Why Leadings?

Not to lead, but to be led            -- by the Holy Spirit.

See Leader, Servant, or Slave? in the section below, "Walking the Walk".

Jack in Denali National Park, 2012.

God's Wrath

Why was Sodom destroyed? Ezekiel tells us in chapter 16, verse 49: "This was the sin of your sister, Sodom: Pride, full-ness of bread, and abundance of idleness. Neither did she strengthen the hand of the poor and needy."

That's also why Jerusalem was destroyed.

And now, with greed as our national virtue, what hope is there for the United States of America? We are afflicted by imperialistic pride, obesity, and entertainment addiction, and we are all called to do our part to "strengthen the hand of the poor and needy".

"Strengthen the hand" is the King James wording. Modern translations say "help the poor and needy." And there's a world of difference between the two. Helping the poor = as little as throwing some cash in the Salvation Army bucket at Christmas time. That's charity. It's doing for, not doing with.

My Grandmother was right about charity. On a below-zero day, she went out on the back porch with a skillet to throw hot grease on the back-yard snow. She shivered as she re-entered the kitchen and said, "Wooooh, colder than charity."

Strengthening the hand is much different. We get personally involved with another person who needs help, and we work with her or him to get the needed help. That's risky. You're vulnerable. It takes prayer, time and patience. You need knowledge and wisdom from the LORD. There are great rewards, however. You get a brother or sister.

Strengthening the hand is great work for our churches -- which we ignore far more often than we perform. Why? Because we're afflicted with the Ameri-can curse of individualism. Christians are to be a tribe -- a tribe that takes care of each other. In Galatians 6:16, Paul calls us "the Israel of God" -- the new 13th tribe.

Jesus said, "The poor you shall always have with you." He didn't mean that as a curse -- the notion that the poor are an inevi-table nuisance and expense, to be hidden in the slums. Rather, He was saying, "You shall always be among the poor."

When you strengthen hands, you fulfill Deuteronomy 15:4-5: "However, there need be no poor people among you, for in the land the LORD your God is giving you to possess as your inheritance, he will richly bless you, if only you fully obey the LORD your God . . ." It's a glorious responsibility and promise.

And how do prosperous Americans fulfill that promise? Generally, by making sure they have no contact with people who are poor -- and we have been that way from our beginnings in the 17th century. Early villages in Massachusetts solved the problem by out-lawing poor people. Today, we deal with the same problem by confining the poor in urban reservations, our slums.

As the Supreme Court Bailiff says at the beginning of each session, "God save the United States of America..." 



While scanning a theater book that belonged to my wife, Margaret, I ran across a short essay that that awed me more than any other theater writing.  It was Konstantin Stanislavski's biographical sketch of Iago, the villain of Shakespeare's Othello.

I once heard a college professor talk about Iago's "unmotivated malice."  Well, that wouldn't satisfy Stanislavsky who knew you can only inhabit a role when you thoroughly understand the character's motivation.  Konstantin Stanislavski was co-founder and director of the Moscow Art Theater from 1897 to 1938.  He was a major source of the natural acting style which we now see in U.S. stage, screen and television.

So, here's the essay, found on page 52 of Stanislavski & the Actor by Jean Benedetti, Routledge/Theater Arts Books, New York, 1998.  The essay begins with Benedetti's introduction:

"Often a play, or a scene, opens at a high emotional level with no preparation.  This is particularly true of Shakespeare.  Only a full knowledge of the Before-time enables actors to get into the scene with genuine feeling, not just pulling 'emotion' out of the air.

"In 1930, Stanislavski worked on his production plan for Othello. The play opens with Iago and Rodrigo. Iago enters in a state of high emotion.

"Iago is the key to the plot.  It is he who sets the tragedy in motion.  But why?  Shakespeare only tells us that he resents being passed over as Othello's second-in-command for Michael Cassio.  Then there is the bald statement in Act I, scene iii, 'I hate the Moor,' and his suspicion that Othello has slept with his wife, Emilia. 'And it is thought abroad that 'twixt my sheets, He has done my office.'

"That's all [Shakespeare tells us].

"Stanislavski realized that the only solution to the problem was to create a detailed Before-time for the actor so that he could launch [naturally] into the play.  Having described the way in which Iago met and began to use the gullible Rodrigo, Stanislavski provided the actor with Iago's biographical sketch."


Stanislavski's Creation of Iago's Past

Iago rose from the ranks.  On the outside he is hail-fellow-well-met, open, loyal. He is a brave soldier. He has been at Othello's side in all his battles and once saved his life.  He is intelligent, wily. He understands perfectly Othello's tactics in war, which Othello developed thanks to his military skill and his intuition. Othello regularly consults Iago before and during battle, and Iago has often given him intelligent and useful advice.

