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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, now living in "Portlandia"!

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Darcy’s ungentlemanlike triumph at his Iago-esque matchbreaking interference

I had barely hit the “Send” button on my previous post about Darcy and Iago as both being 28 year old deceivers, when I realized that there was a whole nother aspect of Darcy’s Iago-esque scheming in P&P that I had failed to recall, one which would be right up Iago’s alley. Of course, I refer to Darcy’s interference in the Bingley-Jane courtship, interference which was not rectified for months, until Darcy decided to undo his interference, by giving Bingley his blessing to renew his attentions to Jane.  It took me five minutes more to identify the keyword which JA used to tag Darcy’s interference back to its literary allusive source—‘triumph’, which, as you’ll see, is uttered twice in Act 4, Scene 1 of Othello!

In that scene, we watch in horrified fascination as Iago carries to fruition his nefarious plot to destroy Desdemona’s reputation in Othello’s eyes, by staging a performance for an audience of one (Othello), starring Iago, with the key supporting role of the unwitting Cassio. As Iago helpfully explains to the audience, he smears Desdemona’s chastity by speaking with Cassio about Bianca, while telling Othello  he’s speaking with Cassio about Desdemona.  This is almost exactly the same trick Borachio and Don John use to accomplish the same goal vis a vis Hero in Much Ado.

With that brief intro, here’s the scene. Keep an eye out for the ALL CAPS verbiage which JA picks up on in P&P, as I will show immediately thereafter:

IAGO  Work on, My medicine, work! Thus credulous fools are caught; AND MANY WORTHY AND CHASTE DAMES EVEN THUS, ALL GUILTLESS, MEET REPROACH. What, ho! my lord!
My lord, I say! Othello!
CASSIO  What's the matter?
IAGO  My lord is fall'n into an epilepsy: This is his second fit; he had one yesterday.
CASSIO  Rub him about the temples.
OTHELLO  Dost thou mock me?
IAGO  I mock you! no, by heaven. Would you would bear your fortune like a man!
OTHELLO   A horned man's a monster and a beast.
IAGO  There's many a beast then in a populous city, And many a civil monster.
OTHELLO  Did he confess it?
IAGO  Good sir, be a man; Think every bearded fellow that's but yoked May draw with you: there's millions now alive That nightly lie in those unproper beds Which they dare swear peculiar: your case is better. O, 'tis the spite of hell, the fiend's arch-mock, To lip a wanton in a secure couch, And to suppose her chaste! No, let me know; And knowing what I am, I know what she shall be.
OTHELLO  O, thou art wise; 'tis certain.
OTHELLO Dost thou hear, Iago? I will be found most cunning in my patience; But--dost thou hear?--most bloody.
IAGO  That's not amiss;  But yet keep time in all. Will you withdraw?
OTHELLO retires
Now will I question Cassio of Bianca, A housewife that by selling her desires Buys herself bread and clothes: it is a creature That dotes on Cassio; as 'tis the strumpet's plague To beguile many and be beguiled by one: He, when he hears of her, cannot refrain From the excess of laughter. Here he comes:
Re-enter CASSIO
As he shall smile, Othello shall go mad; And his unbookish jealousy must construe Poor Cassio's smiles, gestures and light behavior, Quite in the wrong. How do you now, lieutenant?
CASSIO  The worser that you give me the addition Whose want even kills me.
IAGO   Ply Desdemona well, and you are sure on't.
Speaking lower  Now, if this suit lay in Bianco's power, How quickly should you speed!
CASSIO    Alas, poor caitiff!
OTHELLO  Look, how he laughs already!
IAGO  I never knew woman love man so.
CASSIO  Alas, poor rogue! I think, i' faith, she loves me.
OTHELLO  Now he denies it faintly, and laughs it out.
IAGO   Do you hear, Cassio?
OTHELLO  Now he importunes him To tell it o'er: go to; well said, well said.
IAGO  She gives it out that you shall marry hey: Do you intend it?
CASSIO   Ha, ha, ha!
CASSIO  I marry her! what? a customer! Prithee, bear some charity to my wit: do not think it so unwholesome. Ha, ha, ha!
OTHELLO   So, so, so, so: they laugh that win.
IAGO  'Faith, the cry goes that you shall marry her.
CASSIO   Prithee, say true.
IAGO   I am a very villain else.
OTHELLO   Have you scored me? Well.
CASSIO  This is the monkey's own giving out: she is persuaded I will marry her, out of her own love and
flattery, not out of my promise.
OTHELLO   Iago beckons me; now he begins the story.
CASSIO  She was here even now; she haunts me in every place. I was the other day talking on the sea-bank with certain Venetians; and thither comes the bauble, and, by this hand, she falls me thus about my neck--
OTHELLO  Crying 'O dear Cassio!' as it were: his gesture  imports it.
CASSIO  So hangs, and lolls, and weeps upon me; so hales, and pulls me: ha, ha, ha!
OTHELLO  Now he tells how she plucked him to my chamber. O, I see that nose of yours, but not that dog I shall throw it to.
CASSIO  Well, I must leave her company.
IAGO  Before me! look, where she comes.
CASSIO  ‘Tis such another fitchew! marry a perfumed one.
BIANCA  Let the devil and his dam haunt you! What did you mean by that same handkerchief you gave me even now? I was a fine fool to take it. I must take out the work?--A likely piece of work, that you should find it in your chamber, and not know who left it there! This is some minx's token, and I must take out the work? There; give it your hobby-horse: wheresoever you had it, I'll take out no work on't.
CASSIO  How now, my sweet Bianca! how now! how now!
OTHELLO   By heaven, that should be my handkerchief!
BIANCA  An you'll come to supper to-night, you may; an you will not, come when you are next prepared for.  Exit
IAGO   After her, after her.
CASSIO  'Faith, I must; she'll rail in the street else.
IAGO  Will you sup there?
CASSIO  'Faith, I intend so.
IAGO  Well, I may chance to see you; for I would very fain speak with you.
CASSIO  Prithee, come; will you?
IAGO  Go to; say no more.

