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The Strategies of Evil



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About The Book

From one of the greatest Shakespeare scholars of our time, Harold Bloom presents Othello’s Iago, perhaps the Bard’s most compelling villain—the fourth in a series of five short books about the great playwright’s most significant personalities.

Few antagonists in all of literature have displayed the ruthless cunning and deceit of Iago. Denied the promotion he believes he deserves, Iago takes vengeance on Othello and destroys him.

One of William Shakespeare’s most provocative and culturally relevant plays, Othello is widely studied for its complex and enduring themes of race and racism, love, trust, betrayal, and repentance. It remains widely performed across professional and community theatre alike and has been the source for many film and literary adaptations. Now award-winning writer and beloved professor Harold Bloom investigates Iago’s motives and unthinkable actions with razor-sharp insight, agility, and compassion. Why and how does Iago use lies and deception—the fake news of the 15th century—to destroy Othello and several other characters in his path? What can Othello tell us about racism?

Bloom is mesmerizing in the classroom, treating Shakespeare’s characters like people he has known all his life. He delivers exhilarating intimacy and clarity in these pages, writing about his shifting understanding—over the course of his own lifetime—of this endlessly compelling figure, so that Iago also becomes an extraordinarily moving argument for literature as a path to and a measure of our humanity. “There are few readers more astute than Bloom” (Publishers Weekly), and his Iago is a provocative study for our time.


Iago CHAPTER 1 Keep Up Your Bright Swords, for the Dew Will Rust Them
We do not know whether William Shakespeare was ever out of England. From 1585 to 1589 he is lost to public records and notice. Presumably he was making a start in the London theater but we can only surmise. I remember that when I went to Elsinore (Kronborg Castle in Helsingør, Denmark) and entered the Great Hall, I had a sense that Shakespeare must have seen it. There is a tradition of Hamlet performances in the Great Hall that includes John Gielgud, Laurence Olivier, Derek Jacobi, and David Tennant.

Even had Shakespeare gone to the Continent, perhaps with a company of actors, it seems unlikely that he ever saw Venice. Both Othello, the Moor of Venice and The Merchant of Venice convey the atmosphere of that once powerful city-state, whose decline was highly evident in the Age of Shakespeare.

Othello is the most painful play in all of Shakespeare and in some ways it is elliptical and strangely enigmatic. Othello’s race is never explicit. Is the Moor Othello an African black man or is he Berber or Arab? In our time there is a necessity that he must be played as and by a black actor. In the initial production in 1604, Othello was played by Shakespeare’s principal actor Richard Burbage while Iago was played by Robert Armin, who in 1600 had replaced the unruly Will Kemp as the company’s clown or fool. We do not know whether Burbage acted in blackface or was portrayed as Arab. A Moor might have been either in 1604, and Shakespeare must have observed the variety of African races when the ambassador of Morocco and his entourage were in London during 1601–2.

The incongruities in Othello are fascinating and crucial. Desdemona is probably fourteen or fifteen at the most. Othello is possibly about fifty. He seems to be rather absentminded or shortsighted and frequently asks Iago what is happening. At once a magnificent captain general of a mercenary army and a kind of child-man given to weeping, he defies any easy understanding.

Since Othello clearly is a devout Christian, we wonder whether he was baptized as such or whether he converted. If he was a convert, it was not from Islam but from paganism. That seems to argue he was an African black man descended from a pagan royal family. The Moors of Morocco had submitted to Islam. Most African blacks farther south were pagans. By his own account, Othello came of royal blood and had become a child-warrior. Having known captivity, he had fought his way free and then pursued a long military career until he attained the unquestioned leadership of the armed forces of Venice.

His worship of Desdemona is more aesthetic than lustful. Her wholesome desire for him far exceeds his carnal interest in her. At different times in this book I will address the highly controversial question of whether Desdemona dies a virgin. As I will show, the textual evidence is that neither Othello nor any other man ever brought her to consummation.

I have for nearly three-quarters of a century avidly attended performances of Othello. The first was in November 1943 in New York City with Paul Robeson as Othello, José Ferrer as Iago, and Uta Hagen as Desdemona. The director was Margaret Webster, who also powerfully played the part of Emilia.

By far the best Iago I have ever seen was the complex and frightening performance by Frank Finlay, which I saw in London in 1964. Laurence Olivier, acting in blackface, was a very inadequate Othello, acted quite off the stage by Finlay and indeed by the rest of the cast, Maggie Smith as Desdemona, Joyce Redman as Emilia, and Derek Jacobi as Cassio.

