Lupita Nyong’o at the Miu Miu Fashion Show - Paris Fashion Week (March 5, 2014)
hailstream asked: Oooh, queer Shakesspeare characters? Must find out more! What did Iago say/do that led you to believe he loved Othello?
It’s been a while since I read the play, so I can’t pull up any specific quotes. But there is an edge of jealousy when he talks about Othello and Desdemona and an extreme level of bitterness to it.
But also, simply Iago’s level of manipulation and deception. Like, ok, whenever Shakespeare characters give a soliloquy (they are alone on stage and give a speech to the audience), they tend to be incredibly 100% honest about their thoughts and intentions. Except for Iago. Iago manages to talk himself into lies that we know he knows aren’t true. That’s some serious self-denial there. Like woah.
And his stated motivation (bitterness that he was passed over for a promotion) fails to explain his fixation on Othello’s relationship with Desdemona and the very….sexual nature of his revenge. Like, he doesn’t try to ruin Othello’s military character. He specifically aims to sabotage Othello’s romantic and sexual relationship.
There are a few moments in the play where Iago almost, nearly, seems to express some GENUINE level of sincerity (these moments are often extrapolated on in film and stage adaptions, especially the Branagh version) And all of those moments are times when he and Othello are alone on stage. Specifically when Othello embraces him, thanking him for being a “true friend”, Iago seems to have a moment of self doubt, breaking through his incredibly pathological web of lies he has weaved around himself.
And when that web comes crashing down and Othello kills himself, Iago is rendered speechless. The master of lies, unable to even defend his actions as he sees the destruction he has wrought upon Othello, the fixation of his manipulation. All Iago can do is refuse, even at the end of it all, to explain his actions.
-has a lot of feelings about Iago-
This reading seems really powerful. I’m surprised it never came up in my class a few years back. We did mention that Iago’s motivation never seemed like quite enough. I just skimmed through Act I and picked out bits that jumped out to me. The idea that Iago is secretly trying to encode his desire for Othello links all this but it’s very loose. I still find it fascinating. There are other plays of old B-Shake’s that encourage queer readings so the idea isn’t a foreign way of reading Shakespeare. And after a quick look at it with this in mind I am really surprised that class I took didn’t at least mention it.
In Act I scene i Iago says Cassio is “a fellow almost damn’d in a fair wife,” which a quick Google search reveals has been a troubling line for scholars but which doesn’t give me access to much of their musings. Generally they wonder how could anyone be damn’d in a wife? Especialy a fair one? And how does this apply to Cassio since he isn’t married?
I offer that for a gay man trying to keep up appearances, a man who feels he needs a beard, being married to a woman must be an unhappy affair. So what Iago is expressing here is his lament that he wants to be like Cassio both in that he wants the promotion from Othello, but more than that he wants to be single like Cassio. Cassio is almost (but not) damn’d while Iago is merely damn’d, trapped.
Additionally you have the soldierly comaradery we know Iago and Othello shared. Iago talks in that same speech about how he was with Othello on various battlefields and Othello has reservations about marriage in part because it would mean giving up some of that freedom and glory he has a soldier. I don’t recall any lines that would further allude to Iago and Othello enjoying each other’s company romantically while they’re out at war. Maybe it’s there, maybe not (I lean toward not since I doesn’t believe Othello hints that he’ll miss Iago’s company specifically but maybe that specificity isn’t necessary). But even if not, if we agree that Iago has an unhealthy fixation with Othello, perhaps Iago is reading a lot more into what happened in his time with Othello than what is there. Perhaps he sees a relationship waiting to blossom that is only held back by other people who are in the way (their wives and Cassio).
Perhaps Iago isn’t even willing to admit to himself his true motivation in bringing Othello’s downfall (because the downfall here isn’t his goal, I think, but is instead the most obvious reason to make Othello distrust and kill his wife without forcing Iago to admit he views her as a rival for the man he loves but instead frames her as a way of destroying the man he hates). This unwillingness to admit his true feelings then also forces Iago to grasp for other reasons to remove Desdemona from the picture (as well as his own wife) and explains how he could seemingly be shocked when the man he has expressed hatred for dies. His reasons seem weak because they are. He isn’t so mad about the promotion or unfaithful wives as he is tired of hiding his feelings for Othello. And yet even as he enacts his plan to remove the major obstacles to his being with Othello he still cannot say out loud what his real motivation is, even when on stage by himself (though perhaps this is as much an inability to simply say to an Elizabethan audience, “I’m gay, everyone.” Shakespeare was big at getting subversive elements into his plays despite the popular sentiments of the time). Additionally this means Iago is actually the one who wants to be unfaithful and so, unable to act on that, he claims the wives are doing what he wants to but cannot.
