Iago as comedian?Do you think Iago enjoys an advantage as a villain in that he is the play's chief humorist? W H Auden called Iago "a practical joker," partly because his wife speaks of...

Iago as comedian?

Do you think Iago enjoys an advantage as a villain in that he is the play's chief humorist? W H Auden called Iago "a practical joker," partly because his wife speaks of him as her "wayward husband."  I think that Emelia refers to the outward aspect of Iago, and she doesn't "get" the fact that his humor tends to cause pain in others and allows him to bask in his sense of his own superiority. Maybe Auden misses this, too. Do we ever see Iago's humor (such as it is) directed toward himself, where he is the butt of his own jokes? If so, that would mitigate his evilness some, don't you think?

Asked on by sagetrieb

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Jamie Wheeler | College Teacher | eNotes Employee

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Ahhhh...I knew you would ping me on the "authorial" aspect, Sagetrieb!  But when a pattern occurs in an author's work repeatedly, can we really divorce his own philosophies from his fictions?

BTW, I loved the idea of "Shooting an Elephant" as a patriarchal conquest!

 

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sagetrieb | College Teacher | (Level 3) Educator

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I'm not sure if to call Iago a humorist or a practical joker suggests he had a streak of humanity in him unless, that is, he had the capabiltiy to make fun of himself as well--having that insight to realize himself for what he is and then make fun of himself as a result. I don't quite get Bloom's point of contrasting scientist with humorist....scientists might not be happy with that.  Could not a Machiavellian also understand himself as that and make fun of himself accordingly?  What I got from Auden's comment, at least, was that:  Iago was a mighty mean guy, playing the world for what he could get from it, taking advantage of everyone...yet he could be funny, too, says Auden,  because he could see to the pathos of human weakness and laugh at it (although also exploit it). To the extent I imagine a devil, I imagine he would do the same. But would the devil ever tease himself for being thoroughly evil? Laugh at himself for what makes him do what he does?

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Jamie Wheeler | College Teacher | eNotes Employee

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Harold Bloom in Shakespeare:  The Invention of the Human completely disagrees with Auden and the concept of Iago as a joker.  Bloom argues, "One should not try to restrict Iago's genius, he is a great artist and no joker...Unlike Barabas and his progeny, Iago is an inventor, an experimenter always willing to try modes heretofore unknown.  Auden, in a more inspired moment, saw Iago as a scientist rather than a practical joker" (436).

I cannot recall a time in which Iago shows this type of humanity.   To me he is Machiavellian and knows his every calculated move.  If there is humor at his own expense, he is not doing it to reveal his own humanity, but to manipulate the humanity at hand.   

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