About those soliloquies, part one

Yesterday, I discussed the concept of protagonist and tragic hero in Othello. In that post, I alluded to the use of soliloquies in the play. There I mentioned that while Othello has more speeches (274 compared to Iago’s 272), Iago has more soliloquies (seven, plus extended asides; compare this to Othello’s three [including his speech over the sleeping Desdemona]).

Soliloquies usually expose the thoughts or emotional states of the characters. Usually.

And in Iago’s first two, we get a taste of that.

In his and the play’s first soliloquy, at the end of Act One, Scene Three, after Roderigo has left him, Iago presents, in a 24-line speech, his emotion (“I hate the Moor” [I.iii.378]) and his motivations (“it is throught abroad that ‘twixt my sheets // H’as done my office” [I.iii.379-80]). It’s interesting that the emotion is aligned to what he tells Roderigo (he uses the exact phrase 14 lines earlier), but his motivation does not (he had told his dupe that the reason he wanted to “serve (his) turn upon” (I.i.41) Othello is the lack of promotion to the position of lieutenant.

In his second soliloquy, Iago expands upon his motivation. Othello, he reiterates, “hath leaped into (his) seat” (II.i.293), sexually speaking. And his revenge is to be “evened with him, wife for wife” (II.i.296) or at least put Othello is such a state of jealousy “that judgment cannot cure” (299). Iago even accuses Cassio of cuckolding him (“For I fear Cassio with my nightcap, too” [II.i.304]). And for that (and I’m sure the promotion, too), Iago will put Cassio down as well. So now we begin to move from emotion to thoughts of the plan.

The next four soliloquies and extended asides by Iago all outline his plan, with very little (if any) emotion or even motivation:

  • II.iii.44-59 (beginning “If I can fasten but one cup upon him”): the plan is to get the watch, including Cassio, drunk enough to fight “in some action // That may offend the isle” (II.iii.56-57).
  • II.iii.324-350 (beginning “And what’s he then that says I play the villain”): Iago has advised Cassio to plead his case to Desdeoma so that she will plead to Othello, into whose ear Iago plans to “pour this pestilence…that she repeals (Cassio) for her body’s lust” (II.iii.344-345), thus driving Othello into jealousy.
  • II.iii.369-375 (beginning “Two things are to be done”): In this extended aside, Iago states that he will have his wife plead to Desdemona for Cassio, and then Iago plans to bring Othello so “he may Cassio find // Soliciting his wife” (II.iii.373-374).
  • III.iii.321-333 (beginning “I will in Cassio’s lodging lose this napkin”): Iago plans to put the handkerchief in Cassio’s possession to create “jealous confirmations strong // As proofs of holy writ” (III.iii.323-324).

The next extended aside comes from early in Act Four, Scene One, with Iago gloating over the body of Othello who has fallen into a fit; so, in a sense, we are finally back to emotion.

The next (and last) two soliloquies are both short ones, (11 and 12 lines, respectively), with characters Iago knows cannot hear him (Othello and Roderigo, respectively); and even these are merely plan outlining (“now will I…” [IV.i.93] and “each do kill the other” [V.i.13], respectively).

Did Shakespeare think so little of his audience that he felt that Iago needed to telegraph (ANACHRONISM ALERT!) his plans first. Or did he have Iago give us this information so that we could admire the artistry of Iago’s villainy?

And what about Othello and his soliloquies?

That, my friends, is for tomorrow…

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