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George Washington University

Iago's Alter Ego: Race as Projection in Othello

Author(s): Janet Adelman
Source: Shakespeare Quarterly, Vol. 48, No. 2 (Summer, 1997), pp. 125-144
Published by: Folger Shakespeare Library in association with George Washington University
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Jago'sAlterEgo: Race as Projectionin Othello






tragediesbeginwithancillaryfigurescommentingon thecharacterwho
willturnout to be at the centerof the tragedy-one thinksof Lear,Macbeth,
and Cleopatra-but no otherplaysubjectsitsostensiblytragichero to
so long and intensivea debunkingbeforehe even setsfootonstage.And the
audience is inevitablycomplicitin thisdebunking:beforewe meet Othello,
we are utterlydependent on lago's and Roderigo's descriptionsof him. For
the firstlong minutesof the play,we knowonlythatthe Moor, "the thicklips"
(1.1.66),' has done somethingthat Roderigo (like the audience) feels he
should have been told about beforehand;we findout whatit is for the first
time only throughlago's violentlyeroticizingand racializingreportto Brabantio: "Even now,verynow,an old black ram / Is tuppingyourwhiteewe"
(11. 88-89).2

At thispoint in myteachingof the play,I normallypoint to all the waysin

which Othello belies lago's descriptionas soon as he appears; in the classroom myreadingof race in Othello
turnson thiscontrastas Shakespeare'sway
of denaturalizingthe tropes of race, so that we are made to understand
Othello not as the "natural" embodimentof lago's "old black ram" gone
insanelyjealous but as the victimof the racistideologyeverywhere
Venice, an ideologyto which he is relentlessly
subjected and whichincreasinglycomes to definehim as he internalizesit-internalizes it so fullythat,
I Quotations followthe Arden edition of
edited by M. R. Ridley (London: Methuen,
1958). Ridleyfollowsthe 1622 quarto,whichoftendiffers
I have noted the
fromthe Folio Othello;
differenceswhere theyseem significantto my argument.Citationsof plays other than Othello
The Complete
ed. AlfredHarbage (Baltimore:Penguin, 1969).
2 Race is of course a vexed term;manyhave pointed out thatthe word racegained its current
meaning onlyas it was biologized in supportof the economic institutionof slaveryand thatthe
linkbetweenrace and skincolor is a peculiarlycontemporaryobsession,that(forexample) Irish
and Jews might in 1604 have been thoughtof as raciallyseparate from the English. For a
particularlylucid account of the questions surroundingthe invocationof race as a category
in earlymodern England, see Lynda E. Boose, " 'The Gettingof a LawfulRace': Racial discourse in earlymodern England and the unrepresentableblack woman" in Women,"Race,"and
in theEarlyModernPeriod,Margo Hendricksand PatriciaParker,eds. (London and New
York:Routledge,1994), 35-54, esp. 35-40; see alsoJohn Gillies,Shakespeare
and thegeography
(Cambridge:CambridgeUP, 1994), forthe claim thatearlymodernothernesswasbased
on geographyrather than on the anachronisticcategoryof race (25). Nonetheless,in lago's
capacityto make Othello's blacknessthe primarysignifierof his otherness-as Boose observes,
"once his Ensignhas raised the flaginscribingOthello withinthe difference
of skincolor,all the
presumablymeaningfuldifferencesOthello has constructedbetween himselfand the infidel
collapse" (38) -the textinsistson thevisibledifferenceof skincolor thatwillincreasingly
to define race, perhaps because, unlike religion,it (proverbially)cannot be changed. For a
discussion of the significanceof visible differencein early modern England, see Kim Hall,
"Reading What Isn't There: 'Black' Studies in Early Modern England," StanfordHumanities
Review3 (1993): 23-33, esp. 25-27; in her account "science merelytakesup alreadypre-existing
termsof difference,
such as skincolor and features,thathave [previously]been combined with
physicaland mental characteristics"(25).




