Othello's Relationship with Iago
From Hamlet, an ideal prince, and other essays in Shakesperean interpretation: Hamlet; Merchant of Venice; Othello; King Lear by Alexander W. Crawford. Boston R.G. Badger, 1916.
The first scene of Othello presents a conversation between Roderigo, the disappointed suitor of Desdemona, and Iago, concerning incidents of which Othello is the chief agent. Othello and Desdemona have eloped, it seems, leaving Roderigo disappointed and distressed. He complains that Iago had not forewarned him in order that their marriage might have been prevented. But Iago, though in close touch with Othello, protests he did not "dream of such a matter," implying that it was as much a surprise to him as to any one. For some time lago had what he considered good reason for hating the Moor, though this latest episode enables him for the first time to see through the whole affair. Othello's attachment to Desdemona now explains why he was passed by and the new appointment of lieutenant to Othello was conferred upon Cassio. lago now suspects that the post was given to Cassio by reason of Desdemona's friendship for him, and because he was a go-between in the courtship of Othello and Desdemona. this lago now declares his hatred of the pair, and intimates his willingness to join Roderigo in an attempt to harass Othello, and if not too late, to prevent his marriage.
After his usual manner Shakespeare has made the opening conflict, that between Othello and lago, the chief conflict of the play. But this is a conflict between two men who had up to this time been the nearest and warmest friends, one a great general and the other his most trusted officer. There is plenty of evidence throughout the play that up to this time there had been the fullest confidence between the two, and both alike were looked upon as men of excellent ability and sterling character. Othello was known as a noble Moor and had attained the highest military position, and therefore must have had the fullest confidence of the state and the senate. Every one regarded lago also as an upright and noble-minded man, and he had earned for himself the epithet of "honest." But all at once the "honest" lago becomes the mortal enemy of the "noble" Moor. We must then account for this change, as upon this change all the development of the play depends. This is the play. Shakespeare has apparently been at pains to show us what lago's attitude toward the Moor was, as well as what it is, and the explanation of the change can be found only in the play itself. We must explain it either from the incidents of the play or from the words of the play, or from both.
The incidents that take place at the opening of the play, at the same time as the change in the attitude of lago, are two, the courtship and marriage of Othello and Desdemona, and the promotion of Cassio to the position of lieutenant under Othello. The words of Iago at the opening of the play show that he regards the latter as an offence to himself, and therefore makes it the ground of his hostility to Othello. He complains that Cassio has "had the election," and that,
"He (in good time) must his [Othello's] Lieutenant be,
And I (bless the mark) his Moorship's Ancient."
(I. i. 34-5.)
At a later time he comes to see some connection between the two incidents, and believes that Cassio got the appointment because of an old friendship with Desdemona, and probably because he carried messages between Othello and Desdemona during their courtship. When Othello had occasion to appoint a lieutenant, "Three great ones of the city in personal suit" appealed to him on behalf of lago, only to find that he had already chosen Cassio. It appeared to be a matter of personal preference only, for he could give no reason for the choice of Cassio. This capricious choice lago at once took as a very great slight upon him, and rightly so. As one of "the usual lunacies," so-called, in the interpretation of the play, however,...
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