Humor Magazine

"O Iago, the Pity of It, Iago!"

By Davidduff

Iago, Pity Iago!

Thanks are due to my pal Richard who drew my attention to an article in The Evening Standard by Jonathan Shaw who, as a retired General (and ex-Para and therefore a splendid chap, natch!) acted as military advisor to the current production of Othello at The Royal National Theatre.  All I can say is "praise the Lord and pass the ammunition" because his immediate influence may be gauged from this photo in which, perhaps for the first time on a British stage, the luvvies actually look like 'Toms'!  For a start, they have shrunk and shaped their berets instead of just plonking them on their heads as they usually do which makes them look like a feeding tables for birds!  This lot in the photograph really look the business.  Well done, General!

Richard reminds me that I once directed Othello.  Memories fade so I can only hope that I did it justice.  It is I think the greatest of Shakespeare's personal tragedies.  All of his tragedies involve a seemingly implacable cosmos exerting intolerable pressure onto a man's weaknesses until he is broken but most of them are mixed in with other external matters, usually politicis in one form or another.  Even Hamlet has strong themes concerning kingly duties and inheritance which act upon the hero, but Othello is almost entirely domestic and personal.  The trap-door upon which our hero stands is the classic one of an older man marrying a younger woman with all the insecurities that entails.  Thus, the scene is set for the evil Iago to spring the trap-door open and watch our hero - and several others - make the big drop. 

If I had to use one word to describe Othello it would be - inexorable.  We get to know the hero fairly quickly because he is, by nature, an open and guileless man; obviously something of an outsider given that he is black but equally obviously a man of enormous courage and intelligence to have fought his way up the ranks and used his martial skills to save his adopted city-state.  Alas, where his intelligence falls short is in his personal life.  Like Lear, he is unable to see clearly the nature of the people about him and Iago is quick to take advantage of his General's blind spot.  The scene (III.iii - I think) when Iago mounts his subtle attack on the exposed flank in Othello's character is amongst the greatest Shakespeare ever wrote.  Iago advances, injects a tiny drop of poisonous doubt into the great man's heart and mind, withdraws to see the result, advances again for another injection, pulls back and then gradually but with mounting confidence he plunges the needle into Othello's heart and presses down the plunger leaving him, in effect, as 'dead man walking'!  Throughout this scene you feel the urge to stand up and shout - STOP!  But, inexorably, the story plays out to its tragic finale.

The whole play can be summed up in one plaintive howl of misery:

"O Iago, the pity of it, Iago!"

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