searchingfora metaphorto conveyhis sense of the soil attachingboth to his

name and to Desdemona's body,Othello can come up withno termof comparison other than his own face ("My name, thatwas as fresh/ As Dian's
visage,is now begrim'd,and black/ As mine own face" [3.3.392-94]).3 Othelassociated
lo's "discovering"thathis blacknessis a stain-a stainspecifically
withhis sexuality-and "discovering"thatstain on Desdemona are virtually
of Dian's visage
simultaneousforhim; hence the metaphorictransformation
into his own begrimedface. IfDesdemona becomes a "black weed" (4.2.69)4
for Othello, her "blackening" is a kind of shorthandfor his sense thathis
blacknesshas in factcontaminatedher; as manyhave argued,his quicknessto
contaminatedis in parta functionof his horrified
believe her always-already
recoil fromhis suspicion thathe is the contaminatingagent.5
In otherwords,in the classroomI usuallyread race in Othello
I take to be the play's representationof Othello's experience of race as it
comes to dominate his sense of himselfas polluted and polluting,undeservBut although
ing of Desdemona and hence quick to believe her unfaithful.
the play locates Othello in a deeply racist society,the sense of pollution
attachingto blacknesscomes firstof all (forthe audience ifnot forOthello)
fromlago; thoughlago needed Brabantioto convince Othello of Desdemona's tendencyto deception and the "disproportion"of Othello as her marriage choice, lago legitimizesand intensifiesBrabantio's racismthroughhis
initialsexualizingand racializinginvocationof Othello.And ifthe playoffers
us a rich representationof the effectsof racism on Othello, it offersus an
equally rich-and in some ways more disturbing-representationof the
functionof Othello's race forIago. I offerthe followingreading of thatrep3 Ridleyfollowsthe Folio readingof line 392, since thisline occurs in a passage not found in
QI; Q2 (1630) famouslyreads "Her name" in place of F's "My name," perhaps to rationalize
Othello's peculiar association of his name withthe fairnessof a figurefor female virginity.
dynamicsthatunderlie Othello's
prefer"My name," partlybecause it suggeststhe identificatory
love for Desdemona; but either reading points toward Othello's association of the stain on
Desdemona's virginbody withthe blacknessof his own face.
I Desdemona becomes a "blackweed" onlyin the quartos; F omitsthe adjective.
5 This positionwas powerfully-and variously-articulatedin threeclassicessayspublishedin
1979-80: EdwardA. Snow's "Sexual Anxietyand the Male Order of Things in Othello,"English
Renaissance10 (1980): 384-412; StanleyCavell's "Othello and the Stake of the Other"
(Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1987), 125-42
in DisowningKnowledge
in Six Plays ofShakespeare
(originallypublished in 1979 in TheClaimofReason[Oxford:OxfordUP]); and Stephen GreenFromMore to Shakespeare
blatt's "The Improvisationof Power" in RenaissanceSelf-Fashioning:
(Chicago and London: U of Chicago P, 1980), 222-54, esp. 232-52. For the association of
Othello's blacknessspecificallywithsexual contamination,and Othello's internalizationof this
association,see especiallySnow, 400-402; and Cavell, 136-37. For a fullerreading of the association between blackness and monstroussexualityin early modern English culture and in
and the monsee especiallyKaren Newman," 'And wash the Ethiop white': femininity
Jean E. Howard and
The textin history
and ideology,
strousin Othello"in Shakespeare
Marion F. O'Connor, eds. (New Yorkand London: Methuen,1987), 143-62, esp. 148-53; fora
fullerreading of the waysin whichOthello internalizesthe Venetian constructionof his black1500-1900 30 (1990):
ness,see EdwardBerry,"Othello's Alienation,"StudiesinEnglishLiterature
315-33. The "blackening" of Desdemona has become a criticalcommonplace:see, forexample,
and theHideous in Othello,"Shakespeare
Michael Neill, "Unproper Beds: Race, Adultery,
40 (1989): 383-412, esp. 410; Berry, 328; Ania Loomba, Gender,race, Renaissancedrama
(Manchesterand New York:ManchesterUP, 1989), 59; Parker,"Fantasies of 'Race' and 'Gender': Africa,Othelloand bringingto light" in Hendricksand Parker,eds., 84-100, esp. 95; and
especiallyNewman,151-52, forwhom the blackeningof Desdemona indicatesthe convergence
of woman and black in the categoryof monstroussexuality.



