Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Why Did Shakespeare Create Roderigo?

When in doubt, give the baddies
curly moustaches
He's a pretty minor character. But does he serve a purpose beyond being Iago's foolish sidekick?

The character of Roderigo, in Shakespeare’s Othello, is one of those rare things: a creation entirely of Shakespeare’s imagination.

Most of Shakespeare’s plays are retellings of established tales and, therefore, many of his characters (although often altered to suit the playwright’s purposes), have their foundations in fully formed fictional creations or historical fact.

Roderigo, however, has no precursor in Shakespeare’s source for OthelloCinthio’s Un Capitino Moro

So, why did Shakespeare create this lovesick fool and what purpose does Roderigo serve in the play?


Roderigo as Iago’s Sidekick


We're introduced to Roderigo in the very first scene of the play. Underneath Brabantio’s balcony, he and
Robert Coote as Roderigo, in Orson
Welles' Othello (1952)
Iago collude in a plot to ruin Othello by exposing his marriage to Desdemona. 

During this first scene, we also learn that Roderigo has given Iago vast sums of money, “That thou, Iago, who hast had my purse / As if the strings were thine…”(I.i), which he believes is being used to help him woo Desdemona. In reality, of course, Iago is using Roderigo’s money for his own gains.

Subsequently, from the very beginning of the play, there are three things about Rodergio that are clear: he is naïve (to say the least); wealthy; and besotted with Desdemona. 

These traits will be exploited mercilessly by Iago.

When the plan to ruin Othello with reports of his elopement fail, Roderigo joins the journey to Cyprus. There, he comes in handy for Iago, who persuades him to bate Cassio into a public brawl. Ultimately, Iago draws his buffoonish right-hand man into a murder plot, which, unfortunately for Roderigo, goes awry. 

When Iago discovers the wounded Roderigo, he kills him - and, although we may feel some sympathy for him, I would venture to say that it's only a little.


Roderigo as a Comic Character


In modern interpretations of Othello, Roderigo is sometimes played as a foppish, idiot; akin to Andrew
Michael Maloney as Roderigo, in
Oliver Parker's Othello (1995)
Aguecheck in Twelfth Night. Certainly, this interpretation is supported by some of Roderigo’s dialogue, “I will incontinently drown myself.”(I.iii), in which he could sound like an angst-ridden, overly dramatic teenager.

Although it may seem peculiar to include such a clownish figure in a tragic play, it is worth bearing in mind that Shakespeare almost always includes comic moments in his tragedies. 

For example, the gravediggers in Hamlet, the Porter in Macbeth and the Fool in King Lear. Of course, this mixture of genres is not unusual today either.

By making Roderigo a comic figure, Shakespeare has encouraged his audience to feel no (or very little) empathy with the character when he is killed. And, that's probably just as well. After all, Roderigo’s death is in no way as tragic as Othello’s and Desdemona’s, partly because he participated in the plot.

However, in many ways, he is just as much a victim of Iago as the other characters of the play. However, because he is an overemotional fool, who stoops to underhanded methods in an effort to bed Desdemona, his death seems far from tragic.

The Significance of Roderigo


In my opinion, the principal purpose of Roderigo is added entertainment value rather than serving the plot.
Should we feel sympathy for Roderigo's
 fate; is he likeable enough?
After all, Cinthio managed just fine without him, and I can imagine an Othello without Roderigo in it - the play would not be lost without him.

So, I suppose it could be argued that Shakespeare added the character for no other reason than comic relief. 

As mentioned above, comedy is certainly something Roderigo adds and it would be difficult for any of the other characters to provide it without affecting the way an audience views him or her.

However, Roderigo does have a practical purpose from a dramatic standpoint. He serves to, at least in part, resolve the plot. In fact, to some extent, he absolves himself in death, as it is the letters found on his body that prove Iago’s guilt. 

That said, the rather rushed nature of the closing moments of Othello might suggest that this was all just an afterthought and certainly not the reason for the creation of Roderigo.

***

How do you feel about Roderigo? Do you think he does more than provide a few comedy moments? Should I feel more sorry for him than I do? Let me know in the comments below.

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