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Customer Review

VINE VOICEon October 29, 2001
Othello is in many ways the most tragic of Shakespeare's heroes, because his ultimate destruction is so
much a function of his best qualities, as opposed to folks like Hamlet, Lear, and MacBeth, who are
destroyed by their worst. Othello is a noble warrior, but very much an innocent and far too trusting of
other men's counsel, and so he is easy prey for Iago, who in turn may be Shakespeare's greatest villain,
because he is so purely evil. Richard III, by contrast, while a force of malevolence, is also just more
interesting and intelligent than those around him. Iago has none of Richard's beguiling qualities, he is
little more than the sum of his own jealousies and hatreds. And so, when this noblest hero and this
most vile villain collide, the events that follow are tragic in the human sense, not merely in a dramatic
sense. We mourn the loss of a superior being, in Othello, not just the general destruction of life.
Othello is also distinguished by just how trivial are the provocations that set events in motion. Iago
uses little more than a single prop, an embroidered kerchief, and his own treacherous words to bring
about a series of deaths and the fall of a great man. In this sense it is the most writerly of plays,
reflects most fully Shakespeare's own confidence that he can take such slender threads and weave a
compelling drama. One despairs of ever saying anything novel about Shakespeare, he's been written
about so much, but the thought occurs that Iago might represent Shakespeare himself. Consider that it
is Iago's tongue and a flimsy plot device of his contrivance that force the action of the drama and his
jealousy of the handsome and much-heralded leading man that provides the motive. Surely
Shakespeare, who so loved the device of the play within a play, might have relished the idea of a play
that's a simulacrum of his own profession? I like to think so.
But in the final analysis, Othello does not capture us in the same way that some of the other tragedies
do. The main characters are so unambiguous that they lack a certain depth. The plot is so contrived
and so inevitable that it seems mechanical rather than natural. You can imagine a world in which
Hamlet exacts his revenge without hesitating or where Lear realizes he's acting like a fool, but you
can't imagine a world in which Iago allows Othello and Desdemona to live happily ever after. That's a
pretty serious weakness.
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