Monday, September 14, 2009

Iago’s Love

That’s right, love.  Caught your attention?  Mine too.

Their talking about a new production of Othello starring Phillip Seymour Hoffman, opening this week in New York.  There’s a video interview with Hoffman, but I have not yet watched it.

What’s even more interesting in the article is the bit about a new play by Toni Morrison called Desdemona:

In Morrison’s words, “The only reason Desdemona loves Othello, or so she says, is the stories he told her. She listened to these stories of his, of his travels and his adventures. Where are those stories? We need to hear those stories that are not in the play.”

That idea intrigues me.  We so often dissect the tiniest details of Hamlet that we forget you could do the same sort of thing with Othello, or for that matter any of the tragedies.


Philip G. said...

I respectfully disagree with Ms. Morrison. I don't think we "need" to hear these stories. Maybe it's just me, but I think any attempt to codify these private conversations would strip the romance from the Othello/Desdemona relationship and may even cheapen the impact of the play. Regardless of who may write them.

Duane said...

Oh, I dunno. Updike explored the affair between Gertrude and Claudius, and I don't think that harmed Hamlet at all. It's just one person's imagination.

catkins said...

Desdemona didn't say the only reason she loved Othello was because of the stories he told, Othello did. This is Othello's simplistic, humble, self-deprecating explanation. Perhaps it is his combination of nobility and humility, his courage and self-deprecation, his valor and lack of vainglory, his ability to gain from his experience of suffering that Desdemona loved. I am often asked why Othello is one of my favorite plays and perhaps it is as hard for me to define as Desdemona's love for Othello, but I feel it as strongly as the audience feels Desdemona's love. Othello and Toni Morrison both underestimate Desdemona, the former to disastrous results. Let us hope the latter's path leads to less calamity.

JM said...

I watched the Hoffman tape. He goes into some depth; what could be considered small or intricate and puzzling details on character; the possibilities of why Iago would continue fueling the juggernaut that leads to the destruction of someone he actually loves, or has loved--possibly, in a larger reality, still loves.
There is the physical evidence for hating the Moor. In addition to Iago being passed over, Hoffman quotes a couple of lines; "And it is thought abroad that 'twixt my sheets / H'as done my office. 2.1.387-88 .
(Later, Emilia recounts Iago's suspicions and denies it as a ludicrous notion. Later still, she sheds some suspicion on herself in relaying her private feelings to Desdemona about what might constitute justification for involvement in an adulterous interlude: "...who would not make her husband a cuckold to make him a monarch? I should venture purgatory for it." 4.3.75-77)

But the second quote of Hoffman's is the more interesting and helps explain his views re:the facts and suspicions which are fueling Iago's hatred: "I am not what I am." 1.1.65
He indicates the possibility that Iago is not simply saying he's wearing a guise, but in fact could be revealing something of an overpowering compulsion to get even; make things right; that he might not be "himself" because of the strength of what it is that compels him to do what he does. And events serve to spur him on, because they re-initiate the metamorphosis and his compulsion to get even; it takes over, he's once again confirmed in his belief that he's right.
At these points he "is not who he is", so to speak.

This reminded me of thoughts I had re: the pitfalls of viewing Iago as a one-dimensional character--simply evil.

posted on the "Guilt" topic here, July 21:

"Another question arises: how much does innate character affect the wholesale adoption of a philosophy? And once an individual is convinced that the philosophy is sound, do we take the belief into account when assessing that individual, who certainly must believe it completely in order to operate so blindly according to its tenets? Has Iago convinced himself so completely of something that he has no "choice" but to behave as he does? Shakespeare writes a few one-dimensional characters, but I've never found one with such an involved stake in things, nor one with a role as large as Iago's. None of them are on stage long enough to have a need to explain their actions."

abraham said...

In my opinion what is interesting about the stories that seduce Desdemona is not the content of the stories but that she was seduced by the stories and not by him…
This is particularly interesting since we know that the stories were made up… “men whose heads grew beneath their shoulders” – never happened.
We then combine the fact that she is seduced by made-up stories with the fact that she lets Othello know that any man who loved her and knew how to tell a compelling made-up story would also be able to woo her.
Here it is: “She thanked me and bade me, if I had a friend what loved her, I should but teach him how to tell my story and that would woo her.”
Putting that together with her obsession with helping another man - Cassio - and we understand why Othello was so jealous.

Gullible wife fixated on helping another man to insecure Otello = jealous rage.

I would be interested in hearing other peoples thoughts on this theme.

Abraham Camhy