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Outrageous that there is no thread on it!

It's not that long, actually, since we introduced the drama element to this forum, so we're still building up threads on great plays.

 

Still, Othello is certainly a masterpiece, so why not kick us off with some thoughts on it, KL?

 

Shall I note mischievously that within a few lines of its opening we are given 'Sblood, which was extremely strong swearing for the contemporary audience? Presumably if you'd been a playgoer in Shakespeare's day you would have been sending a parchment of complaint c/o The Globe...?

 

;)

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After Hamlet, my favourite Shakespeare play. I took my family to see it a few years back and, in spite of the poor diction of the black actor who played Othello, I was overwhelmed by the sheer pathos of Desdemona's predicament. Come to think of it, Othello is probably my contender for 'the greatest love story' (see thread in Central Library). It still puzzles me a bit that one doesn't hate Othello for his self-righteous murder of an innocent girl. But then I suppose we no longer subscribe to those values that recognise male mastery.

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It still puzzles me a bit that one doesn't hate Othello for his self-righteous murder of an innocent girl.
Because we blame Iago? There are few Shakespearean heroes whom we hold responsible - or hate - for their actions.

 

I love Othello, oddly the best performance of it - well, really only one scene - I have seen was Billy Crudup and Claire Danes toward the end of Stage Beauty. If a theatre performance came close to that, it would be wonderful.

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Shall I note mischievously that within a few lines of its opening we are given 'Sblood, which was extremely strong swearing for the contemporary audience? Presumably if you'd been a playgoer in Shakespeare's day you would have been sending a parchment of complaint c/o The Globe...?

;)

 

I think there is more offensive content that I should object too, but actually I don't mind it. I like Iago, bizarrely, even though he's sort of evil. What is everyone's thoughts on him?

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I like Iago, bizarrely, even though he's sort of evil. What is everyone's thoughts on him?

Oh he's definitely one of my favourite characters in Shakespeare, in large part because he is pretty much unique. Embodying the famous 'motiveless malignity' observed by Coleridge he is a fascinating portrayal of evil behind an endlessly adaptable face, a man that understands human nature as intimately as Shakespeare himself, yet who turns that comprehension to malign ends. In many ways the play should really be called Iago and I love that in the conclusion we do not see any justice done, unlike elsewhere in Shakespeare. He's captured and condemned, but that justice hasn't been enacted and instead all we see are the fruits of his machinations.

 

Marvellous.

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I love Iago. He's so twisted and evil and fun. I think you can really imagine how Shakespeare must have gotten a lot of sheer enjoyment out of writing him.

 

Here's an odd piece of news. Apparently a new production of Othello that will tour next year stars... Lenny Henry.

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Hamlet apart, there's probably no more fascinating character in Shakespeare than Iago, the not-so-motiveless villain who is the driving force of the play. Not so motiveless because he is in his way as jealous as Othello - but not so much of Cassio's being promoted above him or Othello's possible relationship with Emilia and of his wife's sexual dalliance, but of Othello's virtue. Not able to compete with the hero in the virtue stakes, he sets out to destroy the noble and valiant hero who has just this one susceptibility - 'one not easily jealous, but being moved etc.' And of course the audience is fascinated to see him dethone nobility, almost joining Iago in a conspiracy to overthrow virtue. Iago is a master tactician and a master of psychology - he knows everyone else's weak spots. In spite of one's better self, the watcher feels an impulse within him or her saying, 'Go on then! See if you can do it. Blacken virtue and make the innocent suffer!' Some achievement that - and absolutely convincing.

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Iago shows that those other guys with their big reputations all have faults and can all be brought down by Iago's cleverness/dismissal of morals.

 

But he refuses to tell anyone that he's bad- I think Iago loves to be loved, and won't ruin the image of himself as being lovely by telling the truth. He doesn't care much about women or their opinions of him, just Cassio pretty-boy and Othello outsider-yet-powerful.

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But he refuses to tell anyone that he's bad- I think Iago loves to be loved, and won't ruin the image of himself as being lovely by telling the truth.

