Growing up moderately wealthy in Venice, Iago has always been something of a disappointment to his father. Fifth son and a clever mischief maker, Iago ropes his friend Roderigo into misdeeds while using his clever words to escape blame. His life changes dramatically when he goes to join the Artillery and develops a well-deserved name and reputation for himself, even as his father continues to use him to achieve political success. Iago’s forthrightness and history gain him an unexpected position with the new General, Othello, and the love of his beautiful wife, Emilia. But Iago’s jealousy is a banked ember just waiting to burst into flame, with deadly consequences for all who hold him dear.
I read Othello back in high school, and I thought I’d forgotten most of it, but a book focused purely on Iago and just how he got to the point where he became obsessed with twisting the truth and destroying people’s lives was something that immediately appealed to me. I knew he was a great villain, and having read Galland’s previous books, I knew I was in for a treat. This book fulfilled all of my expectations, providing a fascinating view into the psyche of a man who is compelled to lie, to twist the truth, to plant insinuations, all because he is jealous and insecure in himself.
I can’t remember whether anything was specifically mentioned in regard to Iago’s past in Othello, but Galland imagines his insecurities traced back to his childhood, where his father simply refuses to believe in him and forces him to do the family’s bidding even at the potential expense of Iago’s career. Moving forward, he has difficulty believing in himself and seeks sole appreciation; his jealousy leaps out whenever his wife talks to another man, and the constant hints that his wife is actually Othello’s mistress lay the groundwork for all that is to come. The characters are the star of this show, particularly Iago as he spends plenty of time inside his own head. We can see when he is jealous and when he restrains himself, which happens increasingly over the course of the novel.
For me it was fairly clear when Galland was required to take on Shakespeare’s mantle and tell his story through her eyes; everything speeds up and becomes dramatic, and events begin to happen outside of Iago’s own head, most of them in the space of a single day. His own insinuations begin to spark Othello’s own insecurities and the denouement of the play comes to a rapid conclusion, resulting in a very speedy and tense read for the end of the novel. I knew what was going to happen, vaguely, but I can imagine the events being as surprising for a first time reader as they would be for someone who had seen the play. It is a Shakespearean tragedy, and I found myself dreading the ending as the characters became ever more familiar to me and Iago’s deception became clearer and more defined.
With well-defined characters and believable motivations for one of Shakespeare’s greatest villains, I, Iago is a fantastic read.
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