Iago is two men:  the one others see, the other, the man he really is; one friendly, simple, generous-hearted; the other, evil and repulsive.  The mask he has assumed hides him to such an extent that everyone (and to a certain degree, his wife) takes him for the simplest, most guileless of men.  If Desdemona had had a child, Othello would have had this great, rough but kind-hearted man to care for it instead of a nurse. The child would also probably have had this wolf in sheep's clothing as his tutor. This is how Othello sees Iago – although Othello has seen his audacity and his cruelty in war. He knows that in battle men become beasts, himself included. However, this does not prevent Othello from being gentle, feeling, almost shy.

Moreover, Othello appreciates Iago's intelligence and willingness highly.  Iago has often given him good advice in battle.  In the camp, Iago has been not only Othello's adviser, but his friend.  Othello confided his disappointments, his doubt, his hopes to him.  Iago always slept in Othello's tent.  On sleepless nights, the great general would open up his heart.  Iago was his valet, his maid and, when necessary, his doctor. No one knew better than Iago how to dress a wound, and, when necessary, give encouragement, or strike up a filthy but funny song or tell a good story.

Goodfellow Iago

People excused Iago because he was such a good fellow.  Many times Iago's songs and cynical stories were a blessing.  For example, when the men were tired and fractious, along would come Iago with his songs and cynical stories and the mood changed.  At other times, when something was needed to satisfy the embittered soldiers, Iago did not hesitate to devise a form of torture or savage execution for a prisoner to delight the angry men.  Of course, Othello knew nothing of this. The noble Moor did not allow torture. When necessary, Othello would strike off someone's head with a single blow.

Iago is honest.  He doesn't steal money or goods.  He is too intelligent to run any risks.  But if he can deceive a fool (and there are many of them, apart from Rodrigo) Iago doesn't miss the opportunity.  He takes anything from them:  money, gifts, invitations, women, horses, pups, etc.  This additional money enables him to lead a riotous life.  Emilia knows nothing of this – although, perhaps, she guesses. 

Iago's closeness to Othello, the fact that he has risen from the ranks, that he sleeps in Othello's tent, that he is Othello's right arm, etc., naturally arouses jealousy in the other officers and affection in the ranks. But everyone is afraid of Iago and respects him, for he is real, an ideal soldier, a man of war who has very often got them out of trouble or averted a catastrophe.  Military life suits him.

Iago out of Place

But Iago is out of place in Venice with its brilliance, its formality, the grand receptions which dignitaries offer and which Othello has to attend.  Besides which, the general is not a man of culture and learning. He needs someone at his side who can make up for what he lacks, an aide who can be entrusted with a commission to the Doge or the senators.  He needs someone who can write a letter or explain to him a military theory which he does not understand.

Would Iago be able to do that?

Of course, Cassio, who is educated, is much more suitable.  Cassio is Florentine, and at that time the Florentines were like the Parisians of today, the epitome of elegance and sophistication.  How could Iago take a message to Brabantio or arrange a secret rendezvous with Desdemona?  Only Cassio can undertake such errands.  Small wonder then, that Othello has made him his lieutenant or, so to speak, his aide-de-camp.

Moreover, the Moor never once thought of Iago as a possible candidate. Why should Iago need such a post? He is already an intimate, one of the family, a friend. Let him stay that way. Why put an uneducated, uncouth man in a ridiculous situation which would make him a figure of fun? This is what Othello thought.

Iago Thinks Otherwise

But Iago thought otherwise. After all his service, his courage and bravery, saving the general's life more than once, his friendship, his devotion, only he, and no one else, could be the general's aide-de-camp. He would not have minded so much if someone of eminence, or someone among his comrades-in-arms, has been appointed, but to take the first pretty young officer who came along and who knew nothing of war! To choose this baby because he can read and knows how to talk to the ladies and bow and scrape to the great of the world – Iago cannot understand the general's logic.

Cassio's appointment is, therefore, a blow to Iago, an outrage, a humiliation, an insult he cannot forgive. Even worse is the fact that he was never even considered.  But the final blow is that Othello hid his most intimate, deepest concerns from Iago – his love for Desdemona and the abduction – but confided all to the boy Cassio. 

Small wonder then that, since Cassio's appointment as Othello's aide-de-camp, Iago has been drowning his sorrows.  It was perhaps during one of these drinking bouts that he met and became friends with Rodrigo. Their favorite topics in his nocturnal conversations with his new friend were, on the one hand, Rodrigo's dream that Iago will arrange to carry off Desdemona [for him] and, on the other, Iago's complaints about the way the general had behaved. To fuel the flames of their rancor, they go back over everything, Iago's merits and Othello's ingratitude. The ingratitude had not been apparent earlier, but now seemed quite criminal. 

