As regular readers may know my daughter is in her first real Shakespeare class, so we get to have regular discussions about my favorite subject and it almost always results in a blog post. Technically the class is only half Shakespeare, as it is really “Monsters in British Literature” and The Tempest was one of the topics, which makes this that much more interesting, because Othello isn’t normally part of the class.
So she’s got a writing assignment where she’s to pick a real person (can’t be fictional) that society sees as a monster, and then take a position whether to defend or rebut that argument, using what they’ve learned in class about the “definition” of what it means to be a monster.
We’ve been going back on forth on what (or who) she might pick, when she says to me, “One student did do Iago, though.” I think that may have been for a slightly different definition of the assignment as he’s clearly fictional. She continued, “But he argued that Iago’s not a monster.”
“Tough argument,” I say. Normally I’m driving while we have these conversations so I have to keep my eyes on the road. “Not really sure there’s any evidence on behalf of Iago being a nice guy.”
“That’s the thing!” my daughter responded, “Apparently the teacher read it and said, hmmm, makes you think. Like he actually had a convincing argument, at least to get her to say that much!”
“Yeah, I’ma need you to get me that paper,” I said.
Upon which my daughter freaked out. “DO NOT EMAIL MY TEACHER, DADDY!” she commanded. “I know that’s totally something you would do.”
“Yeah, you’re right, there.”
“Please don’t. You can’t just go asking for a random student’s paper.”
“Ok, then you do it.”
“I CAN’T DO IT EITHER!”
“Then I guess we’re gonna have to go Mission Impossible on this one, because I need to see what that argument was. I’m thinking we lower you into the room on cables, thread you through the laser security, and bam! You get to the file cabinet, you take some quick pictures of his homework, then we yank you out of there. No one’s the wiser.”
“Seriously, Daddy. You’re not going to email her, are you?”
“No, I wouldn’t do that,” I replied. “Besides, I’m going to get a blog post out of it either way.”
And here we are! If we start with the premise that somebody put forth a reasonably convincing “Iago’s not such a bad guy” argument…what could it possibly have been? Bardfilm sent me a piece from Arden edition which basically takes the position that we should assume everything Iago says is true — being a soldier is all that he knows how to do, it is his life, he seems himself as unfairly passed up for promotion by an unworthy candidate for all the wrong reasons, etc… It goes on to say that we should assume that, even if Othello isn’t sleeping with Iago’s wife, the important thing to take away is that Iago believes it. Iago isn’t just making some sort of alibi for his actions.
Personally I don’t see it. And even if we did believe that, it’s kind of like arguing first-degree murder versus third-degree murder. From the start he does show himself to be more sociopathic than that, going right through Roderigo and Cassio like they’re not even people.
<shrug> Anybody feel good taking Iago’s side? See a possible argument that we’re missing? My daughter has the same teacher for a pure Shakespeare class next semester as well, where they will be reading Othello, so if it so happens that this topic comes up again I will be sure to revisit.