resentationas a thought-experiment
withtwo aims: first,to testout the applicabilityof psychoanalytictheory-especially Kleinian theory-to problems of race, an arena in which its applicabilityis often questioned; and,
second, to identifysome of the waysin whichracismis the psychicproperty
(and rightlythe concern) of the racist,not simplyof his victim.
lago erupts out of the night (this play, like Hamlet,begins in palpable
darkness),as thoughhe were a condensationof itsproperties.Markinghimselfas opposite to lightthroughhis demonic "I am not whatI am," lago calls
fortha world,I willargue,in whichhe can see his own darknesslocalized and
reflectedin Othello's blackness,or ratherin what he makes-and teaches
Othello to make-of Othello's blackness.
lago's voice inductsus intothe play:long beforeOthello has a name,much
less a voice,of his own,lago has a distinctive"I." The matterof Othello,and
oftheaudience's urgentcuriosity
about whatexactlyRoderigohas
just learned, are deferreduntilafterwe have heard lago's catalogue of injuries to that "I" ("I know myprice, I am worthno worse a place" [1.1.11];
"And I, of whomhis eyeshad seen the proof,... mustbe lee'd, and calm'd"
[11.28-30]; "And I, God bless the mark,hisworship'sancient" [1.33]). lago's
"I" beats throughthe dialogue withobsessiveinsistence,claimingboth selfsufficiency
("I followbut myself"[1.58]) and self-division,
what it is not ("Were I the Moor, I would not be lago" [1. 57]), in fact
simultaneouslyproclaimingitsexistenceand nonexistence:"I am not whatI
am" (1. 65). I, I, I: lago's name unfoldsfromthe Italian io,Latin ego;and the
injured "I" is his signature,the ground of his being and the ground,I will
argue, of the play. For lago calls up the action of the play as though in
response to thissense of injury:"Call up her father,.. . poison his delight"
(11.67-68), he says,like a stage manager, or like a magician calling forth
spiritsto performhis will;and withhis words,the action begins.
The structureof the firstscene models lago's relationto the worldthathe
calls up, forthe playproperseems to arise out of lago's injured "I": it is not
onlyset in motion by lago's "I" but becomes in effecta projectionof it, as
lago successfully
attemptsto rid himselfof interiorpain by replicatingit in
Othello. Othello-and particularly
in relationto Desdemona-becomes Iago's primarytargetin partbecause Othello has the presence,the fullnessof
being, that lago lacks.6 Othello is everywhereassociated with the kind of
See W. H. Auden's relatedaccount ofJagoas practicaljoker: "The practicaljokerdespiseshis
victims,but at the same time he envies them because theirdesires,howeverchildishand mistaken,are real to them,whereashe has no desiTewhichhe can call his own.... Ifthewordmotive
is givenitsnormalmeaningof a positivepurpose of the selflike sex, money,glory,etc.,thenthe
practicaljoker is withoutmotive.Yet the professionalpracticaljoker is certainlydriven,.. . but
the driveis negative,a fearof lackinga concreteself,of being nobody.In anypracticaljoker to
whom playingsuchjokes is a passion, thereis alwaysan element of malice, a projectionof his
self-hatredonto others,and in the ultimatecase of the absolutepracticaljoker, thisis projected
onto all created things" (The Dyer'sHand and otheressays[New York: Random House, 1962],
256-57). The emptinessof Auden's practicaljoker is sometimesassociatedby later criticswith
lago's facility
in role-playing;see, e.g., ShelleyOrgel,whose lago gains a temporarysense of self
byplayingtheroles thatothersprojectonto him ("lago," American
Imago25 [1968]: 258-73, esp.
272). Greenblatt'slago "has the role-player'sabilityto imaginehis nonexistenceso thathe can
existfora momentin anotherand as another"; but forGreenblatt,lago's imaginedemptinessis
less an ontological state than a cover for his emptyingout of his victim(235 and 236). More
recentlylago's emptinesshas reminded criticsof a Derridean absence of selfor meaning; see,



interiorsolidityand wholeness that stands as a reproach to lago's interior

emptinessand fragmentation:iflago takesJanusas his patronsaint (1.2.33)
and repeatedlyannounces his affiliation
withnothingness("I am not whatI
am"; "I am nothing,ifnot critical" [2.1.119]), Othello is initially"all in all
sufficient"(4.1.261), a "fullsoldier" (2.1.36), whose "solid virtue" (4.1.262)
and "perfectsoul" (1.2.31) allow him to achieve the "full fortune" (1.1.66)
of possessingDesdemona. "Tell me whatyou need to spoil and I willtellyou
whatyou want," saysAdam Phillips:7the extentto which Othello's fullness
and solidityare the object oflago's envycan be gauged bythe extentto which
he worksto replicatehis own self-divisionin Othello. Splithimself,lago is a
masterat splittingothers: his seduction of Othello worksby inscribingin
Othello the sense of dangerous interiorspaces-thoughts that cannot be
known,monstersin themind-which Othello seemsto lack,introducinghim
to the world of self-alienationthatlago inhabits;8by the end, Othello is so
self-dividedthat he can take arms against himself,Christianagainst Turk,
literalizingself-divisionby splittinghimselfgraphicallydown the middle.9
Though lago is not thereto see hisvictory,
we mightimaginehim as invisible
selfcommentator,sayingin effect,"Look, he is not all-in-all sufficient,
sustainingand full;he is as self-dividedas I am."''0
Assoe.g., Bonnie Melchior, "Jago as Deconstructionist,"Publications
ciation16 (1990): 63-81, esp. 79; or Karl F. Zender, "The Humiliationof Jago," SEL 34 (1994):
323-39, esp. 327-28. In Alessandro Serpieri'sbrilliantsemioticreading,Jagosuffersfroman
"envy of being" thatis the deconstructionist's
equivalentof the stateAuden describes:"Jago
and is thus condemned to deconstruct
cannot identifywith any situationor sign or Mnonci,
theminto simulacra.Othello is
throughhis own ononciations
the inoncisof others,transforming
preciselythe lord of the inonci" (Serpieri,"Reading the signs: towardsa semioticsof ShakeShakespeares,
John Drakakis,ed. [London and
spearean drama," trans.Keir Elam, in Alternative
New York:Methuen, 1985], 119-43, esp. 139). In itsemphasison envyand projection,Auden's
and Serpieri'swork is closest to my own; but see also David Pollard's powerfulBaudelairian
reading of lago's emptinessand the sadisticprojectionsthroughwhich he attemptsto fillit
("lago's Wound" in Othello: NewPerspectives,
VirginiaMason Vaughan and KentCartwright,
[Rutherford,Madison, and Teaneck, NJ:FairleighDickinsonUP; London and Toronto: Associated University
Presses,1991], 89-96).
7Adam Phillips, "Foreword" in Harold N. Boris, Envy (Northvale,NJ,and London: Jason
Aronson, 1994), vii-xi, esp. ix.
8 For some, Othello is splitlong beforeJagobegins his work.In Berry'saccount,forexample,
Othello is divided fromthe beginningby the two contradictoryself-imageshe absorbs from
Venice; his failure to escape this limitingframeworkand hence to "achieve a true sense of
personal identity"is a powerfulsource of tragicfeelingin the play (323 and 330). But forcritics
who read Othello as an earlyinstance of a colonized subject,this "failure" is not personal but
systemic:both Loomba (32, 48, and 54) and JyotsnaSingh ("Othello's Identity,Postcolonial
Theory,and ContemporaryAfricanRewriting'of Othello"in Hendricksand Parker,eds., 28799, esp. 288) position Othello specificallyin opposition to what Singh calls "the dominant,
Westernfantasyof a singular,unifiedidentity"(288). But lago at least insiststhat he is the
divided one, and Othello initiallyclaims thathis soul is "perfect" or undivided;whateverthe
stateto whichOthello is reduced, Othello-like TheTempest-seemsto me to encode the fantasy
thatthe exotic otherpossessesa primitiveunitaryidentitybeforehis inductioninto a Westernstylesplitself.
9 I firstread thispaper to a veryhelpfuland responsiveaudience at NotreDame in November
1994, on which occasion Richard Dutton called my attentionto the way in which Othello's
self-divisionis literallyplayed out on the stage.
10 As lago's self-alienationpasses to Othello, so does his habitof soliloquizing.Soliloquies are
usuallyin Shakespearean tragedythe discourseof self-division:only those whose selves are in
enough interiorvoicesto carry
pieces need to explain themselvesto themselvesand have distinctout thejob for our benefit.Initiallylago's soliloquies formallymarkhim as fracturedin comparison withOthello's wholeness;by the end, Othello is the soliloquizer.