In more recent years I have seen several splendid performances of Iago, but none to match Frank Finlay. In different ways Kenneth Branagh, the wonderful Simon Russell Beale, and the comedian Rory Kinnear all augmented my apprehension of Iago, but not even Beale matched Finlay. I should add that not once have I seen an adequate Othello, except perhaps Orson Welles in his film version (1951).

Throughout this book, Iago: The Strategies of Evil, I will several times return to Frank Finlay’s performance. It possessed a tense fusion between hatred and love for Othello. Iago is the ancient or ensign of the Moor Othello, which means that he is Othello’s flag officer who has pledged to die rather than let his general’s colors be taken. He has fought Othello’s battles and worshipped the Moor as a virtual god. Before the tragedy commences, Iago has sustained a tremendous shock that has unmanned him and devastated his state of being. He has been passed over for promotion to Othello’s lieutenant and suffers from what John Milton’s Satan, who owes much to Iago, calls “a Sense of Injured Merit.”

Satan, in his unfallen form of Lucifer, was second only to God in the heavenly hierarchy. When God, rather belligerently, pronounces that this day he has begotten Christ, his only son, and that “Him who disobeys, Me disobeys,” the offended Satan begins his rebellion against God. Iago’s progeny begins with Milton’s Satan and passes on to such High Romantic heroes as Shelley’s Prometheus and Byron’s Cain, later manifesting as Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Chillingworth, who torments Dimmesdale in The Scarlet Letter; Herman Melville’s Captain Ahab in Moby-Dick, and his Claggart in Billy Budd; Thomas Sutpen in William Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom!; and the two really horrifying descendants of Iago, the butcher-bird Shrike in Nathanael West’s Miss Lonelyhearts and Judge Holden in Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian, or the Evening Redness in the West.

Othello lives by the honor of arms and has chosen Michael Cassio as his lieutenant because he intuits that Iago, though loyal and “honest” (meaning bluff and outspoken), does not know the limits that separate war from peace. He might be a stellar warrior, but he has no skills for peacetimes. Iago is a pyromaniac who wishes to set fire to everything and everyone.

The tragedy opens on a street in Venice, where a dialogue takes place between Iago and Roderigo, who is infatuated with Desdemona and who becomes the gull of Iago:

Roderigo: Tush, never tell me! I take it much unkindly

That thou, Iago, who hast had my purse

As if the strings were thine, shouldst know of this.

Iago: ’Sblood, but you’ll not hear me.

If ever I did dream of such a matter,

Abhor me.

Roderigo: Thou told’st me thou didst hold him in thy hate.

Iago: Despise me

If I do not. Three great ones of the city,

In personal suit to make me his lieutenant,

Off-capped to him; and by the faith of man,

I know my price, I am worth no worse a place.

But he, as loving his own pride and purposes,

Evades them with a bombast circumstance

Horribly stuffed with epithets of war,

I can still hear Frank Finlay fiercely intoning Iago’s contempt for Othello’s overstuffed bombast with its hidden uneasiness.

And in conclusion,

Nonsuits my mediators. For, “Certes,” says he,

“I have already chose my officer.”

And what was he?

Forsooth, a great arithmetician,

One Michael Cassio, a Florentine,

A fellow almost damned in a fair wife,

That never set a squadron in the field

Nor the division of a battle knows

More than a spinster—unless the bookish theoric,

Wherein the togaed consuls can propose

As masterly as he. Mere prattle, without practice

Is all his soldiership. But he, sir, had th’election;

And I, of whom his eyes had seen the proof

At Rhodes, at Cyprus, and on other grounds

Christened and heathen, must be be-leed and calmed

By debitor and creditor. This counter-caster,

He, in good time, must his lieutenant be,

And I—God bless the mark!—his Moorship’s ancient!

act 1, scene 1, lines 1–34

Iago’s language here needs some unpacking. “Be-leed and calmed” is to be left without a wind to move the ship along, since “calmed” means “becalmed.” The creditor reduces Cassio to a bookkeeper, and a counter-caster is someone who counts up using an abacus. The rhetoric suggests outrage, expressed by Finlay with ironic intensity, including the sarcasm of “his Moorship’s.”

