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The Ulcer Type

In response to:

Iago's Defense from the January 25, 1973 issue

To the Editors:

May I respond briefly to the dialogue on my characterization of Iago in The Masks of Othello [NYR, January 25]? I was grateful to Mr. Harris for defending it and to Professor Knights for finding things to agree with in it.

But to be fair to all, I did not say that Iago had an ulcer. I noted that Iago’s design reflected characteristics that medical research has often found to accompany an “ulcer type”—the loner with the “contempt for self” and the “internalized rage” that Professor Knights cited from my book. Then I observed Iago’s own diagnosis of his intestinal condition when he repressed his rage—in this case, because of his jealous suspicion of Othello:

the thought whereof

Doth like a poisonous mineral gnaw my inards.

This is a metaphorical description of the stomach miseries that may accompany the repression of hostility. The important thing for the actor or critic seeking to experience the part is that Shakespeare stipulated behind Iago’s public smile a fierce physical torment linked to the psychic torment, and this must be felt in Iago’s private scheming on how to “plume up his will.”

I am glad to hear from Mr. Harris that the interpretation has been useful in production. Criticism must have meaning for the play in the theater—as Professor Knights’s criticism so richly has—if it is to serve the poet-playwright best.

Marvin Rosenberg

University of California

Berkeley, California

PS: Professor Knights was right. I cited Coleridge’s familiar idea of motiveless malignity, but took his name for granted. Another time I would identify him.

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