To shatterthe illusionof Othello's fullnessand presence is also to shatter

the illusion of his erotic power; his divisionfromhimselfis firstof all his
divisionfromDesdemona and fromthe fairportion of himselfinvestedin
her. If Cassio is any indication,thaterotic power is heavilyidealized by the
Thathe mayblessthisbaywithhistallship,
Makelove'squickpantsin Desdemona'sarms
Giverenew'dfireto ourextincted

But forlago it is intolerable:whatbegins as a means to an end (lago creates

Othello's suspicionsabout Desdemona to discreditCassio in orderto replace
him as lieutenant) increasinglybecomes an end in itself,as lago drivesOthello towarda murderousreenactmentof sexual union on the marriagebed,
even thoughthatreenactmentwillmake Othello incapable of bestowingthe
positionlago initiallyseeks. The thrustof his plot towardthe marriagebed,
even at the cost of his own ambition,suggeststhatwhatlago needs to spoil is
on that bed: the fullnessand presence signifiedby Othello's possession of
Desdemona, the sexual union thatremindshim of his own extinctedspirits.
For lago's own eroticlife takes place onlyin his head; though he seems to
imaginea seriesof eroticobjects-Desdemona (11.286-89), Cassio (3.3.41932), and Othello himself(in the coded language-"the lustfulMoor / Hath
leap'd into myseat" [2.1.290-91]-that makescuckoldryan anal invasionof
lago's own body)-he imaginesthemless as realizable eroticobjects than as
mental countersin his revengeplot, and he imagines them only in sexual
unions (Othello withDesdemona, Othello withEmilia, Cassio withDesdemona, Cassio withEmilia) thateverywhere
exclude and diminishhim.And in
response,he effectively
neutralizestheeroticpotencythatmockshis ownlack.
His primarytool in thisneutralizationis the creationof Othello as "black":
and in factit is Othello as progenitorthatfirstexciteslago's racializingrage.
His firstuse of the language ofblack and whiteis in his call to Brabantio:"An
old black ram / Is tuppingyourwhiteewe." If Cassio needs to make Othello
into an exoticsuper-phallus,capable of restoringItalian potency,lago needs
to make him into a black monster,invadingthe citadel of whiteness.(The
idealizationand the debasementare of course twosides of the same coin, and
theyare equallydamagingto Othello: both use him onlyas the containerfor
whitefantasies,whetherof desireor fear.) Yourwhiteewe/you:
lago's half-pun
invokesthewhitenessofhis auditorsyia theimage of Othello's contaminating
miscegenation;'2true to formin racistdiscourse,"whiteness"emergesas a
" I here departfromRidleyin followingF's versionofline 80; Ridleyand QI (1622) give"And
come to Desdemona's arms." RidleyhimselffindsQI's versionof line 80 "pallid" and
thinksShakespeareprobablyrevisedit forF; thathe nonethelessrejectsthe Folio versionon the
grounds thatit is inconsistentwithCassio's charactersuggestshis resistanceto seeingjust how
eroticizedCassio's idealizing of Othello is (xxix-xxx and 52n). In the contextof lovemaking,
spiritsis not a neutral term;for its specificallysexual senses, see Stephen Booth, Shakespeare's
Sonnets(New Haven, CT, and London: Yale UP, 1977), 441-43.
12 See Neill's powerfulaccount of the ways in which the audience is
implicatedin lago's
invocationof the horrorsof miscegenation,the impropersexual mixturethatmedievaltheologians called adultery(395-99 and 407-9). For ArthurL. LittleJr.the whole of the play constitutes "the primal scene of racism," a forbiddensexual sight/sitefromwhich the audience



