronouns and Double Time

Regarding Iago's line: _I did not think he had been acquainted with her._

Perhaps Jim Fess is correct that the line is a joke, a bawdy one at 
that. And one that would have also been appreciated by the audience, to 
satisfy Mari Bonomi's observation.

Please see Frankie Rubinstein's excellent _A Dictionary of Shakespeare's 
Sexual Puns and Their Significance_, under Quaint, acquaint. Meaning # 
2: _Acqueyntaunce_: knowledge of a woman's private parts. Rubinstein did 
not list this quotation among her examples, but it's not hard to 
extrapolate.

Bill Blanton <
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[3]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:       John Briggs <
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Date:       Monday, 14 Dec 2009 21:16:10 +0000
Subject: 20.0602 Othello's Pronouns and Double Time
Comment:    Re: SHK 20.0602 Othello's Pronouns and Double Time

  --  --  Mari Bonomi wrote:

 >Please correct me if I am mistaken (being merely a retired high school
 >English teacher) but I did not think any of Shakespeare's plays were
 >actually written for a *reader* - the sonnets and poems yes of course,
 >but the plays were so far as I understand written to be performed, not
 >to be read.


If you are going to be talking sense, you're in the wrong thread  :-)

John Briggs

[4]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:       Steve Roth <
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 >
Date:       Tuesday, 15 Dec 2009 09:08:13 -0800
Subject: 20.0602 Othello's Pronouns and Double Time
Comment:    Re: SHK 20.0602 Othello's Pronouns and Double Time

Mari Bonomi:

"Please correct me if I am mistaken (being merely a retired high school 
English teacher) but I did not think any of Shakespeare's plays were 
actually written for a *reader* - the sonnets and poems yes of course, 
but the plays were so far as I understand written to be performed, not 
to be read."

A widespread misconception that has always struck some of us as misguided.

Lukas Erne put the silver spike to it quite decidedly a couple of years 
back:

Shakespeare as Literary Dramatist
http://www.amazon.com/Shakespeare-Literary-Dramatist-Lukas-Erne/dp/0521045665/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1260896349&sr=1-1

I'll also point you unabashedly to my review of the book, which begins:

"One of the greater ironies of Shakespeare scholarship over the last 
century is the ongoing effort by Shakespeare scholars -- most of whom 
spend dozens of hours a week enjoining, cajoling, and browbeating their 
students into addressing Shakespeare's plays as literature -- to deny 
that those plays are literature."

And wherein I also contend that:

"Shakespeare's ability to write for apprentices and earls, for court and 
courtyard, for auditors *and* for readers, constitutes an important part 
of -- and demonstration of -- the skill that has transformed him into 
'Shakespeare.'"

http://extra.shu.ac.uk/emls/09-3/revroth.htm

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