The vehemence of Iago’s initial remarks only intimate the sea change he has suffered. Michael Cassio (who evidently is not married) has no battle experience, unlike Iago, who has fought under Othello’s leadership at Rhodes, Cyprus, and other grounds. The passed-over ancient is deflated and becalmed. Iago proceeds to state his new credo:

I follow him to serve my turn upon him.

We cannot all be masters, nor all masters

Cannot be truly followed. You shall mark

Many a duteous and knee-crooking knave

That, doting on his own obsequious bondage,

Wears out his time, much like his master’s ass,

For naught but provender, and when he’s old, cashiered.

Whip me such honest knaves. Others there are

Who, trimmed in forms and visages of duty,

Keep yet their hearts attending on themselves,

And throwing but shows of service on their lords,

Do well thrive by them, and when they have lined their coats,

Do themselves homage. These fellows have some soul,

And such a one do I profess myself. For, sir,

It is as sure as you are Roderigo,

Were I the Moor, I would not be Iago.

In following him, I follow but myself—

Heaven is my judge, not I for love and duty,

But seeming so for my peculiar end.

For when my outward action doth demonstrate

The native act and figure of my heart

In compliment extern, ’tis not long after

But I will wear my heart upon my sleeve

For daws to peck at. I am not what I am.

act 1, scene 1, lines 44–67

We will see the gradual emergence of Iago’s demonic role, but at this stage he gropes for the outward show that will conceal his heart’s intentions. Jackdaws, foolish and vicious, are invited to peck at Iago’s heart, if like a servant he wears Othello’s badge upon his sleeve. The climax is the grand blasphemy: “I am not what I am.” This invokes the declaration of Yahweh in Exodus 3:14:

And God answered Moses, I AM THAT I AM. Also he said, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I AM hath sent me unto you.

Geneva Bible

There is also a mocking echo of Saint Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:10:

But by the grace of God I am that I am: and his grace which is in me, was not in vain: but I labored more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which is with me.

Geneva Bible

In a profound sense Iago no longer is what he was. Yahweh, strictly translated, proclaims “I will be I will be.” That is, I will be present wherever and whenever I will to be present. Iago has a wounded sense of being, what might be termed a void of inner presence. His god has rejected him, and he knows no other deity than the god of war. There are hints throughout that his endless prurience ensues from impotence:

Iago: Call up her father,

Rouse him, make after him, poison his delight,

Proclaim him in the streets; incense her kinsmen,

And, though he in a fertile climate dwell,

Plague him with flies. Though that his joy be joy,

Yet throw such changes of vexation on’t

As it may lose some color.

Roderigo: Here is her father’s house. I’ll call aloud.

Iago: Do, with like timorous accent and dire yell

As when, by night and negligence, the fire

Is spied in populous cities.

act 1, scene 1, lines 66–76

“Timorous” takes the sense here of frightening. Brabantio, whose only child is Desdemona, is infuriated though in no way scared:

Brabantio: What is the reason of this terrible summons?

What is the matter there?

Roderigo: Signor, is all your family within?

Iago: Are your doors locked?

Brabantio: Why? Wherefore ask you this?

Iago: Zounds, sir, you’re robbed, for shame, put on your gown!

Your heart is burst; you have lost half your soul.

Even now, now, very now, an old black ram

Is tupping your white ewe. Arise, arise!

Awake the snorting citizens with the bell

Or else the devil will make a grandsire of you.

Arise I say!

act 1, scene 1, lines 84–95

The threefold “arise” summons Brabantio to hear Iago’s obscene taunt that the Moor Othello is copulating with the fair Desdemona. Iago, enjoying the moment, wittily turns “senator” into an insult:

Brabantio: What tell’st thou me of robbing? This is Venice;

My house is not a grange.

Roderigo: Most grave Brabantio,

In simple and pure soul I come to you.

Iago: Zounds, sir, you are one of those that will not serve God if the devil bid you. Because we come to do you service and you think we are ruffians, you’ll have your daughter covered with a Barbary horse; you’ll have your nephews neigh to you; you’ll have coursers for cousins, and gennets for germans.

Brabantio: What profane wretch art thou?

Iago: I am one, sir, that comes to tell you your daughter and the Moor are now making the beast with two backs.

Brabantio: Thou art a villain.

