Iago by David Snodin

Four hundred years and more after their creation, Shakespeare’s plays still fascinate us, judging by the number of films based on them, adaptations, stage productions and what have you. Who knew that people long dead speaking in archaic language and iambic pentameter could so captivate our imaginations? Well, anyone who studies Greek tragedies, but aside from them? Not surprisingly, based on the title, Snodin’s book concerns the Chief Instigator in Othello, or more specifically, what happened after the play ended.

At the end of the play Othello1, the ‘Moor of Venice’ and his young wife lie dead, a murder/suicide, Iago’s wife Emilia is also dead by Iago’s own hand and Iago in the Venetians’ custody, leaving the fortress in a turmoil of jealousy and confusion all stirred up and tangled around by Iago. As the book begins, the eponymous character is being held prisoner by the the Chief Inquisitor of Venice, Annibale Malipiero, who must prosecute Iago but first wants to find out what motivates such a man to do such evil…as do a good many people who’ve studied Othello! The people of Venice believe Othello and Desdemona to be dead of the plague and Iago to be free in the mountains; gossip abounds about Iago’s exploits with his band of brigands. Iago refuses to speak at all to anyone, much less of why he brought about the death of Venice’s most renowned general; it is only when Gentile, a young scion of the Stornello family (chief adversary of the Malapiero family2) blurts out what he believes to be a fictitious conspiracy theory to Annibale’s nephew that Annibale comes up with the idea of imprisoning this young malapert with Iago in the hopes that Iago will reveal to the boy what he’s refusing to say to Annibale. Of course it doesn’t work out quite that way.

This is another of the ‘advance readers copy’ books we picked up last month at the Great Lakes Independent Booksellers’ Association convention; as such I’m not going to touch all the grammar and punctuation errors on the assumption that they’ll be corrected in the final proof. At least they’d better be. The author’s worked a great deal with Shakespeare’s plays–I wouldn’t go so far as to describe him as Shakespeare’s script editor, but he did work on the BBC’s series of Shakespeare’s plays–and his familiarity with the works shows well here. I enjoyed it a great deal; it’s refreshing to read something that’s overtly and competently based on Shakespeare’s works for starters. Snodin weaves in a number of Shakespearean tropes, such as the bossy comedic servants, very smoothly while breathing a bit of reality into the characters, which is a relief for someone who’s seen one too many stilted productions done by people who can’t manage to act normally while speaking iambic pentameter. Overall, the novel’s not brilliant, though I appreciate the attempt.

External resources:
The Washington Post
JS Online

1for those who didn’t pay attention in their English lit classes, there’s a certain racial element in Othello: the titular character’s black and Desdemona’s white. Pay attention now, because that’s also important in Iago.
2why yes, I too thought “Two households, both alike in dignity,
In fair Verona, where we lay our scene,
From ancient grudge break to new mutiny,
Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean.”; why do you ask?


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