Lorraine Balint---Intro. to Literature---- Dec. 15. 2003
3.) Court has been convened to examine the deeds of Ensign Iago, formerly under command of the late General Othello, and to determine his degree of responsibility in the deaths of the General, the general's wife, Iago's own wife, a displaced nobleman of Venice, and the attempted murder of Lieutenant, now General, Cassio. I have been appointed his advocate, and, having researched his background, will show that the Ensign, who refuses to speak to this august board in his own defense, ought not to be subject to the penalties of torture and execution which, it appears, has been decided in advance. I will offer evidence that, instead, while the end result of his methods may be repugnant to the average citizen, he has performed a valuable service in exposing the hidden flaws of those in whom the Venetian state had placed its trust.
First, I would have the learned judges review Iago's military experience: Though but 28 years old, this soldier's field and marine battle service--- at Rhodes, Cyprus, and many other conflicts--- has been praiseworthy, heretofore without a hint of treachery. Not only was he standard-bearer, he more than adequately defended the state symbolized by the standard, his life often in real danger. In fact, Iago's record was so distinguished, that it put him in competition for promotion, with fellow ensign Michael Cassio, whose military experience consisted mainly of practice manuevers at officers' school, safe at home in Venice, and other peaceful posts around Italy. Moreover, Iago is not afflicted with a possibly dangerous deficiency. He is no drinker, even when given leave due to celebration, whereas Cassio, whose tolerance for common soldier's wine is low, has been easily convinced to take one too many, and thus, nearly killed the governor of Cyprus, Montano, in a senseless brawl..
For that, the new-made lieutenant was stripped of his rank, and, instead of taking it like a man, complained to, and harrassed, Othello's bride Desdemona to such an extent that her campaign for his re-instatement led her groom to believe it proof of her adultery with Cassio! While the once-disgraced officer asserts, and Iago has chosen to confirm, that it was the latter's idea for the former to importune Desdemona, Cassio himself admits that he probably would have decided to do this eventually, even without prompting. To do both justice, neither knew that the General's young, inexperienced, impulsive wife, who, after all, had deceived her own father when she eloped with the Moor, would take up the cause with such reckless fervor.
Iago's relations with the women in his life were beyond reproach. He was always faithful to his own wife, Emilia, even though she was sharp-tongued to him, and was suspected by many to have had an affair with Othello, prior to meeting Desdemona. Even if innocent, Emilia's open speculation to others about sleeping with a powerful person in order to advance her husband's rank---and by extension, her own--- did nothing to improve her reputation. Ironically, if she did, indeed, dally with the Moor, it was for naught ! Of her own volition, Emilia brought her husband her mistress's treasured handkerchief, Othello's family heirloom, though she claimed to "love" the Lady, and knew how much it meant to the couple. While intending to bring it back to his master, Iago accidentally dropped the item in Cassio's quarters, and it became more fodder for trouble between the General and his wife. Then, fearful of losing hers and Iago's positions, Emilia sat silent as her master berated her clueless mistress over the napkin, when, after all, she should have returned it right away, or at least, hurried to copy the pattern herself, rather than relying on Iago. We all know how apt men are to lose small things like loose change, stockings, and handkerchiefs !
That Iago felt compelled to stab Emilia when she accused him of all that had gone forth is understandable--- he was under tremendous stress and repressed grief because his intentions of reconciling the Othellos had gone awry, plus could not bring himself to publicly accuse HER of possible adultery with the Moor, not to mention her further misdeeds vis-a-vis the handkerchief, etc. An astologer is currently checking Iago's star chart for signs of similar childhood trauma, or even post-traumatic stress due to war.
As for Desdemona, Iago took a dim view of the giddy heiress's impetuous elopement with his superior officer, justifiably thinking their disparities in background and age might prove a problem, as, alas, they ultimately did. However, he did befriend the lady, easily keeping her amused with sly, sometimes bawdy banter, which astonished him, given her great reputation for modesty and shyness. However, even the most virginal of Venetian girls could not help but be corrupted by their salacious atmosphere, as vile as the old canals surrounding their houses, and often behaved with impropriety around men not their husbands, caressing their hands, and so forth. Driven by his oft-tested fondness for Othello, Iago felt he had a moral obligation to confide his suspicions about Desdemona and Cassio, especially after spending a night with the latter, who had a very vivid and loud sexual dream about the general's wife. Of course, Cassio would not remember this. Most sleep-talkers and walkers never recall what they've said and done, afterward. Yet, even so, once Othello started abusing his bride, Iago realized the truth, and tried to comfort her.
