Cassio and Iago in 2.1
Further Thoughts on Love, Gender and Sexuality
While waiting for Othello to arrive and disembark in Cyprus, Cassio and Iago each express their thoughts about love and women. The only conversational intersection between the two occurs after Cassio has given Emilia, Iago's wife, a kiss and seeks to explain this rather forward action to Iago (2.1.100). That brief connection illustrates the divergent approaches to love and sexuality of these two military men.
Emilia gets off the boat along with Iago, Desdemona, Roderigo and other Attendants. Cassio greets Iago and then addresses Emilia:
"Welcome, mistress./ Let it not gall your patience, good Iago,/ that I extend my manner; 'tis my breeding/ That gives me this bold show of courtesy [Kissing her] (2.1.96-99)."
Most renditions have Cassio kissing her on the lips, and sometimes the stage direction is placed before the explanation to Iago and sometimes, as in the Riverside Shakespeare, afterwards. In any case, for Cassio it is just a sign of his breeding that he can kiss beautiful women in greeting. One is supposed to conclude that this forward action reflects a noble chivalric upbringing which assumes and affirms the worldview of courtly love and an elevated regard for women. Women are quasi-divine beings, whose purity is affirmed by the doting attention of well-bred men. And, Emilia seems to be completely swept off her feet by this grand gesture. Desdemona observes her and says, "Alas! she has no speech (2.1.102)," suggesting that the suddenness (and rarity) of this action has unnerved Emilia.
Iago quickly dispels any notion that there is nobility in his wife, or in women in general.
"Sir, would she give you so much of her lips/ As of her tongue she oft bestows on me,/ You would have enough (2.1.100-102)."
If Cassio's words served to "blow up" the balloon, Iago quickly lets the air out. It is as if Iago is saying, 'Well, my wife gives me a constant tongue-lashing, which is more than enough for me to endure. I am sure you will find her lips similarly attractive.' Thus, the two different approaches to women and love. For the one, the lips are the sweet door to the semi-divine female; for the other, they are the club that bludgeons the husband.
Developing the Idea--Cassio First
Cassio's approach to Emilia is reflected also in his earlier words about Desdemona and Othello (2.1.61-87). We have already seen, in the essay on Vivid Lines, that Cassio equates Desdemona with the heavenly bodies because she wears the "essential vesture of creation (2.1.64)." Then, as her boat safely lands, Cassio opines that nature restrained its deadly rocks and sands from assaulting her boat because of its sense of beauty, thereby "letting go safely" "the divine Desdemona (2.1.72-73)." It is reminiscent of the words in Merchant of Venice where Orpheus, by the power of music, "drew trees, stones and flood (MV 5.1.80)." When nature perceives the presence of the divine, either in music or in beauty, it either meekly follows along or it blunts its "mortal" (i.e., deadly) tendencies. Thus, in language as thick as the ocean perils avoided, Cassio says,
"The gutter'd rocks and congregated sands/ Traitors ensteep'd to enclog the guiltless keel,/ As having sense of beauty, do omit/ Their mortal natures,/ letting go safely by/ The divine Desdemona (2.1.69-73)."
Not only did the divine clothe her with the essential garment of creation but also the creation restrains itself from hurting her. It is reminiscent of the Psalmist's lines about nature abating her fury when the people of Israel were brought out of the land of Egypt:
"When Isreal went forth from Egypt, the house of Jacob from a people of strange language,/..../The sea looked and fled, Jordan turned back./ The mountains skipped like rams, the hills like lambs (Ps. 114:1-4)."
Indeed, how far removed is this from the thought of GF Handel, himself dependent on Deutero-Isaiah, when he had the rich baritone sing, "Every valley shall be exalted and every mountain and hill made low, the crooked straight and the rough places plain"? When the divine is near, nature restrains herself in humility or explodes with giddy delight.
Copyright © 2004-2007 William R. Long