Homosexuality in Shakespeare's Tragedies Elements Term Paper

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He may hate her most of all because she has stolen his fancied lovers, Cassio, and particularly Othello.

Later on, in Act III, comes the famous (or infamous) homosexual scene in which Iago purports to have engaged in sexual behavior with Cassio. His ostensible purpose is to convince Othello that Cassio was talking about Desdemona in his sleep and convince Othello that Desdemona is cuckolding him.

I will go on. I lay with Cassio lately;

And, being troubled with a raging tooth, could not sleep. There are a kind of men

So loose of soul that in their sleeps will mutter

Their Affairs. One of this kind is Cassio.

In sleep I heard him say, "Sweet Desdemona,

Let us be wary, let us hide our loves!"

And then, sir, would he gripe and wring my hand,

Cry, "O sweet creature!" And then kiss me hard,

As if he pluck'd up kisses by the roots

That grew upon my lips; then laid his leg

Over my thigh, and sigh'd, and kiss'd, and then Cried, "Cursed fate that gave thee to the Moor!"

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Iago does not seem upset or bothered by having participated in sexual acts with Cassio. He does not relate that he leaped from the bed and stabbed Cassio with his sword on the spot, for making advances toward him, but seems to view the whole fictitious scene as nothing out of the ordinary. And, so does Othello. He does not question why Iago would have been sleeping in Cassio's bed or how Iago should have reacted when Cassio began to kiss and fondle him. They both, apparently, view a sexual encounter between Iago and Cassio as a perfectly ordinary event, which could indicate that Othello is well aware of Iago's sexual proclivities and is completely undaunted by them.

To be entirely fair to Othello, he has, in this particular moment, been manipulated by Iago to be focused only upon Desdemona's supposed wrongdoings, and that may be his fatal error.

TOPIC: Term Paper on Homosexuality in Shakespeare's Tragedies Elements Assignment

It is quite possible that Iago is also conveying a more subtle message; one that cannot be acknowledged on the surface. If Iago has not rejected Cassio's kisses and embraces, it might be assumed that he also would not reject Othello's, should they be offered. In Freudian terms, the sexual act may be "the ultimate key" to Iago's concealed identity (Doniger, 1). Perhaps Iago deliberately focuses Othello's attention on Desdemona in an effort to convince himself that he really is who he is. Sexual duplicity, according to Doniger, is really an effort to deceive ourselves.

It is "the need to hide the truth from other people in the hope that we will cease to recognize it ourselves." (Doniger 2). In other words, Iago feels an attraction for Cassio, and more importantly for Othello, but can't admit it even to himself. Therefore, it comes out in the form of a dark and terrible rage directed at all the other participants, a rage so powerful that it leads him to destroy them all, and in the end, it precipitates his own destruction as well. "The sexual act is simultaneously the most deceptive and the most truth-revealing of human acts." Doniger, 4). Even though Iago's sexual acts with Cassio are fictional, they ultimately reveal the truth about his sexual nature. If homosexual sex with Cassio were abhorrent to Iago, it is unlikely that he would attribute it to himself, even in a lie. Yet, he has not hesitated to use a homosexual liaison as the setting for his learning about Desdemona's duplicity, perhaps with good reason. He may have already fantasized just such a liaison before hatching a plot against Desdemona ever occurred to him, And, in that case, it did not seem like an unfamiliar or untoward event, but a natural setting in which he might hear what he claimed to have heard - Cassio's purported pillow talk with Desdemona.

While the other characters in the play are not reticent about their sexual conquests, Iago doesn't seem to share their enjoyment of bawdiness.

When it comes to the wine and women whose virtues other men extoll, Iago is the odd man out. It could be said that he exercises rigorous self-control.

Our bodies are our gardens, to the which our wills are gardeners; so that if we will plant nettles or sow lettuce, set hyssop and weed up thyme, supply it with one gender of herbs or distract it with many, either to have it sterile with idleness or manur'd with industry - why the power and corrigible authority of this lies in our wills. If the balance of our lives had not one scale of reason to poise another of sensuality, the blood and baseness of our natures would conduct us to most prepost'rous conclusions. But we have reason to cool our raging motions, our carnal stings, our unbitted lusts, whereof I take this that you call love to be sect or scion."

I, iii, 322-323)

Here again, Iago may be obliquely speaking of the differences between heterosexual and homosexual sex. He indicates that passion must be strictly controlled since it may be attracted to either one gender of herbs or many. And, even though lust may be ignited in ways that would lead to preposterous conclusions (i.e., homosexual attraction), reason can bring it all under control. He goes on to say that "it is merely a lust of the blood and a permission of the will," (I, iii, 337-338).

While Iago is rigorously in control of his passions, or thinks he is, his need for Othello's affections occasionally creep undetected into his speech. What Iago expects to accomplish for himself in the end is not entirely clear, but at least a part of it seems to be gaining Othello's affections for himself.

We get some inkling of this in Act II, Scene 1, when Iago says "make the moor thank me, love me, and reward me." He also pledges his love to Othello on other occasions. In Act III, Scene 3, when Othello is attempting to put away his jealousy for Desdemona, Iago declares "I am glad of this, for now I shall have reason, To show the love and duty that I bear you."

Although he has consistently professed to hate Othello, Iago's speeches to Othello give the lie to those professions. Ultimately, when he realizes that Othello will never make him an object of affection, when his manipulations are revealed and Othello reviles him, Iago refuses to ever speak again. He understands that it is through speech that his real feelings, his attraction to Othello, has been revealed and, rigorous self-disciplinarian that he is, he vows to end the speech that has betrayed him.

Critics have not viewed Othello as a man scorned in love or an individual conflicted between the herbs in his garden scenario. He has more often been portrayed as a malignant, malicious spirit, creating trouble simply to see how it plays out. In that interpretation, his hatred for Desdemona creates questions. After all, as Bevington says, Desdemona has done Iago no harm and, in fact, is the only really good person in the play. "She is too good to be struck down through some inner flaw," and that is why Iago is determined to see her suffer (Bevington 1123). He perceives of Iago as a devil-like figure and says that Othello regards Iago as a demi-devil, "a hellish villain." Iago, Bevington claims, "belongs to a select group of villains in Shakespeare, who while plausibly motivated in human terms, also take delight in evil for its own sake" (Bevington 1122). Iago, he maintains, is "conscienceless, sinister, and amused at his own cunning."

It is more likely that Iago is a sexually conflicted male who feels a homosexual attraction to Othello, but cannot admit it even to himself. His professed hatred for Othello bears a strong resemblance to frustrated love and sexuality masquerading as hatred. So, on the occasions when Iago professes his love, he is expressing his true self, even if he is completely unaware of it. To be conscious of these desires and feelings, of this tendency and nature or homosexuality would be unthinkable, and therefore it must be repressed.

Because of this, Iago's lust must manifest itself in his disdain for Desdemona, his disregard for Cassio, and his anger toward Othello. But, as Foucault maintains "at the bottom of sex there is truth." And it is at the bottom of Iago's imaginary sex with Cassio that the real truth of his character lies. One can easily discern his passion for Othello throughout the body of work, most evident as indicated by his passionate anger and outrage toward Othello.

One interesting note to consider about the time that Shakespeare's work was written that leads credence to the idea that homosexuality and bisexuality were deeply entwined in his works. Some have referred to the Renaissance time… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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