They were best mates, soldiers, adventurers; they had shared danger, drink, women, the best of times together.  Iago was married, he had children, but domestic bliss was not the mainspring of his life.  He lusted after excitement, adventure, the comradeship of like-minded men and loose women.   Life was good.  He and Othello had pitched up in Venice, where they intended to have a good time.  But then Othello appointed Cassio as his lieutenant and fell in love with Desdemona.  These were the contingent events that instigated the disaster.  Iago,  who had long enjoyed the stable though unrequited love for Othello that male comrades in arms enjoy, felt excluded and plotted his revenge.  First Cassio and then Desdemona had got in the way.  Iago was furious; the dark powers of his personality were released and he plotted his revenge.  

Othello was naive and vulnerable.  He had not married and had little experience of women.  He came from a ’Taliban’ culture that kept their women covered up, out of sight and temptation. Throughout history, men have feared the power of women and sought to control them;  their sexual appetites, once released, could destroy a family, a tribe a Kingdom.  We might wonder whether Othello’s mother was sexually incontinent, but for whatever reason, Othello had never previously had a woman he could not control until he met Desdemona, the Venetian beauty, who came from a culture where flirtation and intrigue was a way of life. 

Othello was out of his depth and feeling very vulnerable.  He was overwhelmed by the romance, the experience of being in love.  Those we fear, we put on a pedestal; to Othello, Desdemona appeared  chaste and virtuous but he did not trust her sexuality, even when it was focussed purely on him. Her youthful lustfulness was a contaminant. 

Iago was more the politician, the schemer, the spin doctor who could manipulate other people.  To him everything that was good was just a weakness; something to be exploited.  Iago was so envious of his friend’s infatuation.  How he wished he could experience that kind of all consuming love.  But he was trapped in a loveless marriage and now he was in danger of losing the only real friend he had in the world.  How much he hated Desdemona, how furious he was at being passed over for Cassio.  In the cynical, loveless world he inhabited, he did not care what others thought of him, he had to destroy the one he loved and in so doing destroy the only thing in himself that was good and vulnerable.  He hatched a plot to ensnare both Cassio and Desdemona; he invented an intrigue between them and slowly dripped petrol onto the embers of Othello’s suspicions.

Othello, so courageous in battle, so wise in council, was vulnerable in love and thus susceptible to Iago’s insinuations.  He was the heroic fool; it did not take much to infect him with suspicion.  

But Iago  was not a sophisticated man.  He really didn’t know his own mind;  he just projected his feelings out into others and encouraged their baser motives.  Iago sensed his friends weakness, his corruptibility, his terrible addiction to the pain and pleasure of sexual jealousy.  He was playing with fire, but he did not appreciate the explosive nature of Othello’s fear and rage and thus did not anticipate the disaster that would ensue.  Nevertheless he was responsible; he infected his friend and made him do it.   As the play winds to its dreadful conclusion, he feels nothing but contempt for himself.    

Iago on the Couch is the topic of an after dinner discussion at The Freud Museum between the actor,Simon Russell Beale, director Terry Hands, and psychoanalysts David Bell and Ingres Sodre and produced in DVD by The Institute of Psychoanalysis. Freud and Shakepeare are natural partners, such amazing observers of human nature. They provide moral luminescence without moral judgement. Shakespeare acts out the pain and the doubt; Freud lives with it.    

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