Again Iago perhaps tells more of his true motivation in Act I, scene iii, line 332-3, “But we have reason/to cool our raging motions.” If Iago is closeted then he absolutely cannot act on his raging motions and we can see how he plots throughout the entirety of the play. In fact we can further deduce that, if love for Othello is Iago’s true motivation, then it ultimately fails because it is unrequited and Othello’s true love is for Desdemona. So ultimately the reason and plotting means nothing if the emotions are not true for both sides.
In this same section Iago repeatedly affirms that he hates the Moor. He specifically says the Moor and not Othello (does he ever in the play say he hates Othello?) and perhaps this is a way of distancing himself from that lie. He can hate the Moor, the dehumanized ethnicity, but not Othello (though I may very well simply not remember a point where he said “I hate Othello”). When I read this it took an an air of protesting too much. He’s said it so much that it somehow seems less genuine now. As if he has to keep saying it so that the whole charade doesn’t come undone. He says it compulsively, almost as a reminder to himself, lest he slip up and let his true emotions show.
Again, just after this, some ambiguous language I think allows a queer reading to enter. Iago is talking about how he will get Othello to distrust Cassio and specifically, “to get [Cassio’s] place and plum up my will” he will “abuse Othello’s ear/that he is too familiar with his wife.” It is understood that the he is Cassio. Iago is gonna tell Othello that he’s being cuckolded, and that is what happens. But this pronoun also works if the sentence only talks about Othello. Iago thinks “he [Othello] is too familiar with his [Othello’s] wife.” Iago would rather that Othello were familiar with Iago. This one seems kinda weak considering we can be sure that Iago is talking about Cassio and his plot unfolds exactly as he describes in this section, and yet that ambiguity in sentence structure still jumps out to me.
Two more random bits that didn’t tie in as well
Act I scene i Iago says about being passed over for promotion, “now, sir, be judge yourself,/whether I in any just term am affined/to love the Moor.” To Roderigo this means, though Iago hates Othello, he only serves Othello so that he might betray him in the grandest fashion. But if there’s one thing we can be sure of about Iago it is that his words are seldom all they seem to be. Perhaps to the end of this pronouncement that he shouldn’t love Othello, Iago silently adds, “but I do. In spite of what he’s done I still love him.” Iago ends this exchange by saying, “I am not what I am.” What is Iago? A villain. And if he is not what he is? He is a hero? Is this a call that perhaps we should be cheering for Iago, hoping for him to achieve his ends, to acquire Othello’s love? Or to at least feel some compassion because his motivation isn’t just this drive to destroy Othello (though that’s all he can apparently express it as) but instead seeking his affection? I think I’m stretching here and the language doesn’t quite work for me, but given everything else it also doesn’t seem completely out of the realm of possibility at first glance.
More than that, I think that line is enough to encourage us and frame the rest of the play with the question that we are given right there in the very beginning, “Does Iago have reason to love Othello?” Or simply “Does Iago love Othello?”
Also Iago’s first plot isn’t necessarily to kill Othello but instead to ruin his marriage with Desdemona. He gets Desdemona’s father to charge Othello with stealing his daughter away. Othello offers that if he is guilty the sentence should fall upon his life, but I’m not sure this is the sentence one would get for such an act at the time. I really don’t know what the law for that would have been but perhaps Iago simply hoped they’d be forced away from each other, thus freeing Othello for Iago. Brabantio counters Othello’s call for a death sentence if he is a liar by saying that “if she was but half the wooer,/destruction on my head.” We of course find out that she was half the wooer and yet no destruction falls on Brabantio’s head which makes me think that likewise Othello’s call for his own death sentence was simply a boast of honor and not something that would have taken place. Though again I am not familiar with the laws of the time.
Act I scene iii from about lines 314 to 334 Iago says things like “I never found/man that knew how to love himself,” and “supply it with one gender of herbs, or distract it/with many…” Again, the wording isn’t all that convincing but is it possible Iago is talking about a man loving another man and that “gender if herbs” is meant to say that he is attracted to men and women? He goes on to say that Othello and Desdemona’s love cannot last long, which is perhaps then just as comforting a thought to Iago as it is for Roderigo, the one listening to Iago at that point.
I’m just gunna reblog this because I like it, and it includes quotes.
Another day, another kick ass woman from history who is sadly lacking her own movie franchise.
but nah, women never did anything interesting or exciting in the Old Days
She was known as the Lioness of Brittany.