Othello and Fantasy


Iago uses sundry tactics to make Othello believe that Desdemona is unfaithful. Such a tactic is described in Robert Greene’s The 48 Laws of Power. Law 32 is to play to people’s fantasies; Iago does this with a brilliance all his own, and in act 3 scene 3 Iago puts his skills to work. When Othello asks for an example of how Desdemona is unfaithful, he contrives a quite convoluted response. I urge you to read it over as a cautionary tale to the notion that not everything that sounds true is true.

I lay with Cassio lately

And being troubled with a raging tooth

I 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 plucked up kisses by the roots

That grew upon my lips, lay his leg o’er my thigh,

And sigh, and kiss, and then cry ‘Cursed fated

That gave thee to the Moor!’

The notable thing about this speech is that it is all made up. Nothing described in this speech is actually true; it is completely fabricated, and yet it is so elaborated & specific. He takes an innocent Cassio and paints him as a backstabbing monster. What makes this speech effective though is that it leaves room for Othello’s imagination to run rampant. We can imagine Othello thinking up images in his mind of Cassio and Desdemona plucking up kisses by the roots; an image that is certainly torturous to the moor. Othello can certainly see Cassio and Desdemona exchanging sensual words & poses vividly and graphically in {his}mind’s eye. Iago describes this encounter with consummate rhetorical prowess in order to fuel the jealousy of his master Othello, but by keeping his accusatorial narrative vivid yet vague he leaves room for his master’s boundless fantastical imagination.
A wise man {Alexander Chase} once said:

The most imaginative people are the most credulous, for them everything is possible.

I’m afraid Iago knew this all too well.

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