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davidlavieri

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The Adventures of Augie March
Saul Bellow, Christopher Hitchens
Image-Music-Text
Roland Barthes, Stephen Heath
Selected Poems and Four Plays
W.B. Yeats, Macha Louis Rosenthal
On the Edge of the Cold War: American Diplomats and Spies in Postwar Prague
Igor Lukes
Othello - Stephen Orgel, Russ McDonald, William Shakespeare Othello has all the ingredients of comedy:

1 jealous husband, whisked
1 virtuous wife
2 tbsp marine-warfare
1 e'gg' [E-(a)-gg-(o)]
3 dashes of redwine
1 handkerchief, to taste

That spoilt Iago just musses the whole comedy of it, really; but makes for a more interesting play anyway (and without him, I'd feel I already read this recipe in Chaucer). Othello really stands out for me, from the great tragedies (Hamlet, Macbeth, King Lear), it doesn't have the same mood to it, a different air. Othello's world is not the forlorn moors of Macbeth's or Lear's kingdoms, nor in the rotten prison of Elsinore, the scenery is quite sunny in Mediterranean setting of Othello, though the mercenary's tragedy is no less poignant.

Othello is less remote from the reader or viewer of the play than the royal tragedians of many of Shakespeare's other tragedies (which isn't to say their emotions are remote to us, but their stations are). While I can sympathize with the tragic King Lear, understand his pain and search for love and discovery of betrayal, his situation is distant. Othello is a more-or-less normal man: a naval general, a smart tactician, but a mercenary. Also, his tragedy is the tragedy of Envy, something usually native to the realm of comedy in Shakespeare's plays, though Othello is an salient song to its tragic power.

The magic of Othello, like in all of Shakespeare's plays, is the power of his characters, and in this play it seems that the play is almost too small for the three pillars of Othello, Desdemona, and most-of-all Iago. There is maybe too much to say on Iago: his cunning, his negative infinitude of improvisational imagination - he steals the play from his titular victim. But the characters of Othello and Desdemona are oft overlooked when Othello is looked back on, which I think is a bit of an injustice (though I certainly agree with the power of Iago's reverberations through the play). Othello is the war-god of his own imagination, and imagination which lacks cleverness like Iagos and lacks prolepsis like Macbeth's, but one which consumes him and surfeits his worldview. However, Othello's solipsistic worldview is oddly enough shared by his wife, Desdemona. She is not devoid of a consciousness, but she is devoid of pride, and her sterile self-conception is quickly usurped by the vibrancy of Othello's. Her swooning-maindenly "love" for Othello's own bravado is even acknowledged by the man himself:
OTHELLO
...I did consent,
And often did beguile her of her tears,
When I did speak of some distressful stroke
That my youth suffer'd. My story being done,
She gave me for my pains a world of sighs:
She swore, in faith, twas strange, 'twas passing strange,
'Twas pitiful, 'twas wondrous pitiful
But their love is a sham! Surely he doesn't hate her, which is Iago's doing, but he doesn't love her. I'm not even sure he loves to be loved, though he does like her adoration. What Othello loves is himself, his own mythos which he has created about himself, which has supplanted the real Self in his own imagination. And Desdemona does not really love Othello either, she too is only enamored with the castle-in-the-sky which Othello enchants her with.

The Venice of Othello is a strange, strange place, and the tragedy is a poignant one. But what Othello feels is not betrayal to himself, but rather betrayal to his imagined self, the self we wants to be which is brilliant and dazzling, which is impervious to jealousy. His pride is wounded by Iago's suggestions, even though the possibility of Desdemona's infidelity is a chronological impossibility. Even to suppose her infidelity possible is to plant the cuckold's horns on Othello's glittering eidolon of Self.