Iago Does Not Exist

I love a good “Hey look at Shakespeare *this* way” theory, and the TV Tropes brought me some new ones to play with. Hat tip to Michigan Shakespeare Festival for posting about this on their Facebook page!

How about the idea that Iago doesn’t exist?  That he is just the personification of the individual evil side of each character?

He’s the incarnation of that voice within every person’s mind, which is why it’s so easy for him to trick everyone into believing what he says. He’s not saying it — they’re thinking it. Emilia is just a klepto with self-esteem issues; Othello is suffering from paranoia (or, if you hold that his seizures are real, he’s also having epileptic hallucinations); Roderigo is generally unstable; Cassio has a serious drinking problem… the list goes on.

Now, obviously we’re out of the realm of what Shakespeare may have actually intended – there’s no way he had the narrative to even think of something like this.  But in terms of modern interpretation, could you pull this off?  I wonder whether some sort of weird version could be made where there is no Iago character, but instead each of the characters listed above takes turns reciting Iago’s appropriate lines as if schizophrenic.

How many scenes does Iago have by himself?

There’s a few more good theories on that page (like Horatio being a hired assassin sent by Fortinbras) that maybe we’ll get to another time.

3 thoughts on “Iago Does Not Exist

  1. I'm avoiding clicking through now because I am well aware how much of my day TV tropes could eat up, but this Iago theory does sound interesting. I think it is set up most obviously in his very first scene, where, from Brabantio's perspective, he's a disembodied voice in the darkness, shouting out the obscene fears of miscegenation that Brabantio secretly obsesses over — "this accident is not unlike my dream."

    Certainly this gets at the heart of how Iago operates, in that he gives people what they want. Some of the desires he plays on are dark and hidden, like the persecution complex at the heart of Othello's jealousy, but he is always able to accomplish what he needs to because his victims do half the work for him.

  2. That's an awesome page. As I read each of those, my mind was blown.
    The Romeo and Juliet ones got a little excessive, though. "Mercutio is in love with Romeo! I mean Juliet! No, sorry, Tybalt's in love with Juliet! And Mercutio hates them, which is why they died! Yeah! Well, somebody's in love!"

  3. Charles McLellan says:

    I don't think Emilia can be dismissed so easily as a kleptomaniac. She has the drive to do whatever benefits her the most (as noted in the dialog between Desdemona and herself) but having Desdemona dead, Othello dead and Cassio demoted does nothing to benefit herself.

    Iago's existance really hinges on Emilia. You could remove Iago from almost all the scenes in Othello EXCEPT the scene where Iago asks Emilia to fetch the handkerchief.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *