This series on Shakespeare’s villains is being done in partnership with Finding Shakespeare – curating digital stories relating to Shakespeare’s life, work and times. Finding Shakespeare is the blog produced by the Collections Team here at The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust– you can find out more about Iachimo on Thursday 7th July when they post their blog.
This weeks blog has been written by Louis Ashworth a young man who is doing his work experience with the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust this week.
Iachimo is a little-known and unusual villain amongst Shakespeare’s repertoire. Betting that he could woo “any lady in the world”, he certainly possesses a confidence typical of Shakespeare’s more comical characters, willing to wager half of his estate upon his courting abilities. He creates a bet with Posthumus, placing a hefty stake on the challenge that he could take Imogen, Posthumus’ wife to bed after only two conversations.
When initially rejected by Imogen, Iachimo resorts to trickery in order to win the bet; hiding inside a chest to enter Posthumus’ wife’s bedchamber. In the night Iachimo inspects her, and finds a distinctive mole, which he uses as evidence to convince Posthumus that he has won the bet, causing a rift to grow between Posthumus and his wife..
The villainy of this act is difficult to assess; it seems as though, in pursuit of victory in the bet, Iachimo is happy to see the relationship of Posthumus and Imogen fail. Though the opportunity is there he makes no attempt upon Imogen’s virtue, instead choosing to take an inventory of the room for the purposes of fooling Posthumus. He takes out a notepad and claims he “will write it all down”- this shows a further comic edge to the character.
There is a notable duality to Iachimo as; when he enters Imogen’s bedchamber, the audience can be unsure how to react. Though his entrance and actions are comic, the ever-present threat of rape means that it is an uncomfortable comedy, with a certain gripping tension.
Though his actions certainly show dishonesty and overconfidence, Iachimo seems to be a man more driven by petty pride than by malicious intent; his aim seems only to be to expose the flaw of Posthumus’ confidence by taking the purity of the lady who “stands so safe”- he sees an opportunity to win an easy bet and acquire Posthumus’ diamond ring, which “outlustres many [he has] beheld”. He wishes only to dispel Posthumus’ “prizable estimations”, not to take advantage of them. In this way Iachimo remains a likeable and certainly believable “villain”. The bet is a contest between two overconfident men, and the pride at stake is at least at the same value as the ducats and ring to the two participants.
Regardless of his intentions and the consequences of his actions, Iachimo is clearly a man motivated to some extent by wealth and pride. But which matters more? Here are some answers people gave when asked if they would lose their best friend for a large some of money: certainly the majority of people would not have acted in a similar way to Iachimo. Or so they claim…
If you want to know how Iachimo looked on stage check out this slide show on flickr