Saturday, July 28, 2012
Othello by William Shakespeare
Named for the unsuspecting and gullible hero Othello, Shakespeare's play is really about Iago; a most sinister, manipulative, back-stabbing, devious villain. He is #4 on The Telegraph's list of "50 Greatest Villains in Literature" usurped by Satan in John Milton's Paradise Lost, Samuel Whiskers from Beatrix Potter's The Tale of Samuel Whiskers, and Cruella De Vil in Dodie Smith's 101 Dalmations.
Iago was a master at reading people, understanding their strengths and weaknesses, and uncovering vulnerabilities that he exploited to his own ends. At the same time, no one knew him. Over and over, he was called "honest Iago" by Othello, Desdemona and Cassio; the very ones being spun into his web of lies. By virtue of their own honest, good hearts, they could not conceive the trusted Iago, could be at the root of such evil and treacherous actions.
This reminds me of similar gullibility and resulting treachery in the Aeneid, when the Trojans believed the poor Greek prisoner's story and brings the huge, wooden horse into the city, filled with Greek warriors which led to the sack of Troy, and Oroonoko when the hero believes the white slave owners and gives himself up, only to be whipped mercilessly, short of death.
In the plotting of Othello's demise, Iago was the consummate actor, producer and director. He would have succeeded except for the disclosure made by his wife, Emilia. As in all Shakespeare's tragedies that I have read thus far, many dead bodies litter the final scenes, but surprisingly in Othello, one survives.