Iago: You are—a senator.

act 1, scene 1, lines 108–19

“Barbary,” in North Africa, is a link to the Moor Othello. When Iago suggests that the children of Othello and Desdemona, Brabantio’s grandchildren, will be horses, he is evoking Venetian fears about intermarriage. And then he further exploits those anxieties with his Rabelaisian vision of Desdemona and Othello joined into a two-backed beast.

In a fierce street scene, Brabantio and an armed band, including Roderigo, confront Othello and his attendants, Iago the foremost:

Iago: It is Brabantio. General, be advised.

He comes to bad intent.

Othello: Holla! Stand there!

Roderigo: Signor, it is the Moor.

Brabantio: Down with him, thief!

They draw on both sides.

Iago: You, Roderigo! Come, sir, I am for you.

Othello: Keep up your bright swords, for the dew will rust them.

act 1, scene 2, lines 56–60

The authentic grandeur of the unfallen Othello reverberates in that marvelous, monosyllabic line. He commands both groups to keep their swords in scabbards, implicitly warning that otherwise the bright metal will rust on the ground, in the morning dew. Authority rings out, as the fastest sword in Christendom would end them swiftly. Shakespeare enriches the scene because Cassio has arrived first to inform Othello of an impending Turkish attack on Cyprus. Indispensable leader, Othello has been summoned by the senate. Brabantio accompanies his son-in-law to a council now doubly weighted.

There has been a fashion in modern criticism to deprecate Othello. Its originators were F. R. Leavis and T. S. Eliot. Like all fashions, it passed. Yet some of its ill effects have proved lingering. The reader and playgoer should attend to Othello’s language, which is dignified, not pompous, yet grandiloquent; proud, not vainglorious, and yet insecure. It is open to the freedom of a nature unspoiled by the sophistication of the Venetians, whom he serves. When told by Iago that Brabantio intends to divorce Desdemona from her bridegroom, Othello sounds out the glory of his being:

Let him do his spite.

My services which I have done the seigniory

Shall out-tongue his complaints. ’Tis yet to know—

Which, when I know that boasting is an honor,

I shall promulgate—I fetch my life and being

From men of royal siege, and my demerits

May speak unbonneted to as proud a fortune

As this that I have reached. For know, Iago,

But that I love the gentle Desdemona,

I would not my unhousèd free condition

Put into circumscription and confine

For the sea’s worth.

act 1, scene 2, lines 17–28

Othello asserts that he is an African prince, descended from men of royal siege or rank. If this is as yet not known, it is because boasting is alien to him, and his distinction (in the older sense of “demerits”) speaks. He need not take off his hat, since he is equal to Brabantio. It is both poignant and a touch foreboding that he both affirms his love for Desdemona and yet intimates a nostalgia for the freedom he has lost to the confinement and limits of marriage.

When Brabantio, speaking to the duke and senate, indicts Othello for witchcraft in seducing Desdemona, the Moor is quietly eloquent and calm in his defense:

Most potent, grave, and reverend signors,

My very noble and approved good masters:

That I have ta’en away this old man’s daughter,

It is most true; true I have married her.

The very head and front of my offending

Hath this extent, no more. Rude am I in my speech,

And little blessed with the soft phrase of peace;

For since these arms of mine had seven years’ pith,

Till now some nine moons wasted, they have used

Their dearest action in the tented field;

And little of this great world can I speak

More than pertains to feats of broils and battle,

And therefore little shall I grace my cause

In speaking for myself. Yet, by your gracious patience,

I will a round unvarnished tale deliver

Of my whole course of love—what drugs, what charms,

What conjuration, and what mighty magic,

For such proceeding I am charged withal,

I won his daughter.

act 1, scene 3, lines 78–96

A soldier since the age of seven, when he was at his first strength, Othello tells the plain tale of his courtship:

Her father loved me; oft invited me,

Still question’d me the story of my life

From year to year—the battles, sieges, fortunes,

That I have passed.

I ran it through, even from my boyish days

To th’ very moment that he bade me tell it,

Wherein I spoke of most disastrous chances,

Of moving accidents by flood and field,

Of hairbreadth ’scapes i’th’imminent deadly breach,

Of being taken by the insolent foe

And sold to slavery, of my redemption thence,

And portance in my traveler’s history,

Wherein of antres vast and deserts idle,

Rough quarries, rocks, and hills whose heads touch heaven,

It was my hint to speak—such was my process—

And of the Cannibals that each other eat,

The Anthropophagi, and men whose heads

Do grow beneath their shoulders. These things to hear

Would Desdemona seriously incline;

But still the house affairs would draw her thence,

Which ever as she could with haste dispatch

She’d come again, and with a greedy ear

Devour up my discourse. Which I, observing,

Took once a pliant hour, and found good means

To draw from her a prayer of earnest heart

That I would all my pilgrimage dilate,

Whereof by parcels she had something heard,

But not intentively. I did consent,

And often did beguile her of her tears,

When I did speak of some distressful stroke

That my youth suffered. 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.