I think the psychology of Iago is fascinating and an intriguing development for Shakespeare. Most of his other villains all have their reasons for what they do and then ultimately have to face up to that, but here he explores not the concept of the psychology behind motivation, but the psychology of a man who has to deal with his own evil. So what Iago does is contrive motivation, devising any number of reasons not merely to dupe the likes of Roderigo but also himself in his soliloquies, even to the quite ludicrous assertion that he suspects Emilia of involvement with Othello, showing how desperate he is to find reasons for his action. It is as if he can't quite face up to the horror of being purely malevolent and has to paint himself in the colours of other men who need reasons to work harm rather than purely taking delight in destruction. Yet it is that delight that he confesses, not simply to destroy Othello, of course - he is merely the greatest prize. He seems to thrive on the improvisations of his scheme, adapting to every nuance around him to keep Othello, Cassio, Roderigo, Desdemona and even Emilia moving towards their doom. Simply because he can.

 

It is for Othello to make clear what Iago really is and why he does it in his final moments:

 

"If that thou be'st a devil, I cannot kill thee."

 

And indeed, within the confines of the play - very unusually for Shakespeare - he lives. This is the playwright's signal for how we should view him. The psychology of a flesh-and-blood man who must deal with the amorality of a devil is what makes this play so compelling.

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"If that thou be'st a devil, I cannot kill thee."

 

I nearly had it. I nearly appreciated some lines of a Shakespeare play.That line by itself seemed almost poetic. I looked up the lines in context:

 

I look down towards his feet; but that's a fable.

If that thou be'st a devil, I cannot kill thee.

 

Poetically, I get the metre but the second line seems to be manufactured and doesn't flow. Yes, I'm telling off "Shakey"

 

"If that thou" is the strangest combination of three English words I've ever heard, even when substituting "If that you..."

 

"Be'st" I'm OK with, you'll be happy to know.

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I nearly had it.

:D

 

I see what you mean, but the power of poetry is frequently achieved through twisting it. At this point Othello is going through the greatest of mental tortures, seeing he has killed his own wife without cause, having been manipulated by the man he trusted most. Everything has gone, including his precious reputation.

 

That the syntax is a little warped seems to be a manifestation of his inner torment, as well as the way in which he seems to struggle finally to reach the open term 'devil', stumbling up to it with "If that thou be'st" (possibly with a nice echo of 'beast'), as if he can't quite believe what Iago really is.

 

Should have added earlier that Kelby Lake drew a good analogy with Aaron in Titus Andronicus, who similarly is condemned at the end but survives the actual play. However, the play itself is flawed in many ways and it's interesting to see how Shakespeare's grown by the time he creates Iago's similar lack of motivation. By the end, he has no final speech like Aaron's. Simply the confirmation of Othello's assertion that he can't be killed if he's a devil:

 

"I bleed, sir, but not kill'd."

 

Then

 

"Demand me nothing, what you know you know,

From this time forth I never will speak word."

 

Far more powerful and it ensures that he does indeed live on in our minds as we leave the theatre.

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Indeed. Because with Aaron, he freely admits that he is evil- Iago never actually says 'I am evil', and his evil is all done behind everyone's back. I don't think he'd ever deny his reputation, the side he shows everyone else, and I like the fact that there isn't an exact motive for Iago's evilness, just general excuses for jealousy, and because he is a sadist (literally).

 

When he's saying that people are saying that Othello bedded his wife, doesn't Iago imply that he ought to do likewise, and then dismisses it?

 

Our teacher told us that Iago was probably gay- what do you think about that?

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Our teacher told us that Iago was probably gay- what do you think about that?
Saying that a Shakespearean character was A, B or C is rather problematic, don't you think?

 

Of course a production of Othello can have Iago sticking his hand behind Cassio's or Othello's codpiece... but that's not the same as saying he is gay in today's parlance...

 

It's like the irritating question of whether Shakespeare was gay... Isn't it rather like asking if he was a socialist... or a Marxist... or maybe a feminist?

Isn't it all rather anachronistic?

 

And your teacher should have known better.

