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Thoughts on “Othello” by William Shakespeare: Iago as the Serpent

It was a while since I last read this play. If I’m going to be honest (a theme that is prevalent in Othello), I never found this play to be as great as the other tragedies with which it is ranked. I always found it difficult to empathize with Othello as a tragic character. He forms his opinions and takes action based upon hearsay and circumstantial evidence (at best). But that said, of all the times I have read this play and seen it performed, I got the most out of this reading.

I took a lot of notes while reading, and considered some of the obvious things to write about: interracial marriage, black and white as they relate to good and evil, truth and honesty, envy and jealousy. But I decided I would focus on something different, specifically, the connection between Iago and the serpent in the Garden of Eden myth.

Near the end of the play, Othello sees Desdemona as the symbol of Eve, who he believes to be the downfall of man.

It is the cause, it is the cause, my soul.
Let me not name it to you, you chaste stars.
It is the cause. Yet I’ll not shed her blood,
Nor scar that whiter skin of hers than snow,
And smooth as monumental alabaster.
Yet she must die, else she’ll betray more men.

(Act V, scene ii)

What Othello fails to realize is that lies and deception are the root cause of the proverbial fall of man from grace, and lies and deception are embodied in Iago. It is later in the scene, after Desdemona’s death, that Iago’s wife Emily exposes Iago’s lies.

You told a lie, an odious, damnèd lie!
Upon my soul, a lie, a wicked lie!

(Act V, scene ii)

Toward the conclusion of the play, the final connection between Iago and the serpent in Eden is solidified.

LODOVICO

Where is that viper? Bring the villain forth.

OTHELLO

I look down towards his feet; but that’s a fable.—
If that thou be’st a devil, I cannot kill thee.

(Act V, scene ii)

Othello is looking down to see Iago’s feet, since in the biblical story, God punishes the serpent by removing its legs and making it slither on the ground.

And the Lord God said unto the serpent, Because thou hast done this, thou art cursed above all cattle, and above every beast of the field; upon thy belly shalt thou go, and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life.

(Genesis 3:14)

While this is still not in my list of top Shakespeare plays, I have gained a new level of appreciation for it. If anyone knows of a good film version, let me know. The performances I have seen have been weak. Possibly watching a solid production would sway my opinion on this play.

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The Power of Words in “The Book Thief” by Markus Zusak

It’s been a while since I published a blog post. I’ve been quite busy with work and travel (went to Spain, which was “fantastico”). Anyway, amid the craziness and busy-ness, I managed to read The Book Thief. My daughter had loaned it to me, saying that she loved the book and felt I would love it too, which I certainly did. I had seen the film, but as usual, the book was WAY better than the movie.

The first thing that struck me about this book was the narrative voice, which is the voice of Death. Omniscient narrators are nothing new, but Death as a character certainly provides a unique vantage point from which to tell a tale, particularly one set in Nazi Germany during WWII. The narrator exudes a strange sense of detachment and sadness, which if you are the Grim Reaper is probably how you would need to be. You would need to detach yourself enough to reap souls, but it would be cruel to do so without some feeling of sadness at the many lives cut short.

While this story is so rich and offers much to explore, I’d like to focus on the power of words as presented in the text.

As a writer, I am keenly aware of the power that words have. They are symbols that evoke images, sway opinions, enlighten, and mislead. When people say that the pen is mightier than the sword, what is actually meant is that words are the most powerful weapons anyone can wield.

Yes, the Fuhrer decided that he would rule the world with words. “I will never fire a gun,” he devised. “I will not have to.” Still, he was not rash. Let’s allow him at least that much. He was not a stupid man at all. His first plan of attack was to plant the words in as many areas of his homeland as possible.

He planted them day and night.

He watched them grow, until eventually, great forests of words had risen throughout Germany. . . It was a nation of farmed thoughts.

(p. 445)

The protagonist, Liesel (the book thief), loves books. But at the height of her despair, she has an epiphany where she fully grasps the power of words as tools to spread evil.

She tore a page from the book and ripped it in half.

Then a chapter.

