And I Loved Her That She Did Not Pity Them

Bear with me for a moment.

I have a very vivid memory of studying Othello in high school, some thirty plus years ago, and getting to this pretty famous passage, where Othello explains how he won Desdemona’s heart:

My story being done,
She gave me for my pains a world of sighs:
She swore, in faith, twas strange, ’twas passing strange,
‘Twas pitiful, ’twas wondrous pitiful:
She wish’d she had not heard it, yet she wish’d
That heaven had made her such a man: she thank’d me,
And bade me, if I had a friend that loved her,
I should but teach him how to tell my story.
And that would woo her. Upon this hint I spake:
She loved me for the dangers I had pass’d,
And I loved her that she did pity them.
This only is the witchcraft I have used:
Here comes the lady; let her witness it.

The problem is that I remember reading, “that she did not pity them.”  I couldn’t tell you how or why, it would have been one of those things where teachers photocopy an excerpt out of a book into a few pages and staple them together to pass out to the class.  Additionally it would have been my first exposure to Othello, and I was maybe fifteen years old? So I wasn’t exactly looking to document the citation at the time.

Later during that same class (not literally within that hour – days or weeks later while still taking that same class with that same teacher) I remember seeing the passage again, seeing it as “did pity them”, and immediately seeing the discrepancy. But when I went back to locate the documentation for “did not pity them”, I never found it.

I never really gave it much thought over the years.  But now I’ve got access to a certain amount of resources I didn’t have then. I’ve got professional Shakespeare researchers who can do things like check to see if Shakespeare ever wrote it down that way, or if any editors chose to make that alteration.

So far we haven’t come up with any.  And yet — Googling for the phrase “and I loved her that she did not pity them” turns up some results.  Where’d those come from?  I can’t decide if I find it amusing or upsetting that most of the hits come from quizlets and essay sites.

One of the hits is from a 2015 novel called Vienna by William S. Kirby.  I’ve even gone so far as to write to the man, to see if he remembers why he thinks that’s the line.  I’ll have to update this post if I ever get a response.

I’m mostly documenting this here in case there’s other people out there that have a vague memory of this, as I do. Bardfilm suggested that “an ill-prepared edition” could have made it into use by the schools at some point.  If that’s the case, which certainly seems reasonable if we assume that my memory is not faulty. Maybe some day we’ll know for sure!

 

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Is Disney Doing Othello?

Kind of.

For years I’ve said that Disney should tackle The Tempest or A Midsummer Night’s Dream.  Instead we got Romeo and Juliet with gnomes.  I’ll take what I can get.

So what if I told you that man of the moment David Oyelowo (“Selma”) is working on a live-action stage musical combining Othello and Cyrano de Bergerac?

Oyelowo just came out of an off-Broadway production of Othello with Daniel Craig (also known as James Bond) so it’s a natural project for him. People are confused about Disney attaching its name, though.  Which I can totally see, if you assume that the story is going to be 90% Shakespearean tragedy, which it almost certainly will not be.

How would you combine Othello and Cyrano?  I’ve argued previously that As You Like It makes for a reasonable Cyrano story.  But Othello? Who is wooing whom? Who is whispering in which ear?

 

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What Are Some Of Your Favorite Moments in Shakespeare?

I’m not a big fan of “favorites” when it comes to Shakespeare – I like to play the “that’s like picking a favorite child” card.  But part of the reason for that is because every play has got some good and some bad, something to recommend and something to avoid, none of them are perfect.

So instead let’s play Moments.  Doesn’t have to be a scene, or a line.  I’m not interested so much in the “what” as I am in the “why”?  Explain for me when, during the course of a particular play, you feel like everything hinges on this one moment?  Maybe it’s just one character’s chance to do something right. Maybe it gives ultimate insight into your favorite interpretation of the character. Maybe it’s one of those lines that rockets through 400 years and hits you square in the heart like it happened 5 minutes ago.

Examples

King Lear‘s “Why is my man in the stocks?” scene.  I wrote about this at length when Commonwealth Shakespeare did the play a few years back, and having rediscovered that post this scene is what gave me the idea for the post.  It’s not the line that’s important. I can’t even tell you the act and scene in which it occurs.  But that image of the king, who previously had people falling to their knees whenever he looked at them crossly, now being unable to get his question answered? Just does something for me.  This is the unraveling.

Emilia’s confrontation of Othello.  How she discovers what has happened, and how she is implicated in Desdemona’s murder?  Her first thought isn’t, “How can I get out of this?” her first thought is to confront her husband.  Bold move, since she has the most insight into just how dangerous he is.