She wished she had not heard it, yet she wished

That heaven had made her such a man. She thanked me,

And bade me, if I had a friend that loved her,

I should but teach him how to tell my story,

And that would woo her. Upon this hint I spake.

She loved me for the dangers I had passed,

And I loved her that she did pity them.

This only is the witchcraft I have used.

act 1, scene 3, lines 130–71

This marvelous recital wins the heart. The Moor heroically, whether in caverns (“antres”) or desolate wastelands, endured captivity and redemption, man-eaters and monstrosities, and survived with renewed vigor. Two wonderfully balanced lines sum up the courtship of Desdemona and Othello:

She loved me for the dangers I had passed,

And I loved her that she did pity them.

This evokes a gracious comment from the duke: “I think this tale would win my daughter too.” Desdemona’s beautiful affirmation lingers mournfully in a tragedy that ends with Othello’s brutal murder of his bride:

That I did love the Moor to live with him,

My downright violence and storm of fortunes

May trumpet to the world. My heart’s subdued

Even to the very quality of my lord.

I saw Othello’s visage in his mind,

And to his honors and his valiant parts

Did I my soul and fortunes consecrate.

act 1, scene 3, lines 250–56

A bold affirmation, this begins by admitting her breach of societal customs and pays tribute to Othello’s authentic qualities of mind and spirit. She pleads to go with him to Cyprus, in order to accomplish their consummation. Seconding her, Othello intimates a curious diffidence in regard to that fulfillment:

Let her have your voice.

Vouch with me, heaven, I therefore beg it not

To please the palate of my appetite,

Nor to comply with heat—the young affects

In me defunct—and proper satisfaction,

But to be free and bounteous to her mind.

And heaven defend your good souls that you think

I will your serious and great business scant

For she is with me. No, when light-wing’d toys

Of feather’d Cupid seel with wanton dullness

My speculative and officed instruments,

That my disports corrupt and taint my business,

Let huswives make a skillet of my helm,

And all indign and base adversities

Make head against my estimation!

act 1, scene 3, lines 262–76

We can wonder how much sexual experience the Moor possesses. It seems unlikely that so long a military career has been devoid of eros, and yet that is uncertain. Freshly married, he shows little urgency for consummation. Shakespeare, as always, is a master of ellipsis. You have to muse on what he has omitted. Othello, the Moor of Venice is not Verdi’s Otello. I myself suspect that Desdemona will die a virgin, though that remains a minority view.

Brabantio, soon to die of grief, allows himself a bitter couplet:

Look to her, Moor, if thou hast eyes to see.

She has deceived her father, and may thee.

Othello’s response is uncannily prophetic:

My life upon her faith!—Honest Iago,

My Desdemona must I leave to thee.

I prithee, let thy wife attend on her,

And bring them after in the best advantage.

Come, Desdemona, I have but an hour

Of love, of wordly matters and direction,

To spend with thee. We must obey the time.

act 1, scene 3, lines 294–302

Military instructions and related matters scarcely allow more than a few minutes of love in that hasty hour. To obey the time is to meet the present crisis, and not to embrace Desdemona.

Honest Iago and Roderigo remain onstage as Desdemona and Othello depart. “Honest” has inspired much commentary, particularly of easy irony, and runs like an undersong throughout the play. Overtly it means bluff, hearty, plainspoken, rather than truth-telling. Iago is trenchant in responding to Roderigo’s despair:

O villainous! I have looked upon the world for four

times seven years, and since I could distinguish betwixt

a benefit and an injury, I never found man that knew

how to love himself. Ere I would say I would drown

myself for the love of a guinea hen, I would change my

humanity with a baboon.

act 1, scene 3, lines 312–16

Dismissing Roderigo’s nonsense, Iago informs us that he has yet to find a man that knows how to love himself. “Love” might as well be the hatred of all others. A guinea hen is a whore, and Iago’s humanity hardly matches a baboon’s.

