Saturday, 8 September 2012

Roderigo: The Forgotten Tragedy

I've had a bit of a tough patch recently - as in, I made some spectacular bums-ups, and they made people I care about angry at me, and I felt awful because it wasn't me that was suffering for my own idiocy. Being the over-emotional critter that I am, I've not been feeling too great, so I decided to turn to a surefire solution to cheer me up.

Catharsis, and Shakespeare. Othello to be exact.

Of all Shakespeare's plays, I think Othello is my favourite - not in the least because I have a sick fascination with watching the inner weaknesses of the characters destroy them. The inexorable unfolding of the tragedy, the cunning deceits, the horrifying misunderstandings, the heart-wrenching suffering . . . I love it all. The fact that I have a massive crush on Iago rather helps too.

But this time around, my emotional state brought a facet of the play to my attention that I'd never much noticed before - which is surprising, given how many times I've read and performed in the play.

Roderigo. And why, in a way, his is the saddest story of all.

A moneyed man, and presumably somehow involved with Othello's army, Roderigo is an outsider among the other characters. We never see him interact with many of them beyond testimonies in court scenes, and when he's being made to explain something. From this, coupled with the fact that he's a complete dimwit, we can guess that he's probably not very popular. We don't know where he comes from, or anything about his personal background or history, so, from the outset, he's just there for schadenfreude - for us to laugh at his misfortunes.

But, thinking about it, I don't see what's all that funny. Roderigo is in an unfamiliar place, with people who regard him with indifference at best (and scorn at worst), with no clear job or plan. And worst of all, the woman he loves has just run off with someone he can never hope to compare to; the brave, dashing, eloquent, general Othello. And she adores him. 

The fact of this hurts Roderigo so much that he talks about drowning himself for his misery. Even though he's roaring drunk and overemotional when he says it, it doesn't change the fact that he has contemplated suicide because of how miserable he feels.

Fear not, however, there is one bright speck in the darkness! Roderigo is not alone. He has a friend, a bright, ambitious, sympathetic friend who, if a little caustic, is firmly on Roderigo's side. Sure, he borrows a lot of money and seems to be a little slow in getting it back to him, but he's always there to talk him down and tell him that everything is going to be okay in the end. And, best of all in this world of double-entendres and hidden snarky remarks, Roderigo's friend is simply, beautifully, honest.

Roderigo doesn't know where he would be without Iago.

It's this that tears me apart. Although watching Roderigo pine after Desdemona is rather sad, it's the fact that he is willing to trust his money, his future, and his heart to Iago that really compounds how sad his life is. Everyone likes Iago well enough, certainly, but he is Roderigo's only friend in the entire world. And even when Iago's plan starts getting funny, and Roderigo contemplates pulling out and going home, he lets Iago talk him back into it. 

Why? Because he cares about Iago, and he believes Iago feels the same. Why else would he goad a drunken Lieutenant Cassio into a fight? Why else would he make slanderous allegations against Othello? Why else would he sit with Iago all night and listen to him vent his anger at being overlooked for the lieutenancy? 

Why else would he let Iago string him along, like the pawn he is?

None of Iago's lies, for me, show his sheer coldheartedness as those he tells Roderigo. Although he concentrates most of his venom on Othello, you can't help but think that this strong, independent general should know better - there are hundreds of people he could turn to! His loving wife, his loyal lieutenant, his allies at home . . . anyone! 

Roderigo doesn't have those alternatives. Even if he does feel some apprehension over what Iago's planning, he doesn't let it show because he doesn't want to lose him. Because Iago is all he has. 

Roderigo's end is agonising. Stabbed in a duel, bleeding to death on the street, in agony, while everyone fusses around Cassio and accuses him of attempted murder. But wait, there's Iago with a lantern! He'll know what to do, this was his idea after all. Wait? What is he saying? Roderigo attacked Cassio out of spite? No, no, that's not true, he never did that! Why is Iago saying this? This wasn't part of the plan, was it? . . . What's he doing with that knife?

And it is only as the  all-too-literal dagger plunges into his back that Roderigo realises the truth.

Iago never cared. Iago only used him as a pawn in his twisted game, and now he has no further use for him. Iago betrayed him. Iago lied.

"O thou damned Iago. O thou damned dog."

~ Charley R


  1. Erm, Charley? I think you missed the part where you reconcile everything and pull together two seemingly incompatible truths into one giant philosophy. 'Cause ending a post with curse words won't cut it in most cases.

    I definitely need to read Othello.

    1. Heh, sorry - I'm not one for pull-it-all-together moments. I like to think my readers can keep up with me. I hate being condescending. Thanks for the tip in future though. Though I must say that quote is entirely authentic and is not just me being rude, honest!

      Then again, this was mostly just a feelings-fuelled post to help my catharsis. Perhaps I ought not to post these up, hehe.

      You should - it's an incredible play. Or watch a performance of it, if you can. Failing a live one, there might be access to one on YouTube. Plays were meant to be watched, if you ask me.

  2. No problem. It was just a joke. I don't much like philosophic tie-ins either.

    Indeed. I'll do what I can.

    1. Oh, okay . . . sorry. I find it very hard to detect jokes over internet text *facepalm, or rather macepalm as Charley had forgotten she was holding her mace before she bashed her face into it*

      I wish you every success. Dammit, I wish I could have filmed that one school production I was in all those years ago. That would have been awesome . . . though I think it was the backstage antics that really made me love that particular show, even if I was delightfully dastardly on stage :P

    2. Macepalm indeed...

      Backstage antics are the best part of any show. They should be recorded.

    3. Indeed. Such a pity we didn't even get pictures - it was so hilarious xD

    4. But you did post soem of those antic on protagonize *hopes she's got the right play* :}

      And I need to read Othello again or watch it. I clearly got too hung up on the guy in my class reading Othello's lines to pay attention to the rest of the story. (Hey, he had an amazing reading voice, can't remember what he looked liked though, possibly slightly geeky - this was in a Shakespere class after all.)

    5. Oh yes, that's the one. Pure madness through and through.

      Watching it is probably better - Othello talks an awful lot, and it's a bit of a slog sometimes. BEsides, it's a play. They's for watchin' xP

  3. I haven't watched or read Othello. All I know of it is the uber condensed version: "She's cheating on you. Sorry." :/ But I keep meaning to. When I've finished highlighting every sentence of Hamlet in orange pen, then I will try and track it down.