Who else has some good ones?

 

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But What’s It Mean, Mooch?

I try not to do politics here because I know it annoys people, but when Shakespeare comes up, it counts as news.  There’s a non-story going around about how somebody emailed the now fired Scaramucci, pretending to be Reince Priebus (that name’s harder to spell than Benderwhal Cucumber) and getting him to fall for it.

What’s interesting to us is where Mooch responds at one point:

Read Shakespeare. Particularly Othello.

I for the life of me can’t figure out who is who in that reference.  I get that this is a story about trust and betrayal and apparently somebody thinks somebody stabbed somebody in the back.  But saying that makes it an Othello story is like saying that the Lion King is actually Hamlet  (oh, wait…).  Who is Othello in this?  Who is Iago?  Is it just a weird way for Mooch to say the Priebus was jealous of him? Should the wives be worried? The wives don’t fare well in the original, if you recall.

I appreciate it whenever somebody drops Shakespeare into a Trump story, I do. It makes my news alerts light up like a Christmas tree :).  But I don’t get this one.  Anybody able to decipher it?

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Reddit’s Favorite Shakespeare

Hello /r/Shakespeare!Anybody that knows me knows that when I see a post titled 1000 Most Mentioned Books on Reddit (or, really, anywhere), the first thing I’m going to do is search it to see where Shakespeare shows up.  Any guesses?

I’d love to say more about who made the list and why and how, but there doesn’t seem much to go on. The post, on Medium, was made by BookAdvice.  Have to look more into that, see what other cool lists they have.  All we know about the methodology is, from the summary, “Sorted based on the number of upvotes and the number of different users linking to them in post and comments.”  I suppose that’s got a certain chronological bias — a book that came out last year couldn’t possibly compete with those that have been around since before Reddit.  But it does say “most mentioned” and not “best” or “most loved” or anything like that, so I suppose it’s accurate to say that a book that has existed for ten years will typically be mentioned more than a book that’s only existed for one.

Much of the list is highly predictable, if you know anything about Reddit.  Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones, Hitchhikers’ Guide To The Galaxy all rank in the top ten.  I’m pleasantly surprised to see To Kill A Mockingbird in there, and The Count of Monte Cristo (though not so pleasantly Catcher in the Rye.  Really, reddit?)  Thrilled to see J.K. Rowling’s name not appear until well after the 250 mark.  Not that her work is bad, just that I’m tired of seeing such brand new books always top the lists of “all time classics”.

Ok, you want the data?  Drum roll, please. Presented in reverse order, from least to most mentioned, we have …

905. The Taming of the Shrew

754. The Tempest

674. Merchant of Venice

625. King Lear

578. Much Ado About Nothing

568. Othello

371. A Midsummer Night’s Dream (*)

295. Macbeth

237. Romeo and Juliet

and the most mentioned work of William Shakespeare on Reddit is……

144. Hamlet

What do we think, any surprises?  Surely not the great tragedies, I think those became self-fulfilling long long ago.  Is Romeo and Juliet popular because it’s so good, or is it considered so good because it’s popular?  Little surprised about Othello, that one doesn’t usually get much love, and I’m kind of wondering if they took the time to rule out references to the board game.

When I first made this list, searching for the word “Shakespeare”, I was surprised to see A Midsummer Night’s Dream not make the list.  I had to go back and double check.  It’s because they’ve got it listed by, and I’m not kidding, SparkNotes.  I wondered if there were many on the list marked this way, but it turns out that’s the only one.  Glad I checked, I almost missed it!

Anything you think should be on the list that’s not there?  Hey, wait … where’s Twelfth Night?

 

 

 

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Why Did Iago Leave Roderigo At Brabantio’s House?

The Shakespeare Answers category is here to answer questions people may have about Shakespeare’s work. If you’re just looking for the homework answers then you’ll find them here. I don’t love that, but I look at it this way. First, I can’t stop you, and if you didn’t find the answer here you’ll easily find it elsewhere. Second, by answering the question here maybe I can convince you that Shakespeare is interesting and worth learning more about.

Like so many of Shakespeare’s plays, we don’t actually see the title figure in the first scene.  Othello opens with Iago and Roderigo standing outside the window of Brabantio, a Venetian senator, and father to Desdemona.

Roderigo lusts after Desdemona, and Iago knows this.

Desdemona has run off with Othello, and Iago knows this.  Iago does not like Othello, to put it mildly.