Remembering the Stories

They also remember stories about Emilia that were current in the army.  There had been stories because Iago was Othello's close friend.  To cheer themselves up, the troops had decided all sorts of reasons for Iago's close friendship with the general.  One of the reasons given was that something had been going on – and was still going on – between Othello and Emilia. Naturally, they made sure that Iago heard of it.  But Iago did not pay it much attention. Why? First, because he never bothered much about Emilia and he also deceived her. Second, because he had no special feeling for her.

Iago liked her plump figure. She was a good housewife. She could sing and play the lute. She was cheerful. She might have a little money coming from her good merchant family. And she was well brought up for the period. 

If there had been something going on between Othello and Emilia (and Iago then knew that there was nothing), Iago would not have been very upset.  But now, having been cruelly insulted, Iago remembered the stories about Emilia.  Iago would like, he even needs there to be something between her and the general. That would justify his hate, his desire for vengeance. Now Iago wants to justify these rumors – because they are in fact lies.

A Woman's Touch

Emilia gets on well with Othello.  He is famous, kind, lonely, with no one to look after him, his quarters lack a woman's touch, and so this good housewife comes in and tidies the bachelor general's house. Iago knows that.  He has met her in Othello's rooms and never paid any attention to it, but now he blames her for it. In a word, Iago deludes himself into believing something that never happened.  This gives him the pretext to rage, to accuse and condemn a guiltless Othello, and to stir up his malice and bile.

It was in these circumstances that Iago learned of something amazing, unexpected, incomprehensible – the abduction of Desdemona.  He could not believe his eyes when he went into the general's quarters and saw this painted beauty practically embracing the Moor, who for him now has become a black devil.  The blow was so great that Iago's brain almost seizes up. When he learns how he, a close friend, had been kept in the dark by the lovers, under Cassio's guidance, and when he hears happy voices laughing at him, he runs away to hide the rage that boils up inside him.

The abduction of Desdemona has not only hurt him but has also put him in a totally ridiculous position with Rodrigo.  While fleecing him, Iago continuously promised to obtain this beauty [for Rodrigo], by kidnapping her if need be, if Brabantio did not give his agreement. Now even the simpleton Rodrigo has understood that Iago has duped him. Is Iago really close to the general?  Rodrigo no longer believes in their friendship. In a word, their relationship is ended. Rodrigo is angry, like a stupid, obstinate child. For the moment, he forgets that Iago saved him from a beating by drunkards.

Don't Give Up

When Iago learns what has happened he decides not to give up. He believes that all is not lost and that if a scandal were created throughout the city, then Othello would be in a bad position and that, perhaps, the marriage might be dissolved by higher authority. He is right, of course.  This is probably what would have happened were it not for the war. The government needs Othello too much for them to annul his marriage at such a critical moment.

Until war breaks out, Iago is right to try to annul the marriage.

There is no time to be lost. When action is required, Iago acts with diabolical energy. He covers all possibilities. He goes back to the newly married couple, congratulates them, laughs with them, calls himself a fool. He manages to persuade Desdemona that only jealousy for his beloved general made him behave so stupidly when he learned of the marriage. 

Then he hurries to see Rodrigo. When Rodrigo learned what had happened, the poor fool first wept like a child, then swore at his friend and decided their friendship was over. Iago has great difficulty in explaining his plan: to create a scandal, stir up the whole city, and obtain a divorce or an annulment. We meet the two friends at the moment when Iago has practically forced Rodrigo into a gondola and taken him to Brabantio's house. They have arrived. The gondolier steps on to dry land, attaches the boat and waits.

They must begin, but Rodrigo is still obstinate and hardly says a word to Iago.

Rodrigo is very, very angry with Iago. Iago is very, very perplexed and tries to repair the damage. Why? First, because Rodrigo is his purse, and second, bcause Iago needs him today to rouse the whole city. There is no time to be lost, otherwise the wedding night will have passed, and the situation will be irreparable.

-- End of the Essay --


Comment:  That's Stanislavski's prequel to Othello. Now Iago has lots of motivation to destroy his boss. The actor's feelings can now be real.

Are you an actor?  With each of your characters, go thou and do likewise.


If you're a fan of the Bard, don't miss Stage Beauty, the play or the movie.  When Othello strangles Desdemona, it's too real.


Purpose of this blog is to compile a book for my grandchildren to read in 25 years.

Copyright © 2012 by Jack Towe


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