Paul Cefalu argues that cognitive analysis needs to be supplemented by a psychoanalytic approach in order to furnish a more fully “critical hermeneutic for understanding Iago’s intractable self-deceptions.” His conclusion about the limitations of a cognitive approach might be pushed even further. The basic idea of Theory of Mind, that our species possesses the capacity (and existential need) to infer intention, has been generally understood for centuries; why then do we require cognitive analysis to make the point, even in the form only of an “opening critical gambit”? In his main argument, Cefalu teases out the meaning of Iago’s actions in terms of an underlying masochism bordering on the death drive. The claims here seem to me breathtakingly compelling on their own terms, but the terms themselves deserve some critical scrutiny. Cefalu’s concentration on Iago overwhelms all other objects of interest in the play. In this respect, he goes with the flow of both critical and theatrical practice, which has for so long been Iago-centric that we may not realize that it was not ever thus. What are we getting out of a production of the play, the main effect of which is to burden its audience with a guilt that cannot be expiated?


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pp. 295-300
Launched on MUSE
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