Iago and the Analysts

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Iago on the Couch

The Institute of Psychoanalysis talks Shakespeare. To be exact, it talks Shakespeare on a new DVD called Iago on the Couch.

Around the candle-lit setting of Freud’s dining table decked with eclectically styled glass decanters, wine, cheeses and fruits, sit three psychoanalysts and two thespians ready to engage with the mind of Shakespeare’s troublesome Iago.

The 60 minute film announces itself as the first of a series about ‘Shakespeare’s characters on the couch’. Certainly, there are discussions about the malignity of Iago, his ever-elusive motivation, and the often twisted manifestations of his envy of the Moor.

Representing the psychoanalysts are David Bell, the President Elect of the Institute of Psychoanalysis; Donald Campbell, the former President; and Ignês Sodré, Visiting Professorial Fellow at Birkbeck. Also part of, and very much prime contributors to, the discussion are eminent director Terry Hands, and the much-loved actor Simon Russell Beale who is, incidentally, now an Honorary Fellow of the Institute of Psychoanalysis.

I genuinely enjoyed listening to this conversation. There was something unaffected in the tone of the discussion, and no attempt to rationalise Iago with categorical psychological terminology. Coming from a literary background, I found Terry Hands’ approach to the character especially revelatory, and I was particularly intrigued by the introduction of the language of God and hell to the conversation.

There is no time wasted here. Chair Donald Campbell opens the meeting with a simple question: could the tragedy in this play have been avoided? Not a direct question about Iago, but certainly one that asks all involved to consider his position within this tragic universe. And this is where the conversation begins: we are taken through theories of Iago’s sexual jealousy and the play as a revelation of his own journey of self-discovery, through to the Freudian rhetoric of bi-sexuality and sexual ownership.

Perhaps the title ‘on the couch’ is a little misleading, for this suggests that we are about to plumb the depths of Iago’s psyche and come to revelatory discoveries about his psychology, culminating in a wonderfully collaborative diagnosis of the patient. Of course, there was no palpable conclusion to the discussion, nor was there a sense that the character had been rationalised psychologically, if indeed such a thing is even possible. I rather got the impression, and I don’t suggest that this is a bad thing, that the people round the table were teasing the character out and playing with their own theories of, mainly, his motivation in deceiving Othello.

I think the openness of this kind of filmed conversation is refreshing, and I have no doubt that to A-level students and undergraduates surrounded by textbooks and sheets of notepaper, such an accessible, focused verbal analysis of a character will come as a welcome gust of insightful air. I look forward to seeing more of these DVDs by the Institute of Psychoanalysis.

 

For more information or to purchase the DVD follow this link: Iago on the Couch

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Author:Anjna Chouhan

Anjna is Lecturer in Shakespeare Studies at the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust.

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