image borrowed from bing
“I will wear my heart on my sleeve, for daws
to peck at: I am not what I am.”--Iago
The roots of racism run miles and centuries deep,
as Shakespeare noted, using it as a catalyst
in many of his plays.
His most perplexing and finely drawn villain,
the most manipulative of his antagonists
was Iago in Othello: the Moor of Venice (1603),
a long play that drives straight ahead, relentlessly,
without any comic relief subplot.
Tight, cleverly written, this is a Machiavellian
role with lethal layers, wholly amoral, cynical,
angry, jealous, envious, but still containing
depth & spirit, as he was a dangerously sly
and intelligent psychopath.
Interestingly, Iago has the most lines in the play,
1,070 of them, far more than Othello--
the most lines for any non-title character
in Shakespeare; what can we deduce from this?
Iago plants the seeds of hate early on,
“Even now, now, very now, an old black ram
is tupping your white ewe--making the beast
with two backs.”
What we know, or think we know of Iago, came
from the various theatrical and film productions
of the play. Most of the actors playing Othello
have not been black--Ralph Richardson, John
Geilgud, Laurence Olivier, Orson Welles, Raul
Julia, & Anthony Hopkins; outnumbering the black actors
who have tackled the part--Paul Robson, James Earl
Jones, & Laurence Fishburne.
Yes, it is always Iago that is the lightning rod,
the motor for the play, powering the plot, and
his dark motivations have been interpreted
by several noted actors:
Laurence Olivier played him at the Old Vic
in 1938, adding a homosexual veneer to
his jealous rages & malevolent behaviors.
They say David Suchet played him as gay
at the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1985.
Kenneth Branagh’s Iago in a film version,
showed a conflicted affection for Othello.
Ian McKellen gave him another fey shadowing
in a 2004 production, done as a 19th century
setting, and the critics complained that his
portrayal was “too brilliant as he out-shined
the rest of the cast.”
Jose Ferrer played him as brooding, slick,
& intelligent on Broadway in 1942, playing
opposite Paul Robson.
Bob Hoskins in a 1981 BBC production,
opposite Anthony Hopkins, played him
As “quintessentially evil, rotten to the core”
Christopher Walken, playing opposite Raul
Julia in a 1991 Shakespeare in the Park
production, played him as “inexhaustibly
snide & wonderfully beastly.”
Christopher Plummer, opposite James Earl Jones
in 1982, played him as witty-evil, smiling, a con man.
Philip Seymour Hoffman got rave reviews off Broadway,
doing a marvelous non-star turn with “a provocative
portrait of a man burned to an ashen, angry nihilism
by years of unrewarded service.”
Only Ewan McGregor seemed to earn unanimous
negative reviews, and it was written of his portrayal,
“He had no glee, no panache, no light and shade.”
It is past time, people--we just have to own the several
shades of darkness in each of us; even we Boomers
who had our civil rights awakening during the free-
wheeling 60’s, in the glaring light of the Zimmerman
decision, and the indefatigable coverage regarding
the state of Racism in America today--
we need to ask ourselves the very hard questions
about our own motives, perceptions, relationships,
& prejudices, and regardless of our discoveries
therein, be prepared to pry our minds to the open
setting, and truly begin to reinforce our liberal
rhetoric with actuality, honesty, & verve.
Posted over at dVerse Poets OLN107
Would you like to hear the author read this poem to you?