categoryonlywhen it is imagined as threatenedby its opposite. lago's language here worksthroughseparation,worksby placing "blackness" outside
of "whiteness"even as it provokesterrorat the thoughtof theirmixture.But
the playhas alreadyaffiliated
lago himselfwithdarknessand thedemonic;the
threatof a contaminatingblacknessis alreadythere,alreadypresentinside
the "whiteness" he would invoke. lago creates Othello as "black"-and
thereforehimselfas "white"-when he constructshim as monstrousprogenitor; and he uses that racialized blackness to destroywhat he cannot
tolerate.But the trope throughwhichlago imaginesthatdestructionmakes
lago himselfintothe monstrousprogenitor,filledwitha darkconceptionthat
onlydarknesscan bringforth:"I ha't, itis engender'd," he tellsus; "Hell and
night/ Must bring this monstrousbirthto the world's light" (1.3.401-2).
This trope makes the blackness lago would attributeto Othello-like his
monstrousgenerativity-somethingalreadyinside lago himself,something
thathe mustproject out into the world:as thoughlago were pregnantwith
the monsterhe makes of Othello.'3
If the structureof the firstscene predictsthe process throughwhichlago
becomes the progenitorof Othello's racialized blackness,the trope of the
monstrousbirthin the firstact's finallines perfectlyanticipatesthe mechanism of projectionthroughwhichlago willcome to use Othello's black skin
as the container for his own interiorblackness.Cassio uses Othello as the
locus for fantasiesof inseminatingsexual renewal;Jagouses him as the reand his self-disgust.
For lago needs
positoryforhis own bodilyinsufficiency
the blacknessof others:even the "whiteewe" Desdemona is blackenedin his
imaginationas he turns "her virtueinto pitch" (2.3.351). How are we to
understand lago's impulse to blacken, the impulse for which Othello becomes the perfectvehicle?Whatdoes it mean to take anotherperson's body
as the receptacle for one's own contents?The textgivesus, I think,a very
of lago's proexact account of whatI've come to call the psycho-physiology
jection: that is, not simplyan account of the psychologicalprocesses themselves but also an account of the fantasizedbodily processes that underlie
them. "Projection" is in its own waycomfortingly
abstract;by invokingthe
body behind the abstraction,Othelloin effectrubs our noses in it.'4
"constructsthe significanceofrace" (" 'An essence that'snot seen': The PrimalScene ofRacism
in Othello,"SQ 44 [1993]: 304-24, esp. 305-6).
13 The familiarassociationsof blacknesswithmonstrosity
(see, e.g., Newman,148; and James
R. Aubrey,"Race and the Spectacle of the Monstrousin Othello,"Clio 22 [1993]: 221-38) and
withmonstrousbirths(see Neill, 409- 10; and Aubrey,222- 27) would probablyhave
made the subterraneanconnectionbetweenOthello and lago's monstrousbirthmore available
to Shakespeare's audiences than it is to a modern audience.
14 Projectionhas classicallybeen invokedas a mechanismin Othello,
but usuallyin the other
direction,fromOthello to Jago;see, e.g.,J.I.M. Stewart,Character
and Motivein Shakespeare:
AppraisalsExamined([London, NewYork,and Toronto: Longmans,Green and Company,
1949], 102-5), though Stewartultimatelyabandons a naturalisticreading of the play through
projectionfora symbolicreadingof lago and Othello as partsof a singlewhole. For somewhat
laterversionsof lago as Othello's projection,see, e.g., HenryL. Warnken,"lago as a Projection
of Othello" in ShakespeareEncomium
1564-1964, Anne Paolucci,ed. (NewYork:The CityCollege,
1964), 1-15; and Orgel, 258-73. In theseaccountsprojectionis looselyused to indicatethatlago
expressesunacknowledgeddoubtsor desiresin Othello's mind (or, in Orgel's reading,Othello's
unacknowledgedneed fora punitivesuperego); theygenerallydo not explore the mechanismof
projectionor considerthe degree to whichthe structureof the playpositslago-not Othelloas its psychicstartingpoint. For Auden, who reads the play throughlago as practicaljoker,
projectionbegins withlago, not Othello (see n. 6, above); see also Leslie Y. Rabkinand Jeffrey



