He had just finished his thirty-fourth reading of the play. The unsaid hate, the unseen events, the half-imagined wrongs; they tormented him. What could cause such evil to manifest, he just could not figure. He loved him too much to believe the simple explanation.
And then the idea starts growing on him – to explore the growth of evil just as Shakespeare showed, explored the tragic culmination of it. And because you show the growth, it can no longer be a tragedy, no, no it has to be a comedy. A tragi-comedy. Yes. And he set to it. He painted Othello as an Indian actor, worshiped and adored and off on a mad canter to get his Ice Queen, his Desdemona. On his way he meets him – the poor man trying to forget his own roots and desperately reinventing himself, his Iago.
Yes Iago too was once a man. What twists of fate made him evil incarnate? He sets out his prime motif: The question that’s asked here remains as large as ever it was: which is, the nature of evil, how it’s born, why it grows, how it takes unilateral possession of a many-sided human soul.
Wait a minute, he blinks at his notes, if Iago is evil incarnate, does that not also mean that he is Satan incarnate? Chamcha then is Satan incarnate? Then Othello has to be God? A little bit more corruptible maybe? Let us make him the angel Gibreel, he decided. As an aside, as the angel, he can slip into that reality in his dreams and reenact the story (history?) of Prophet Mohammad in inflammatory fashion, maybe talk about the ‘Satanic Verses’ since his Satan can’t help but gloat over his little jokes. Why not call the novel so too, except that it would mean something else – the verses that the real Satan of the story, Iago, sings in Othello’s ear. He knows that this might be cause for misunderstanding, might ruffle a few feathers, but it is just a digression, the real story is beyond that – it is not the Event Horizon. But he can’t help himself. He never could keep a story simple.
Ah, now something beyond mere Othello is taking shape is it not? If Iago is Satan, then surely it is in character to enjoy with consummate pleasure the sight of his own jealousy consuming himself – the green-eyed monster that feeds on itself. So Satan decides to narrate the story of one of his incarnations? Or rather, possessions? The questions that are to run his plot are flowing freely now. How an ordinary man when in contact with an angel inevitably had to transform into Lucifer himself. How can one exist without the other. They meet and the spiral ensues and Iago mutates and agitates and like a cancerous growth his strange fate builds until he turns his wrath square on his angel, his Othello. And how can he then not try to destroy what he is not, what he can not be. There is the moment before evil, then the moment of, then the time after; and each subsequent stride becomes progressively easier. But what about before and after the madness? It surely must be an ordinary life, with ordinary joys and pains. It is a cosmic drama, he concludes.
In the process, every insinuated implication in the play is to be played out in this story – Cassio does sleep with Iago’s wife, Iago is madly lustful of Desdemona, Othello is a deserving victim of directed revenge for very real ills and Iago needs no invented or unbelievable reasons for his actions. He is justified. It was inevitable.
Salman Rushdie sets down his pen.
He has vindicated Iago, many a literature lover’s favorite character.
And for that, I am eternally thankful.
- He Murdered His Friends, Now ‘Iago’ Moves On (npr.org)
- Book #73: Othello by William Shakespeare (jillianreadsbooks2.wordpress.com)
- Iago’s Soliloquy (chster.wordpress.com)
- Satanic Verses (personalconcerns.wordpress.com)
- Iago (clareflourish.wordpress.com)
- Fiction Chronicle (nytimes.com)
- Wading through Shakespeare: “Othello” (sarahalicewaterhouse.wordpress.com)