Soon, there was nothing but scraps of words littered between her legs and all around her. The words. Why did they have to exist? Without them, there wouldn’t be any of this. Without words, the Fuhrer was nothing. There would be no limping prisoners, no need for consolation or wordly tricks to make us feel better.

What good were the words?

She said it audibly now, to the orange-lit room. “What good are the words?”

(p. 521)

Words, like swords, are double-edged. They can cause immeasurable suffering, but can also heal the deepest wounds. This is why when I see people throwing words around on 24-news stations or on social media, I cannot help but feel concerned. If people would only pause and consider before reacting with words, we would avoid a lot of pain and conflict.

We all need to choose our words more carefully. I, for one, will try to be vigilant regarding how I use these powerful tools, and hopefully I can use them to advance society and humanity.

Thanks for taking the time to read my “words.” Cheers!

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“Tao Teh Ching: Chapter 3” by Lao Tzu

TaoTehChing

By not exalting the talented you will cause the people to cease from rivalry and contention.
By not prizing goods hard to get, you will cause the people to cease from robbing and stealing.
By not displaying what is desirable, you will cause the people’s hearts to remain undisturbed.

Therefore, the Sage’s way of governing begins by

Emptying the heart of desires,
Filling the belly with food,
Weakening the ambitions,
Toughening the bones.

In this way he will cause the people to remain without knowledge and without desire, and prevent the knowing ones from any ado.

Practice Non-Ado, and everything will be in order.

As I read this, I thought about just how different the paradigm or our western consumer society is from the way of governing depicted here. Our society feeds on the stirring of people’s desires. We feed our society with a constant stream of imagery about how their life should be, about the status they should attain, where they should live, what they should eat, the right clothes to wear. On and on it goes, like a carrot dangling in front of a horse, always within sight but never within reach.

It is a sad truth that a society built upon constant craving and wants cannot sustain itself. We will eventually deplete all our resources and collapse upon ourselves.

Will we be able to stop filling our hearts with desire and instead practice contentment with what we have? Will we start to feed the hungry within our society instead of hoarding for ourselves? Will we start educating people to think about the common good instead of personal and individual ambition? And will we finally find a way to strengthen our society from the inside, to toughen the bones that frame our civilization?

These are difficult if not impossible questions to answer. But by at least thinking about them and discussing them, we take the first step toward a more spiritual and sustainable culture.

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“Tao Teh Ching: Chapter 2” by Lao Tzu

TaoTehChing

When all the world recognizes beauty as beauty, this in itself is ugliness.
When all the world recognizes good as good, this in itself is evil.

Indeed, the hidden and the manifest give birth to each other.
Difficult and easy complement each other.
Long and short exhibit each other.
High and low set measure to each other.
Voice and sound harmonize each other.
Back and front follow each other.

Therefore, the Sage manages his affairs without ado,
And spreads his teaching without talking.
He denies nothing to the teeming things.
He rears them, but lays no claim to them.
He does his work, but sets no store by it.
He accomplishes his task, but does not dwell upon it.

And yet it is just because he does not dwell on it
That nobody can ever take it away from him.

(translation: John C. H. Wu)

I see two concepts expressed in this passage. The first half deals with the necessity of opposites in order to maintain a balance in the world. So in the first two lines, the key word is “all.” There is nothing inherently wrong about recognizing beauty or good in the world, the problem occurs when “all the world” sees beauty as beauty and good as good. This creates an imbalance. If all the world only saw and acknowledged the good, that would essentially eradicate all that is not good from the world. But the interesting twist here is that when all recognize the good and seek to not focus on the not-good, it ends up creating an evil, and thereby still maintains the balance. It’s somewhat ironic, similar to the old cliché that the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

The second half of the passage shifts to the contemplative state of the Sage. Here the spiritual seeker is instructed to foster a sense of detachment and to use the concept of the opposite to attain that which the seeker desires. Basically, to be a true seeker, you must stop seeking. As long as you actively search for something, you will not be able to find it. It’s like when you misplace your keys. You search the house, try to retrace your steps, but still you cannot find them. When you finally give up and sit down, the location of the keys becomes clear. This is the same as the wisdom that the Sage hopes to attain. That wisdom will only manifest at the stillest moment, when the searcher stops actively pursuing that which cannot be grasped, but can only be bestowed.