And now here’s the passage in Pride & Prejudice which I say JA tags to Othello via “triumph”, when Colonel Fitzwilliam makes Elizabeth ill (although not epileptic!) with his casual report of Darcy’s unwarranted interference:

“…some ladies of my acquaintance, Mrs. Hurst and Miss Bingley. I think I have heard you say that you know them."
"I know them a little. Their brother is a pleasant gentlemanlike man—he is a great friend of Darcy's."
"Oh! yes," said Elizabeth drily; "Mr. Darcy is uncommonly kind to Mr. Bingley, and takes a prodigious deal of care of him."
"Care of him! Yes, I really believe Darcy does take care of him in those points where he most wants care. From something that he told me in our journey hither, I have reason to think Bingley very much indebted to him. But I ought to beg his pardon, for I have no right to suppose that Bingley was the person meant. It was all conjecture."
"What is it you mean?"
"It is a circumstance which Darcy could not wish to be generally known, because if it were to get round to the lady's family, it would be an unpleasant thing."
"You may depend upon my not mentioning it."
"And remember that I have not much reason for supposing it to be Bingley. What he told me was merely this: that he congratulated himself on having lately saved a friend from the inconveniences of a most imprudent marriage, but without mentioning names or any other particulars, and I only suspected it to be Bingley from believing him the kind of young man to get into a scrape of that sort, and from knowing them to have been together the whole of last summer."
"Did Mr. Darcy give you reasons for this interference?"
"I understood that there were some very strong objections against the lady."
"He did not talk to me of his own arts," said Fitzwilliam, smiling. "He only told me what I have now told you."
Elizabeth made no answer, and walked on, her heart swelling with indignation. After watching her a little, Fitzwilliam asked her why she was so thoughtful.
"I am thinking of what you have been telling me," said she. "Your cousin's conduct does not suit my feelings. Why was he to be the judge?"
"You are rather disposed to call his interference officious?"
"I do not see what right Mr. Darcy had to decide on the propriety of his friend's inclination, or why, upon his own judgement alone, he was to determine and direct in what manner his friend was to be happy. But," she continued, recollecting herself, "as we know none of the particulars, it is not fair to condemn him. It is not to be supposed that there was much affection in the case."
"That is not an unnatural surmise," said Fitzwilliam, "but it is a lessening of the honour of my cousin's triumph very sadly."
This was spoken jestingly; but it appeared to her so just a picture of Mr. Darcy, that she would not trust herself with an answer…That he had been concerned in the measures taken to separate Bingley and Jane she had never doubted; but she had always attributed to Miss Bingley the principal design and arrangement of them. If his own vanity, however, did not mislead him, he was the cause, his pride and caprice were the cause, of all that Jane had suffered, and still continued to suffer. He had ruined for a while every hope of happiness for the most affectionate, generous heart in the world; and no one could say how lasting an evil he might have inflicted….”