Brabantio will not be happy to discover that his daughter as run off with Othello, and Iago knows this.

Iago’s manipulation drives everything in this play. He wants to get Othello in trouble, possibly to the point of having his command stripped, and sees an opportunity to use Roderigo as a puppet in making that happen.

So here we are, standing outside Brabantio’s window when the two begin hurling some of the vilest, most racist comments you’ll find in all of Shakespeare:

Even now, now, very now, an old black ram
Is topping your white ewe…

…the devil will make a grandsire of you…

…you’ll have your daughter covered with a Barbary horse…

It is Iago, not Roderigo, that hurls all those comments, as well as the most famous one:

…your daughter and the Moor are now making the beast with two backs.

But, here’s the thing.  When Brabantio asks for their names, the only one to answer is Roderigo.  Iago’s not stupid.  Roderigo still thinks that the plan is some version of “we’re going to get Othello in trouble by telling on him,” not fully appreciating the level of psychological manipulation going on.

Once Brabantio comes down the stairs, Iago runs for it.  He tells Roderigo:

…for I must leave you:
It seems not meet, nor wholesome to my place,
To be produced–as, if I stay, I shall–
Against the Moor

Which translates as, “It’s not a good idea for people to see me here, speaking out against my boss.”  Which is true. You can’t play the puppet master once people realize that you’re the one pulling the strings, and then realize that you’ve got strings attached to them as well.

Does that make him a coward? Hurling insults behind the mask of anonymity and then fleeing into the night?  That would suggest that Iago feels some degree of remorse or shame for his actions, which is hardly accurate.

The scene does a great job of setting up both characters. Roderigo is easily manipulated here and will be again.Othello and Iago

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What is Iago’s motive?

What is Iago's motive?I first experienced Othello in high school. I remember the teacher explaining to us that Iago’s motive isn’t what we think it is. He may say, “I want revenge because Othello slept with my wife,” but that’s just his justification for his actions. The real reason is that he’s the embodiment of pure evil, and that’s what makes him such a scary character. He has no reason for doing the things that he does.

It makes sense, and I like that interpretation. It makes Iago more interesting. I’ve never really questioned it.

When did this become the accepted interpretation?  Iago gives us a motive:

I hate the Moor:
And it is thought abroad, that ‘twixt my sheets
He has done my office: I know not if’t be true;
But I, for mere suspicion in that kind,
Will do as if for surety.

He does say, “I don’t even care if it’s true,” which I suppose is evidence, but it could just as easily mean that Iago is the jealous type and doesn’t even want the rumor circulating that he’s a cuckold. He’ll later go on to imply that Cassio slept with his wife as well (“I fear Cassio with my night-cap too”) so maybe that’s just his thing.

Then there’s the racism angle.  Iago goes right for the racist epithets when he’s trying to get Desdemona’s father upset:

Even now, now, very now, an old black ram
Is topping your white ewe.

the devil will make a grandsire of you:

you’ll have your daughter covered with a Barbary horse;
you’ll have your nephews neigh to you; you’ll have
coursers for cousins and gennets for germans.

(I’ve always attributed the “thick lips” comment to Iago as well, but that’s actually Roderigo.)

So is Iago racist? Is that why he hates Othello, because of the color of his skin? Or, again, is he just saying these things because he knows they’ll drive Brabantio crazy?

 

I get how we can read between the lines and paint a picture of an Iago that says and does exactly what he needs to get what he wants, without ever actually explaining why he wants it. I’m wondering when that became the standard interpretation of Iago’s motive, and whether there are other clues in the text to support it?  Why don’t we just say Iago is paranoid and call it a day? How come we watch the play and say, “Whoa, that dude is evil” instead of “Whoa, that dude is nuts”?

 

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What lie does Iago tell Montano about Cassio?

But is he often thus?
Governor Montano falls for Iago’s lies.

Othello has appointed Cassio to the job that Iago wanted. It is Iago’s ultimate plan to bring about the downfall of Othello, but he’s not above ruining Cassio’s career at the same time. In Act 2 Scene 3, Iago gets Cassio drunk and then plants the idea in Governor Montano’s head that Cassio is an alcoholic, and that he worries about the trust Othello has put in him:

Iago You see this fellow that is gone before;
He is a soldier fit to stand by Caesar
And give direction: and do but see his vice;
‘Tis to his virtue a just equinox,
The one as long as the other: ’tis pity of him.
I fear the trust Othello puts him in.
On some odd time of his infirmity,
Will shake this island.

