Green-Eyed Monster

An Interview with Harold Bloom

Harold Bloom and John Currin on Othello and Iago

Desdemona, 2019. By John Currin.

Octavian Report: You have chosen to write about Iago and not Othello. Why?

Harold Bloom: It is Othello’s tragedy, but Iago’s play.

OR: What do you think motivates Iago? Is he a disgruntled employee? A jealous husband, as he hints?

Bloom: He is motivated by the ontological catastrophe of having been passed over for promotion by Othello, whom he had worshiped as the god of war, his only religion.

OR: Do you think Shakespeare has any sympathy for Iago? That he admires his intellect?  (You point out that he is basically functioning as a playwright.)

Bloom: It is not a question of sympathy. Like Macbeth, Iago burns with a furious energy. As William Blake said, “Energy is eternal delight.”

OR: Do you believe Othello is meant to be a sympathetic figure, given that he seems not to learn from his own mistakes?

Bloom: He is very sympathetic. He should never have married. As the pure warrior, he has no peer.

OR: You point out that Iago is ripe for great performances while you’ve never seen a good Othello. Why do you think this is the case?

Bloom: Perhaps Shakespeare’s Richard Burbage did the part well. But we have lost our esteem for great warriors.

OR: Othello is almost always played as a black sub-Saharan African. Is this a correct reading — or is he meant to be an Arab North African?

Bloom: He is probably an African black of royal lineage.

OR: Is Othello a play about racism? Do you think Shakespeare felt Desdemona’s mistake was in marrying the Moor to begin with?

Bloom: It is not at all about racism, and Desdemona showed very bad judgment indeed. But remember, she is just a child.

OR: Why does the slow pace, almost somnambulistic, of the play’s action (up until the very end) work so effectively?

Bloom: Because it is a slow dance of death.

OR: Is the play sympathetic toward women? The scene where Othello slaps Desdemona reads as particularly powerful in today’s atmosphere.

Bloom: All of Shakespeare is sympathetic toward women. He regards men as incomplete women. Is that not the truth?

OR: You note that Shakespeare expanded the role of Emilia. In what ways? Why do you think he did so?

Bloom: In revision, he made her more vital. Only she could bring Iago down.

OR: Why should we read Othello?

Bloom: Because it is heartbreaking, and a true tragedy, and a purifying ordeal for us.