‘Wicked’ for Shakespeare
I, Iago, by Nicole Galland .William Morrow, 370 pp
I remember reading Othello for the first time, in class. It wasn’t as funny as A Midsummer Night’s Dream or as psycho-thrilling (in my then-opinion) as Hamlet, or as blushingly romantic as Romeo and Juliet, but it wasn’t bad. As the student that I was, I didn’t hate it. That being said, I should, and definitely will, read it again of my own will.
I was intrigued with Nicole Galland’s I, Iago because it had the same idea as Gregory Maguire’s Wicked. The tale told from the villian’s perspective. We’re in this period of time where black and white have almost completely been thrown out of the window. We want to know every side to the story, what made the bad guy bad.
The first line along may help to answer this question. “They called me ‘honest Iago’ from an early age, but in Venice, this is not a compliment.”
Venice at this time is in it’s own period of affluence. It’s the roaring twenties for early Italy, and right in the middle of all the debauchery and wine and gaudy velvet shoulder-puffs, stands this little man who can’t tell a lie.
Iago is the baby of the family, “the fifth son born into a family where even a second son is redundant.” He’s already got the cards stacked against him. His brothers are all established: one has taken over the family silk business, one is a priest, one didn’t live past infancy, and one “wounded himself so severely in cadet training that he bled to death.”
Between his familial position, his truthful handicap, and his recently-deceased brother, Iago’s destiny is all but sealed:
I was informed that it fell to me to restore the family’s military honor. Clearly, I would never make it as a courtier, a merchant, or any other trade that required me to don a false front. I was, said father irritably, too blunt and honest for anything but warfare.
I was told in one of my writing courses that it is much easier for a woman to write a woman and a man to write a man. I sensed this struggle when reading the book. At the beginning, Iago is a confident and clever man. He easily outsmarts his rivals in cadet training, and he manages to catch any woman he sets his eyes on, from a prostitute on the street to the woman who would become his wife.
But from there, the women take over. The perspective is still Iago’s but the character strength clearly lies in Emilia. Iago has met his match in his wife. The minute she enters the picture, he diminishes to whining and irrational anger. Gone is his suave style that no doubt wooed her earlier. She’s just as powerful, though her power lies in the emotions of others.
Othello, the protagonist of the original play and Iago’s boss and friend, has fallen in love with Desdemona. But Desdemona’s father will never allow him to court her, and so he must get to know her in secret. Because the story is told from Iago’s perspective, this plot line takes place off the page, but it’s debated constantly. Emilia has formed a friendship with the other woman.
It would be interesting to see the story from the perspective of one of the women. The story is practically theirs, as it is.
The love story between Othello and Desdemona, the main plot line of the play, also dominates the novel. And their secrecy upsets Iago, because he is intentionally left out. Emilia and Desdemona, at this point, are the strong protagonists, if for no other reason than that their men are too wrapped up in their own mental capacities. Othello is beyond lovesick, and at the edge of the story is Iago, who is losing control over his own story, and over himself in the process.
This review was originally written for the Spencer Daily Reporter.