Montano But is he often thus?

Iago ‘Tis evermore the prologue to his sleep:
He’ll watch the horologe a double set,
If drink rock not his cradle.

(Literally, Iago is saying “You’ve seen the virtues the man has to offer, but now you realize he’s got just as many vices.” He then goes on to suggest that Cassio drinks himself to sleep every night.)

The truth of the situation is that Cassio is a lightweight drinker and he knows it. When Iago first offers him wine he responds , “I have very poor and unhappy brains for drinking” and “I have drunk but one cup to-night, and…
dare not task my weakness with any more.” What Cassio does not realize is that you can’t tell Iago something like that. He’s going to use it against you.

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Why does Iago hate Othello?

The Tragedy of Othello, the Moor of Venice actually opens with Iago and Roderigo discussing this exact subject, though the audience does not yet realize the subject of their conversation:

Roderigo. Thou told’st me thou didst hold him in thy hate.

Iago. Despise me, if I do not.

Iago goes on to offer several reasons why he hates this person, whoever this person is.

…Three great ones of the city,
In personal suit to make me his lieutenant,
Off-capp’d to him: …and, by the faith of man,
I know my price, I am worth no worse a place:
But he; as loving his own pride and purposes,
Evades them, with a bombast circumstance
Horribly stuff’d with epithets of war;
And, in conclusion,
Nonsuits my mediators; for, ‘Certes,’ says he,
‘I have already chose my officer.’
And what was he?
Forsooth, a great arithmetician,
One Michael Cassio, a Florentine,
A fellow almost damn’d in a fair wife;
That never set a squadron in the field,
Nor the division of a battle knows
More than a spinster; unless the bookish theoric,
Wherein the toged consuls can propose
As masterly as he: mere prattle, without practise,
Is all his soldiership. But he, sir, had the election:
And I, of whom his eyes had seen the proof
At Rhodes, at Cyprus and on other grounds
Christian and heathen, must be be-lee’d and calm’d
By debitor and creditor: this counter-caster,
He, in good time, must his lieutenant be,
And I—God bless the mark!—his Moorship’s ancient.

Edwin Booth as Iago
Edwin Booth, brother of John Wilkes Booth, as Iago. Image via Wikimedia Commons

What does that all mean? Iago was lobbying for the lieutenant’s position under Othello (“his Moorship”) and even had some high-powered citizens/politicians (“great ones of the city”) go and offer their personal recommendation, only to find that Othello had already chosen Michael Cassio. Iago is not happy with this decision, and has nothing good to say of Cassio, who has no battle experience (as Iago does), and is instead what today might be called “book smart.”

 

But! Is this the real reason? Or is this just the reason that Iago is feeding Roderigo? At the close of Act 1, alone on stage, Iago reveals a deeper reason for his hatred:

…I hate the Moor:
And it is thought abroad, that ‘twixt my sheets
He has done my office: I know not if’t be true;
But I, for mere suspicion in that kind,
Will do as if for surety.

“Twixt my sheets done my office” is a polite way of saying, “Slept with my wife.” Iago even admits to not knowing if it is true, but doesn’t care.

So, again, is this the reason? Or is this again another justification for something deeper? This sounds more like he’s preparing an alibi, in case he ultimately needs one.

Does it go back to the racist thing? Maybe Iago doesn’t even want the lieutenant’s job, maybe he’s furious that Othello is in charge at all? He’s not shy about hurling racial epithets at Desdemona’s father in Act 1, Scene 1:

Iago. ‘Zounds, sir, you’re robb’d; for shame, put on
your gown;
Your heart is burst, you have lost half your soul;
Even now, now, very now, an old black ram
Is topping your white ewe. Arise, arise;
Awake the snorting citizens with the bell,
Or else the devil will make a grandsire of you:
Arise, I say.

…Because we come to
do you service and you think we are ruffians, you’ll
have your daughter covered with a Barbary horse;
you’ll have your nephews neigh to you; you’ll have
coursers for cousins and gennets for germans.

Twice he refers to Othello as an animal (along with the associated suggestions of bestiality) and once as the devil.

But, again – maybe he’s just saying these things because he knows that they will upset Desdemona’s father Brabantio?

Maybe it’s none of these things. Maybe Iago is a sociopath who truly has no specific reason for his hatred of Othello. That’s what makes this character one of Shakespeare’s greatest creations. Every actor must decide for himself the source of Iago’s motivation. Maybe we can never truly know because there just isn’t a single right answer.

 

 

 

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