Roderigo: What should I do? I confess it is my shame to be so fond, but it is not in my virtue to amend it.

Iago: Virtue? A fig! ’Tis in ourselves that we are thus or thus. Our bodies are our gardens, to the which our wills are gardeners; so that if we will plant nettles or sow lettuce, set hyssop and weed up thyme, supply it with one gender of herbs or distract it with many, either to have it sterile with idleness or manured with industry—why, the power and corrigible authority of this lies in our wills. If the beam of our lives had not one scale of reason to poise another of sensuality, the blood and baseness of our natures would conduct us to most preposterous conclusions. But we have reason to cool our raging motions, our carnal stings, our unbitted lusts, whereof I take this that you call love to be a sect or scion.

act 1, scene 3, lines 316–28

Giving the fig to virtue is to insult it. The will as gardener is supreme. The balance of life requires reason to outweigh sensuality, our natural lusts. Love is merely an offshoot of uncontrolled desire.

Roderigo: It cannot be.

Iago: It is merely a lust of the blood and a permission of the will. Come, be a man. Drown thyself? Drown cats and blind puppies. I have professed me thy friend, and I confess me knit to thy deserving with cables of perdurable toughness. I could never better stead thee than now. Put money in thy purse. Follow thou the wars; defeat thy favor with an usurped beard. I say, put money in thy purse. It cannot be long that Desdemona should continue her love to the Moor—put money in thy purse—nor he his to her. It was a violent commencement in her, and thou shalt see an answerable sequestration—put but money in thy purse. These Moors are changeable in their wills—fill thy purse with money. The food that to him now is as luscious as locusts shall be to him shortly as bitter as the coloquintida. She must change for youth; when she is sated with his body, she will find the error of her choice. She must have change, she must. Therefore put money in thy purse. If thou wilt needs damn thyself, do it a more delicate way than drowning. Make all the money thou canst. If sanctimony and a frail vow betwixt an erring barbarian and a super-subtle Venetian be not too hard for my wits and all the tribe of hell, thou shalt enjoy her; therefore make money. A pox of drowning thyself! It is clean out of the way. Seek thou rather to be hanged in compassing thy joy than to be drowned and go without her.

act 1, scene 3, lines 329–49

The bitter refrain “Put money in thy purse” will climax at last in the wretched Roderigo’s demise at Iago’s will. Desdemona’s infatuation, as Iago sees it, commenced violently and will be cut off as hastily. Othello’s taste for locust fruit soon will be rewarded with a bitter apple. Desdemona, a supersubtle Venetian, will weary of her erring barbarian, and Iago’s skill will complete the estrangement.

Roderigo: Wilt thou be fast to my hopes if I depend on the issue?

Iago: Thou art sure of me. Go, make money. I have told thee often, and I retell thee again and again, I hate the Moor. My cause is hearted; thine hath no less reason. Let us be conjunctive in our revenge against him. If thou canst cuckold him, thou dost thyself a pleasure, me a sport. There are many events in the womb of time which will be delivered. Traverse, go, provide thy money. We will have more of this tomorrow. Adieu.

Iago’s hatred is fixed in his heart. If Roderigo cuckolds Othello, it will be a sport and a pastime for Iago and his gull.

Roderigo: Where shall we meet i’th’morning?

Iago: At my lodging.

Roderigo: I’ll be with thee betimes. [He starts to leave.]

Iago: Go to, farewell.—Do you hear, Roderigo?

Roderigo: What say you?

Iago: No more of drowning, do you hear?

Roderigo: I am changed.

Iago: Go to, farewell. Put money enough in your purse.

Roderigo: I’ll sell all my land.

act 1, scene 3, lines 350–65

Iago’s supple and malevolent prose, conveyed with sinuous immediacy by the serpentine Frank Finlay, now yields to his first soliloquy:

Thus do I ever make my fool my purse;

For I mine own gained knowledge should profane

If I would time expend with such a snipe

But for my sport and profit. I hate the Moor;

And it is thought abroad that ’twixt my sheets

He’s done my office. I know not if’t be true;

But I, for mere suspicion in that kind,

Will do as if for surety. He holds me well;

The better shall my purpose work on him.

Cassio’s a proper man. Let me see now:

To get his place and to plume up my will

In double knavery—How, how?—Let’s see—

After some time, to abuse Othello’s ear

That he is too familiar with his wife.

