The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 19.0622  Sunday, 2 November 2008

From:       Himadri Chatterjee <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:       Saturday, 25 Oct 2008 19:42:55 +0000 (GMT)
Subject: 19.0609 OTHELLO Moment
Comment:    Re: SHK 19.0609 OTHELLO Moment

I think Iago actually is affected by Desdemona's distress in 4.2. He is far from 
his usual loquacious self here, and is strangely subdued. Towards the end of 
this scene, he meets with Roderigo, and, for the one and only scene in the play 
between these two characters, it is actually Roderigo who does most of the 
talking. Iago, meanwhile, is on the whole restricted to an occasional "very 
well" or "go to". Of course, Desdemona's distress doesn't soften Iago: his evil 
continues unabated. But nonetheless, for a while at least, her distress has 
affected him.

And this should lead us to ask, I think, why Desdemona's distress should affect 
him so. I think the reason is that Iago lacks imagination. He can pick out the 
weak spots in peoples' characters, and make use of them for his own ends; but 
because he is himself so emotionally stunted, he cannot imagine the depths of 
emotion that others can experience, but which he himself cannot. This is why, 
when Othello turns on Iago in III,iii ("Villain, be sure thou prove my love a 
whore," etc.) Iago is taken by surprise: such a torrent of raw emotion he had 
not expected, because it is well beyond his own horizons. When he had suspected 
Emilia of infidelity (or, at least, when he had convinced himself that he 
suspected Emilia of infidelity), the thought, he said, "like a poisonous mineral 
gnaw[ed] my inwards": but that is nothing compared to Othello's overwhelming 
passion. Similarly, Iago had not the imaginative vision to envisage the depths 
of Desdemona's distress: so when he sees it for himself, he is, for a while at 
any rate, affected by it.

And it is for this reason that, for me at any rate, the play is Othello's, not 
Iago's. Yes, it is true that Iago has more lines, and is on stage for longer; 
but Othello has -- for want of a better expression -- a greatness of soul that 
Iago lacks, a capacity to experience the most profound passions that the 
emotionally crippled Iago cannot even begin to imagine. For all Iago's insights 
into the weaknesses of Othello's character, lines such as this are well beyond 
his understanding:

But there where I have garnered up my heart,
Where either I must live or bear no life,
The fountain from which my current runs
Or else dries up -

It is the person who can speak lines such as this -- who can think thoughts such 
as this -- who is, for me at any rate, at the centre of this most intensely 
moving of all plays.


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