Let me begin, then,by thinkingabout the waylago thinksabout bodies,

especiallyabout the insidesofbodies. For Jagois the play'sspokesmanforthe
idea of the inside,the hidden away.At the beginning of his seduction of
Othello,he defendsthe privacyofhis thoughtbyasking"where's thatpalace,
whereintofoul things/ Sometimesintrudenot?" (3.3.141-42); no palace is
impregnable,no insideuncontaminated.Characteristically,
Othello takesthis
itin hislateranatomyofDesdemona
image and makesithis own,reinscribing
as "a cistern,forfoultoads / To knotand genderin" (4.2.62-63). But merely
byinsistingon the hidden inwardnessof thought,lago has alreadysucceeded
in causing Othello to conflate the hiddenwith the hideous,as though that
whichis inside,invisible,mustinevitablybe monstrous("he echoes me, / As
if there were some monsterin his thought,/ Too hideous to be shown"
[3.3.110-12]).15 Accordingto thislogic, the case againstDesdemona is complete as soon as lago can insinuatethatshe, too, has-psychically and anatomically-an inside, unknowable and monstrousbecause it is inside, unseen.
If lago succeeds in transferring
his own sense of hidden contaminationto
Desdemona, localizingit in her body,the sense of the hideous thingwithin
monstrousbirthor foul intruder-begins withhim. Seen fromthisvantage
point,his initialalarum to Brabantio ("Look to yourhouse, yourdaughter,
and your bags.... Are all doors lock'd?" [1.1.80, 85]) looks less like a descriptionof danger to Brabantio or Desdemona than like a descriptionof
dangerto lago himself.For lago finds-or creates-in Brabantio'shouse the
to intrusion,and he can
perfectanalogue forhis own sense of vulnerability
make of Othello the perfectanalogue forthe intrusive"foul thing,"the old
black ram who is tupping your white ewe/you-or, as we later find out,
tuppinglago himselfin lago's fantasy,and leavingbehind a poisonous residue ("I do suspectthe lustfulMoor / Hath leap'd into myseat, the thought
whereof/ Doth like a poisonous mineralgnaw myinwards" [2.1.290-92]).
But even the image of the body as a breached and contaminated"palace"
suggestsrathermore interiorstructurethan mostof lago's otherimagesfor
the body.Again and again lago imaginesthe body filledwithliquid putrefaction,withcontentsthatcan and should be vomitedout or excreted.The three
Brown,who read Jagoas a Horneyansadist,assuaginghis pain by projectinghis self-contempt
and hopelessnessonto others("Some Monsterin His Thought:Sadism and Tragedyin Othello,"
and Psychology
23 [1973]: 59-67, esp. 59-60); and Pollard,who reads Jagoas Baudelairian sadist,fillingthe worldwithsadisticprojectionswithwhich he then identifiesto fillhis
inner emptiness(92-95). Serpierisees Jagoas the "artificerof a destructive
in his
semiotic analysis, litotes-Jago's characteristicnay-sayingfigure-becomes the linguistic
in the 'other' all
equivalent of projection, "a figureof persuasion which,by denying,affirms
that- the diabolical,the lustful,the alien -which it refutesor censuresin the 'self' " (134 and
142). Attentionto the statusof "others" has made contemporarycriticismparticularly
to Othello as the site of lago's projectionsratherthan as the originatorof projection;see, e.g.,
Parkeron "the violence of projection" (100). My account differsfromthose cited here largely
in givingprojectiona body and in specifying
the mechanismsof projectiveidentification
at work
in the play.
15 AlthoughNeill emphasizes the hidden/hideousnessof the bed ratherthan of bodilyinteriors (394-95), myformulationhere is verymuch indebted to his. In the course of her enormouslysuggestiveaccount of the culturalresonancesof the hidden/privatein Othello
and Hamlet,
Parkercommentsextensivelyon the associationof the hidden withthe woman's privateparts,
partlyvia gynecologicaldiscourse; see Parker,"Othelloand Hamlet:Dilation, Spying,and the
'Secret Place' of Woman," Representations
44 (1993): 60-95, esp. 64-69.