In posts over the past few years, I’ve opined that Darcy does not merely mean to suggest to Bingley that the Bennets lack sufficient status and money for Jane to be a good match—I read Colonel Fitzwilliam’s pointed reference to “very strong objections against the lady” as much stronger than that- I believe Darcy was referring to Jane’s having engaged in sexual relations with another man (or men)—i.e., that Jane was (as Don John tells Claudio in Much Ado, and Iago hints to Othello) a common stale, or even a whore.

And so JA uses Colonel Fitzwilliam’s snide comment about Darcy’s “triumph” in separating Bingley from Jane as a tag for that above-quoted scene in which Iago uses Cassio as an unwitting talking puppet in order to raise that very same innuendo about Desdemona vis a vis Cassio.  The only difference is that the triumph is situated at a different corner of the romantic triangle. I.e., in Othello, the “triumph” is what Iago’s performance leads Othello to mistakenly imagine Cassio is feeling about supposedly cuckolding Othello with Desdemona, and then supposedly laughingly discarding her as if she were trash. Whereas, in P&P, the “triumph” is the very real feeling that Darcy boasts of to Fitzwilliam, after Darcy has emulated Iago and successfully blackened Jane’s character to Bingley. Either way, the echo is unmistakable. Plus, reading how Elizabeth’s heart swells with indignation upon hearing the Colonel’s report reminds us of Othello’s reaction to Iago’s tale of the handkerchief:  Yield up, O love, thy crown and HEARTED throne To tyrannous hate! SWELL, bosom, with thy fraught, For 'tis of aspics' tongues!

I conclude by connecting the dots from the above to a post of mine last year, in which I suggested that the “triumph” mentioned by the Colonel was meant to ping an echo of “The Triumph of the Whale” , Charles Lamb’s savagely satirical poem about the Prince Regent, which Colleen Sheehan in 2007 established as a primary source for the “Prince of Whales” answer to the “courtship” charade in Chapter 9 of Emma.

I still believe that’s a valid interpretation, but now I see that my earlier catch fits remarkably well with the idea of Darcy as Iago creating the illusion of Cassio’s cuckolding “triumph” in Othello’s mind. How so? Because we know from JA’s candid statement in her 1812 letter to trusted friend Martha Lloyd that she hated the Prince for treating his wife Princess Caroline so abominably—and the most salient recent portion of that mistreatment was the Prince’s hypocritical public smearing of his wife as an adulterous wife—hypocitical because it was his own rejection of his wife over a period of many years, combined with his notorious history of whoring, gambling, gluttony, and perhaps a few other deadly sins on the list, that, as JA noted, he had driven his wife into scandalous actions:   “….but if I must give up the Princess, I am resolved at least always to think that she would have been respectable, if the Prince had behaved only tolerably by her at first."

In “if the Prince had behaved only tolerably by her at first”, I now hear the source of the verbal dart Eliza hurls at Darcy (“had you behaved in a more gentlemanlike manner”). And since I claim that Darcy’s final repentance….
"…The recollection of what I then said, of my conduct, my manners, my expressions during the whole of it, is now, and has been many months, inexpressibly painful to me. Your reproof, so well applied, I shall never forget: 'had you behaved in a more gentlemanlike manner.' Those were your words. You know not, you can scarcely conceive, how they have tortured me;—though it was some time, I confess, before I was reasonable enough to allow their justice."  
…is Iago-esque in its insincerity, it’s another master stroke of JA to place such faux-repentance right before his insincere “eight-and-twenty” speech.  

Oh—I almost forgot to explain why Darcy reverses his interference and allows Bingley and Jane to marry—it’s because Darcy has bigger fish to fry than his animus toward Jane; which is to trick Elizabeth into marrying him—not because he loves her, but because, as I’ve also written before, Elizabeth, when she turns 21, and as the unwitting legitimate daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Darcy unjustly banished at birth, will be the true heiress of Pemberley, and therefore Darcy had to marry her to preserve his own ownership----what a prince!

So there you have it, Iago, Mr. Darcy, and the Prince Regent---an unholy triad of “triumphant” deceivers!

For a brief summary of Darcy as Iago, read this post as well:
Cheers, ARNIE

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