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Witchblade #185 – Series Finale

Witchblade_Issue185

It is with mixed emotions that I read the series finale of Witchblade. I have loved this series and it was one that I have followed for a while, through all its creative ups and downs. There is a spinoff, Switch, that is out, but I am disinclined to start following that. The way I feel it that all stories must end if they are to come around again in a new incarnation of the myth.

The issue is comprised of two chapters, each composed by different creative teams. They are different, but it shows how some stories transcend artistic differences. One of the chapters also includes some original artwork from early in the series, done by Michael Turner, which was a nice touch.

Rather than get too sappy, I figured I would just include some quotes from this issue, which I feel are appropriate. Thanks to all the people who worked on this inspiring graphic novel. It has definitely had an impact on me.

But you need to decide if this is over. Things end, Sara. Best-case scenario is when you get to make that choice.


 

At times, it’s hard for me to accept what I’ve seen and experienced as real. There’s a world of supernatural wonders and horrors we aren’t meant to see… and most should be grateful for their ignorance.


 

Some things are meant to be beyond human understanding. I was raised Catholic. I still believe in God although my experience with angels and demons is that they don’t quite line up with what’s written in the Bible. Concepts of good and evil are more fluid than I wanted to believe.

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“The Human Abstract” by William Blake

HumanAbstract

 Pity would be no more,
If we did not make somebody Poor:
And Mercy no more could be,
If all were as happy as we;

And mutual fear brings peace;
Till the selfish loves increase.
Then Cruelty knits a snare,
And spreads his baits with care.

He sits down with holy fears,
And waters the ground with tears:
Then Humility takes its root
Underneath his foot.

Soon spreads the dismal shade
Of Mystery over his head;
And the Catterpillar and Fly,
Feed on the Mystery.

And it bears the fruit of Deceit,
Ruddy and sweet to eat;
And the Raven his nest has made
In its thickest shade.

The Gods of the earth and sea
Sought thro’ Nature to find this Tree
But their search was all in vain:
There grows one in the Human Brain

This is definitely one of the more mystical poems in the Songs of Experience. In Blake’s illustration for this poem, we see Urizen, the supreme god in Blake’s mythological pantheon, struggling to free himself from the bonds that hold him to the earth. I see this as symbolic for the personal struggle that we all face, trying to free ourselves from worldly trappings so we can elevate our consciousness and actualize the divine spirit within us all.

In the first two stanzas, Blake asserts that nothing can exist without its opposite. There can be no good without evil. There must always be a balance in order for things to exist in this universe.

In the third stanza, we see Urizen shedding tears which become the seeds from which grows the Tree of Mystery. Urizen, being the creator of all existence, understands that everything must have its opposite and mourns the lot of humanity, which will eternally grapple with fear, cruelty, and hatred. From Urizen’s tears the roots of the Tree of Mystery grow. The Tree of Mystery is Blake’s equivalent to the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. The tree bears fruits which are both good and evil, and as we see in the fifth stanza, the fruits of evil are certainly the most tempting.

In the fourth and fifth stanzas, Blake mentions three creatures: catterpillar, fly, and raven. These are symbols for the church and its priests, who feed on the leaves of the Tree of Mystery, who nest and hide within its branches, but have no understanding of the roots, or the hidden aspects. Blake is asserting that following church dogma will ultimately prevent you from discovering the secret to the divinity within you and the mystery of all creation.

I personally find the final stanza in the poem to be the most fascinating. Just like the biblical Tree of Knowledge, Blake’s Tree of Mystery is also hidden. “The Gods of the earth and sea” which he mentions I interpret to be humans, who have dominion over the earth. We have a tendency to seek outside ourselves for the truth, believing that the answers to the ultimate mystery must exist somewhere else. But this is not the case. The Tree of Mystery grows and is hidden within the human subconscious. It is the one place where too many of us fail to look, and hence the search for truth is often in vain.

This poem is a great introduction to Blake’s more complex metaphysical poetry. I encourage you to read it a few times and contemplate it. I’ll definitely be covering Blake’s deeper metaphysical poems once I complete all of the Songs of Experience.

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