fingers Cassio kisses in show of courtesy to Desdemona should be "clysterpipes" for his sake (1. 176), lago says; through the bizarre reworking of lago's
fantasy,Cassio's fingersare transformed into enema tubes, an imagistic transformation that violently brings together not only lips and faeces, mouth,
vagina, and anus, but also digital, phallic, and emetic penetration of a bodyDesdemona's? Cassio's?-imagined
only as a container for faeces. Early in
the play, poor Roderigo is a "sick fool.. . Whom love has turn'd almost the
wrong side outward" (2.3.47-48); by the end, he is a "quat" rubbed almost
to the sense (5.1.11), that is, a pus-filled pimple about to break. The congruence of these images suggests that Roderigo becomes a "quat" for lago
because he can't keep his insides from running out: the love that has almost
turned him inside out is here refigured as pus that threatens to break through
the surface of his body. In lago's fantasy of the body, what is inside does not
need to be contaminated by a foul intruder because it is already pus or faeces;
in fact, anything brought into this interior will be contaminated by it. lago
cannot imagine ordinary eating, in which matter is taken in for the body's
nourishment; any good object taken in will be violently transformed and
violently expelled. When he is done with her, lago tells us, Othello will excrete Desdemona ("The food that to him now is as luscious as locusts, shall
be to him shortly as acerb as the coloquintida," an emetic or purgative
[1.3.349-50]); when Desdemona is "sated" with Othello's body (1. 351), she
will "heave the gorge" (2.1.231-32).
(Poor Emilia has obviously learned
from her husband: in her view men "are all but stomachs, and we all but
food; / They eat us hungerly, and when they are full, / They belch us"
Given this image of the body's interior as a mass of undifferentiated and
contaminated matter, it's no wonder that lago propounds the ideal of selfcontrol to Roderigo in the garden metaphor that insists both on the rigid
demarcation and differentiationof the body's interior and on its malleability
to the exercise of will:
... 'tisin ourselves,thatwe are thus,or thus:our bodies are gardens,to thewhich
our willsare gardeners,so thatifwe willplant nettles,or sow lettuce,set hyssop,
and weed up thyme;supplyit withone gender of herbs,or distractit withmany;
eitherto have it sterilewithidleness,or manur'd withindustry,
why,the power,
and corrigibleauthorityof this,lies in our wills.

This is not, presumably, his experience of his own body's interior or of his
management of it; it seems rather a defensive fantasy of an orderly pseudoEden, in which man is wholly in control both of the inner processes of his
body/garden and of the troublesome business of gender, and woman is
wholly absent.'6 His only explicit representation of his body's interior belies
this defense: the mere "thought" that Othello has leaped into his seat (even
though he "know[s] not if't be true" [1. 386]) "Doth like a poisonous mineral gnaw [his] inwards." No reassuring gardener with his tidy-or even his
untidy-rows here: lago's "inwards" are hideously vulnerable, subject to a
poisonous penetration. Through an imagistic transformation,Othello as penetrator becomes conflated with the "thought" that tortures lago inwardly;
16 Gender
can of course mean "kind"; but, as Ridleynotes, "Shakespeare normallyuses it of
differenceof sex" (40n).



Othello thusbecomes a toxicobject lodged inside him. (The garden passage

expressesand defendsagainstthehomoeroticdesirethathere
makes Othello a poisonous inner object, insofaras it voices a fantasyof
"supply[ing]" the body withone gender ratherthan "distract[ing]" it with

What I have earliercalled lago's injured "I"-his sense thathe is chronicallyslightedand betrayed,his sense of self-division-produces (or perhaps
is produced by) fantasiesof his body as penetratedand contaminated,especiallybyOthello. In fact,anytraffic
betweeninnerand outeris dangerousfor
lago, who needs to keep an absolute barrierbetween them by makinghis
outsideopaque, a false"sign" (1.1.156 and 157) ofhis inside;to do lesswould
be to riskbeing (Roderigo-like) turnedalmost the wrongside outward,to
"wear [his] heartupon [his] sleeve,/ For dawes to peck at" (11.64-65).18 To
allowhimselfto be seen or knownis tantamountto being stabbed,eaten alive:
pecked at fromthe outside unless he manages to keep the barrierbetween
innerand outerperfectlyintact,gnawedfromthe inside ifhe letsanyonein.
Jago's need for sadisticcontrolof others ("Pleasure, and action, make the
hours seem short" [2.3.369], he says, aftermanaging Cassio's cashiering)
vividsense ofvulnerability:
unable to
goes in tandemwithhis extraordinarily
be gardener to himself,he will sadisticallymanage everyoneelse, simultaneously demonstratinghis superiorityto those quats whose insides are so
sloppilyprone to burstingout,and hidingthe contaminationand chaos ofhis
own insides.
Roderigo plays a pivotalrole in thisprocess.As the embodimentof what
lago would avoid, Roderigo existslargelyto give lago repeated occasions on
whichto displayhis masteryoverboth selfand other:in effect,lago can load
his contaminatedinsides into Roderigo and then rub him to the sense in
order to demonstratethe differencebetween them and, hence, the impermeabilityof Iago's own insides.Moreover,in managingRoderigo,Iago can
continuallyreplenishhimselfwiththe fantasyof new objectsto be takeninto
the self:objects over which-unlike the thoughtof Othello, whichgnawsat
his inwards-he can exert full control. Obsessively-six times in fourteen
lines-Iago tellsRoderigo to "Put moneyin thypurse ... fillthypurse with
money" (1.3.340, 348). We know thatIago has receivedenough jewels and
gold fromRoderigo to have half-corrupteda votarist(4.2.189), but we never
see Iago takingthe miser'sor even the spendthrift's
ordinarydelightin this
treasure;detached fromanyordinaryhuman motivation,the moneyaccrues
almostpurelypsychicmeaning,becoming the sign not of any palpable economic advantagebut of Jago'spleasure in being able to emptyRoderigoout,
to fillhimselfat will. "Put moneyin thypurse," he repeats insistently,
then adds, "Thus do I evermake myfool mypurse" (1.3.381), as thoughthe
emptied-outRoderigobecomes thecontainerthatholds the illusionof Iago's
fullness.For his repetitionsignals a compulsive need to fill himselfwith
objectsin order to compensateforthe contaminationand chaos inside: hard
shinyobjectsthatmightbe keptsafeand mightkeep the selfsafe,objectsthat
could magicallyrepair the sense of what the selfis made of and filledwith.
17 Ridleynotes that "supply= satisfy"(40n); for a specifically
sexualized use, see Measurefor
"Doves" is the reading in Ridley and QI; I here depart fromit in givingF's and Q2's