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I don't know about that, jfp. I think you're being a bit harsh on Kelby Lake's teacher - I'm sure what he meant to say is that 'Iago may have been attracted to other men although not necessarily in a way that complies with early twenty first century constructs of queerness' - but that's rather a mouthful for a high school class, don't you think? ;)

 

I've never put much thought into looking for socialist ideas in Shakespeare and I don't think anyone sane could argue that there was room in his plays for feminist theories but... there are substantial elements of characterisation in Shakespeare that prefigure Freud. For instance (sorry I'm going OT) all the repressed guilt evident in Macbeth, 'The lady doth protest too much, methinks', the sleepwalking. Of course, it would be anachronistic to argue that Shakespeare was a Freudian but...

 

(actually - well off topic now - I would argue that Freud was a Shakespearean... trying to find my copy of Shakespeare's Invention of the Human but I don't seem to have unpacked it yet)

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You haven't quite pushed me into reading it, but it did help.

We'll get you yet! ;)

 

Alternatively you could always rent it! I rather like Kenneth Branagh's Iago, with Laurence Fishburne as Othello.

 

As for Iago being gay, well, I really don't see any textual evidence for that (and in terms of teaching it you have to work within those boundaries). I suspect that line, which has been around for a while now, grew out of two things. Firstly the speculations about Shakespeare himself, emerging from the sonnets and secondly from the very modern psychoanalytical approach of having to construct a rationale behind the actions. In recent times the concept of 'evil' has become very unfashionable, but of course in Shakespeare's day was at the heart of many people's thinking. Simply because Shakespeare is so psychologically aware critics can sometimes project a modern sensibility upon what he's doing and imagine that his 'hidden' agenda was to create a homosexual character, thereby 'explaining' his contempt for a society that imagines all such people are hellbound. And there we find the 'motive' that of course 'has' to be there. It misunderstands the contemporary society for whom this play was written to imagine there needs to be such an explanation; the interest for Shakespeare is in how this character deals with his evil, even in the midst of his delighting in its actions.

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We'll get you yet! ;)

Oh, I'm receptive to offers, though you should be aware that the Marlowe fan club are also interested and have made a tentative offer to my agent.

 

Alternatively you could always rent it! I rather like Kenneth Branagh's Iago, with Laurence Fishburne as Othello.

I've said before that the plays should be seen on stage and not read on the page. I'm a big fan of Ian McKellen's version of Richard III and I'd can't see Kenny and Larry making a bad job of 'Shakey'

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Oh, I'm receptive to offers, though you should be aware that the Marlowe fan club are also interested and have made a tentative offer to my agent.

 

Well that's great news, since they are, of course, one and the same.

 

I've said before that the plays should be seen on stage and not read on the page.

Well I agree with the former but, unsurprisingly, not the latter!

 

I'm a big fan of Ian McKellen's version of Richard III and I'd can't see Kenny and Larry making a bad job of 'Shakey'

Indeed. I didn't like everything about that version, but the central Othello/Iago movement is excellent.

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Ah, a few years ago it was Francis Bacon that wrote them, now it's Marlowe. I just can't keep up.

Well, in reality of course the Droeshout engraving demonstrates very clearly that actually he was Elizabeth I, as this helpful overlay reveals.

 

lizonwillwx3.jpg

 

This clears up a lot of the silliness about who Shakespeare really was. Pretty definitive, I'd say.

 

(Being the Virgin Queen she was obviously a lesbian, too...)

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(Being the Virgin Queen she was obviously a lesbian, too...)

I can't see your image, but in any case this reply is on an utterly trivial semantic point. It's just that this is the second time today the same problematic thing has come up in my reading (on checking for typos, I laughed at that line, read on to find out why). First time was a trashy magazine I was flipping through in the checkout queue - the story of a woman who'd been raped by a taxi driver. The article writer said the woman was a lesbian, and a virgin. The victim was quoted as saying she'd had several girlfriends. So now I'm really wondering where this idea comes from. That the woman - like your QEI - had had lovers but was a virgin. Someone who has had sex is no longer a virgin, right? I'm not meaning to be picky, but the coincidence has made me curious about how many people think there has to be a penis involved? :confused:

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I can't see your image,

Oh dear! It's been Imageshacked so I'm not sure what the problem is there!

 

Well, I found it on this page. Unfortunately, without it the satire's a little lost.

 

Which was, of course, how I meant the comment about Elizabeth being a lesbian.

 

As to your question, why not take it up in General Chat - I suggest the Have a Rant thread, which could use a revival.

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