He hath a person and a smooth dispose

To be suspected—framed to make women false.

The Moor is of a free and open nature,

That thinks men honest that but seem to be so,

And will as tenderly be led by the nose

As asses are.

I have’t. It is engender’d. Hell and night

Must bring this monstrous birth to the world’s light.

act 1, scene 3, lines 366–87

Neither we nor Iago believe that Othello has been the lover of Emilia, Iago’s wife. It is merely a pretext for a still inchoate plot. So far, Iago only knows that jealousy of Cassio is a starting point for his net. Accurately, he characterizes Othello as free and open, alien to suspicion. The great cry “I have’t” and the triumphant “It is engender’d” are still tentative. Iago will descend into the night of hell to bring back the horrible birth that he contemplates.

About The Author

Photograph by Greg Johnson

Harold Bloom is Sterling Professor of Humanities at Yale University. He has written more than sixty books, including Cleopatra: I Am Fire and Air, Falstaff: Give Me Life, The Western Canon, Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human, and How to Read and Why. He is a MacArthur Prize fellow, a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and the recipient of many awards, including the Academy’s Gold Medal for Criticism. He lives in New Haven, Connecticut.

Product Details

  • Publisher: Scribner (October 1, 2019)
  • Length: 160 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781501164231

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Raves and Reviews

Praise for Iago: The Strategies of Evil

"There are few readers more astute than Bloom...the true value of Bloom’s sensitive reading lies in his ability to articulate his emotional response to the play. He leaves readers with a memorable new perspective on Othello."Publishers Weekly

Praise for Lear: The Great Image of Authority

“At the outset of this pithy exegesis of King Lear, Bloom describes the play’s title characters as one of Shakespeare’s ‘most challenging personalities’…Bloom guides the reader scene by scene through the play, quoting long but well-chosen swaths of text and interjecting commentary that reveals the nuances of Shakespeare’s word choices…he is also deft at bringing out dramatic contrasts between characters…Bloom’s short, superb book has a depth of observation acquired from a lifetime of study, and the author knows when to let Shakespeare and his play speak for themselves.”—Publishers Weekly

"A measured, thoughtful assessment of a key play in the Shakespeare canon...Bloom brings this dark tale of a king in search of love to life via his incisive close reading of the text.”Kirkus Reviews

Praise for Cleopatra: I Am Fire and Air

"A masterfully perceptive reading of this seductive play's endless wonders."Kirkus Review

“Bloom draws upon his extensive reading to place the characters and the story in context alongside the histories from which the plot was adapted…those who have read the play or seen it performed will find Bloom’s passion to be infectious. Recommended for Shakespeare enthusiasts and readers seeking a deeper understanding of one of his greatest creations.” —Library Journal

“Bloom brings considerable expertise and his own unique voice to this book.”Publishers Weekly

Praise for Falstaff: Give me Life

"Famed literary critic and Yale professor Bloom showcases his favorite Shakespearian character in this poignant work... He has created a larger-than-life portrait of a character who is 'at his best a giant image of human freedom.'"—Publishers Weekly

"In this first of five books about Shakespearean personalities, Bloom brings erudition and boundless enthusiasm."Kirkus Reviews, starred review

“[Bloom’s] last love letter to the shaping spirit of his imagination… An explanation and reiteration of why Falstaff matters to Bloom, and why Falstaff is one of literature’s vital forces… A pleasure to read.”—Jeanette Winterson, New York Times Book Review

Praise for Hamlet: Poem Unlimited

"To read this book is to hear a powerful call to fall in love again with Shakespeare and his plays... I can think of no more engaging and nourishing pair of literary works: a drama of towering, perhaps unmatched, genius joining an exquisite work of literary criticism by a scholar of genuine greatness." —Baltimore Sun

"A deeply felt reverie on Hamlet, a latter-day example of the genial impressionist criticism practiced by Walter Pater, John Ruskin, and Oscar Wilde." —Washington Post Book World

"Brilliant... Will give you a night of full joy and make you forget current events." —Newsday

Praise for Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human

"Not perhaps since Samuel Johnson in the mid-eighteenth century has a critic explained to a general audience as ably as Mr. Bloom does how much Shakespeare matters to our sense of who we are." —The New York Times

"Should this be the one book you read if you're going to read a book about Shakespeare? Yes." —New York Observer

"Enraptured, incantatory... You could hardly ask for a more capacious, beneficent work." —The New Yorker

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