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Iago the Meritocrat: Conflicting Interpretations of Individualism in the Early Modern Period
Unformatted Document Text:  as it began the process that would evolve and produce the institutions, behavior, attitudes, and values of today. The key to appreciating this interpretation of Iago lies in his initial dialogue with Roderigo, whom he has manipulated, and intends to continue manipulating (using Roderigo’s unrequited attraction for Desdemona, who has, clandestinely, just married Othello), into betraying Othello to Desdemona’s father. His first explanation of his hatred of Othello (which opens the play) is his most specific and best-articulated, one. It arguably resonates, more understandably, with a modern (even, perhaps, a very early modern) audience, even though it appears to result in a result that far exceeds the perceived injury against which it is directed. RODERIGO Thou told’st me thou didst hold him in thy hate. IAGO Despise me, if I do not. Three great ones of the city, In personal suit to make me his lieutenant, Off-capp'd to him: and, by the faith of man, I know my price, I am worth no worse a place: But he; as loving his own pride and purposes, Evades them, with a bombast circumstance Horribly stuff’d with epithets of war; And, in conclusion, Nonsuits my mediators; for, ‘Certes,’ says he, ‘I have already chose my officer.’ And what was he? Forsooth, a great arithmetician, One Michael Cassio, a Florentine, A fellow almost damn'd in a fair wife; That never set a squadron in the field, 7

Authors: McHugh, James.
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as it began the process that would evolve and produce the institutions, behavior, attitudes,
and values of today.
The key to appreciating this interpretation of Iago lies in his initial dialogue with
Roderigo, whom he has manipulated, and intends to continue manipulating (using
Roderigo’s unrequited attraction for Desdemona, who has, clandestinely, just married
Othello), into betraying Othello to Desdemona’s father. His first explanation of his
hatred of Othello (which opens the play) is his most specific and best-articulated, one. It
arguably resonates, more understandably, with a modern (even, perhaps, a very early
modern) audience, even though it appears to result in a result that far exceeds the
perceived injury against which it is directed.
RODERIGO
Thou told’st me thou didst hold him in thy hate.
IAGO
Despise me, if I do not. Three great ones of the city,
In personal suit to make me his lieutenant,
Off-capp'd to him: and, by the faith of man,
I know my price, I am worth no worse a place:
But he; as loving his own pride and purposes,
Evades them, with a bombast circumstance
Horribly stuff’d with epithets of war;
And, in conclusion,
Nonsuits my mediators; for, ‘Certes,’ says he,
‘I have already chose my officer.’
And what was he?
Forsooth, a great arithmetician,
One Michael Cassio, a Florentine,
A fellow almost damn'd in a fair wife;
That never set a squadron in the field,
7


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