Iago's Pitchy, Poisonous Prose (II)
Tuesday, 2005-04-26 | Classic Gin
Shades of Judas.
That's the working title for my work on Iago. First I'll lay down a reduction that resembles the reductions of other readings of Iago that I wrote last night. Then I'll go through some of the larger pieces of my argument. Keep in mind that what follows is fluid; much will change before that fateful day seven morrows hence.
In my reading, Iago is a comic villain. To Shakespeare, who like Marlowe lived in a time during which morality drama lent itself better to satire than to edification (cf. Faustus, the idea of comic villainy as bawdy and bestial was dated and ineffectual. Hence his comic villains are comic in their wits, not in their witlessness; where Mischeff would have taken a morality stage with dick jokes and the threadbare habit of an urchin or a drunkard and thus been a comic villain, Shakespeare's comic villains rely less upon physical humor as they produce comic effect.
So, as a Shakespearean comic villain, Iago is a consummate improvisationalist (a comedian's skill) as well as a wicked, manipulative betrayer of trust and confidence. That he improvises his wickedness so frequently, I intend to argue, is evidence that he's not in control of what's going on--that he is caught up in the moment as much as the dupes or gulls upon whom he works his magic. Unlike, say, Prospero, Iago is no puppetmaster--he is carried along in the current that he himself set into motion.
So far, so good.
Where Judas comes in is kind of a complicated point. The gist is that the extensive mirroring between Iago and Othello, expressed with a pathological frequency in the speeches of both the knave and his gull, is like the mirroring of Jesus and Judas (not so much Luke's exploding Judas; more like Matthew's hanging Judas), who were born on the same day and, go figure, who both died on the same day (by Matthew's account). Judas, I shall have to argue, becomes caught up in actions that he set into motion but of which he rapidly loses control in a manner not unlike Iago. What's more, Iago's 'put money in thy purse' can be read, given the analogue I'm suggesting, as an allusion to Judas and his (in)famous 30 pieces of silver. Othello, furthermore, makes a number of references to the precious pearl that he has thrown away--on this count, his contrition is expressed in a manner nearly identical to Macbeth's--and to the Christ-like aspects of himself.
The final idea is that though Iago has only 'token reasons' for his incredible betrayal of Othello, he is pushed forward into his pitchy, bottomless villainy by circumstance. Such is his motive.
But just as the motivating force behind Iago's villainy is something more tangible than a Jungian zeitgeist but not as demonstrable as 'confusion' or 'intoxication' or something that proceeds from and affects the individual, his temptation of Othello is very physical. The materiality of language, as in the morality theatre (especially Mankind), is emphasized by Iago in numerous lines. The idea here is that, caught up in the events he set into motion, Iago responds to the immateriality of his own feelings/motives by stressing the physicality and materiality of abstractions like words, events, etc. His temptation is, by his count and by Othello's, very physical and material almost as if to compensate for the immateriality of his motives.
The Duncan Idaho reference in my last missive was a reference for the true heads--I won't explain it at length. But if you remember how Idaho betrays Paul despite his best intentions and how Paul tells him repeatedly that when the time comes that he will betray him and how when the time comes Paul acts with grace, you should be able to see how the analogy suggested itself to me.