Iago has been accused of swindling, and, ultimately, murdering a former suitor of Desdemona's, a gullible young nobleman named Roderigo, who had followed the bride to Cyprus. Indeed, the gentleman DID empty his accounts and sold his land to buy trinkets which he expected Iago to convey to Desdemona--- which was his right, and HIS choice, to do. However, Iago, being so honest himself, was no wiser in his investments, alas, and the money and jewels were swindled from HIM. Then, when the obsessed Roderigo conceived the idea that not only General Othello, but Cassio, stood in the way of his reclaiming the woman who had soundly rejected him months ago, HE plotted the latter's murder, believing it would be easier to get away with killing a disgraced officer rather than the general himself. Iago, realizing what his companion was up to, merely killed the foolish, crazy, dangerous youth to save his other friend, and anything Roderigo was heard to say while mortally wounded can be interpreted as the ravings of one facing both, earthly justice, and eternal perdition!
Lastly, and most importantly, I wish to address Iago's relations with his former commanding officer, the late and---militarily speaking--- great General Othello. Though, in truth, after examining the "noble Moor's" behavior that led up to the multiple murders, Iago's culpability progressively seems less and less. Othello was noble, honest, and affectionate, but on a surface level. He was an effective leader in battle, whom all respected, but when it came to peacetime matters, his judgment was often faulty. He expected the men under his command to be as upstanding as himself, strange naivete in a warrior. Iago had served under Othello from the latter's earliest days in Venice, and had great mutual fondness with the exotic Moor. He sought to mitigate Othello's ingenuousness, often consulting with the General on personal matters, until the rumors flew about his friend and Emilia. Poor Iago expected his C.O. to deal forthrightly with the stories and those who told them, but Othello seemed unaware.
The General was also oblivious to Iago's feelings in other areas--- he treated this officer, who had heretofore admired him, almost as a valet, while pursing a social life, and then a socialite, in the company of the better-educated Cassio. Othello blithely ignored any good advice Iago may have had regarding his marriage intentions. Then, disregarding Iago's solid field experience, he chose Cassio for promotion. Though it might have been beneficial to everyone to find another place for Iago, Othello liked to keep certain people close to him. Iago willingly went along, hopeful of another chance to prove his mettle in the future, in part because while Othello was friendly with Cassio, he could not share the same sort of confidences he could with Iago--- could not even share them with his wife. Iago knew of Othello's many insecurities as a black man in a white culture, his propensity not to delve too deeply into matters where finding even one fault might spoil his entire outlook. He knew about Othello's epilepsy. He even knew the story of the handkerchief, long before Othello told Desdemona. And through it all, he rendered the best advice he could, when necessary, and kept silent otherwise.
There are those who claim to have overheard Iago goading Othello into suspicion of Desdemona, and even into killing her. Iago only operated from the best knowledge he had--- it was the General who filled in the blanks, in record time, too. HE voiced the idea of killing Desdemona first. How many bridegrooms suspect adultery in their brides scant weeks after the wedding? Who'd have thought this groom would have been so quick to KILL his bride, without even confronting her until the last minute? Iago claims the eavesdroppers misheard him--- Othello was initally going to butcher his wife, or poison her; Iago insists he was winding him down to some less effective method, in hopes that the General would come to his senses, it being nearly impossible to report the intended misbehavior of a superior officer in our current military structure.
And indeed, Desdemona DID nearly survive the smothering with the pillow. That Othello suddenly convinced himself the sequence of events was IAGO'S scheme, rather than the result of a mind rendered unstable by terrible memories of slavery, battle fatigue, epilepsy, consciousness of racial prejudice, even his mother's incredible warnings about the handkerchief, was hardly Iago's fault. That Othello chose to kill himself, was from simple recognition of his own terrible weaknesses, and primitive attitudes of his former culture, never to be completely subdued.
The disintegrating Othello, problem drinker Cassio, treacherous Emilia, unstable Roderigo, and heedless Desdemona, were all volcanoes waiting to erupt sooner rather than later. Honest Iago, by inadvertantly triggering the inevitable carnage, actually SAVED Venice from this convoy of loose cannons. Thus, I ask the court NOT to compound the atrocity, but rather, to release this consistently, nay, OBSESSIVELY helpful citizen--- to solitary exile on an island in the middle of the ocean !!!