Iago's hoarding,his sadism,his referencesto purgativesand clyster-pipes

can be read throughthelanguage ofclassicalpsychoanalysis
as evidence ofan
anal fixation;in thatlanguage the equation of moneywithfaeces is familiar
enough, as is the associationof sadisticcontrolwiththe anal phase.'9 Iago's
obsessivesuspicionthatOthello has leaped intohis seat,along withhis heavily
eroticizedaccount of Cassio's dream,similarlylend themselvesto a classically
reading of Iago as repressedhomosexual.20While these readings are not "wrong" withintheirown terms,theynonethelessseem to me
limited,and not only insofaras theycan be said to assume a historically
inaccurate concept of the subject or of "the homosexual":2' limited even
withinthe termsof psychoanalysisinsofaras theydo not get at either the
qualityof Iago's emotional relationships(his inabilityto form any kind of
libidinalbond, his tendencyto treatothersas poisonous innerobjects) or the
theatricalseductivenessof the processes of projectionthatwe witness throughhim. I want consequentlyto move fromthe considerationof
libidinalzones and conflictedobject choices characteristic
of classicalpsychoanalysisto the areas opened up by the work of Melanie Klein; a Kleinian
reading of Iago will,I think,help us to understandthe waysin which Iago's
imaginationof his own interiorshapes his object relationsas he projectsthis
interioronto the landscape of the play.
19 On the relationshipbetweenmoneyand faeces,see Sigmund
Freud, "Character and Anal
Eroticism"in TheStandardEditionoftheComplete
ofSigmundFreud,ed. James
Strachey,24 vols. (London: Hogarth Press and the Instituteof Psycho-Analysis,1953-74),
9:167-76, esp. 171 and 173-74; ErnestJones,"Anal-EroticCharacterTraits,"JournalofAbnormalPsychology
13 (1918): 261-84, esp. 272-74 and 276-77; KarlAbraham,"Contributionsto the
Theory of the Anal Character" in Selected
PapersofKarl Abraham(New York: Brunner/Mazel,
1927), 370-92, esp. 383; and Otto Fenichel, The Psychoanalytic
TheoryofNeurosis(New York:
Norton,1945), 281. On sadismand anality,see Abraham,"The NarcissisticEvaluationof ExcretoryProcessesin Dreams and Neurosis" in Selected
Papers,318-22, esp. 319 and 321;Jones,268;
and Fenichel, 283.
20 The lociclassiciforthisreading are MartinWangh, "Othello:The Tragedy of Iago," PsychoanalyticQuarterly
19 (1950): 202-12; and Gordon Ross Smith,"Iago the Paranoiac," American
Imago 16 (1959): 155-67. Both essaysare based on Freud's account of delusionaljealousy as a
defenseagainsthomosexual desirein the Schrebercase. For an extensionand elaborationof this
view,withparticularfocuson Iago's hatredof women,see also StanleyEdgar Hyman,lago: Some
to theIllusionofHis Motivation(New York:Atheneum,1970), 101-21. Contemporary
criticswho commenton the homoeroticdynamicbetweenIago and Othello tend to locate their
readings not in this model but in the complex of metaphors that makes Iago's seduction of
Othello into an aural penetrationand insemination,witha resultingmonstrous(and miscegenistic)conception;see, e.g., Coppelia Kahn, Man's Estate:MasculineIdentity
in Shakespeare
(Berkeley,Los Angeles,and London: U of CaliforniaP, 1981), 144-45; and Parkerin Hendricksand
Parker,eds., 99-100. Parkernotes thatthe imaginedpenetrationis anal as wellas aural (99); see
also, e.g., Graham Hammill's briefdiscussionof Iago's anal eroticism,"The Epistemologyof
Expurgation:Bacon and TheMasculineBirthofTime"in Queering
JonathanGoldberg,ed. (Durham, NC, and London: Duke UP, 1994), 236-52, esp. 251n.
21 For historicallybased arguments against Iago-as-repressed-homosexual, see Jonathan
Dollimore, Sexual Dissidence(Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1991), 157-62; and Bruce R. Smith,
Desirein Shakespeare's
England:A CulturalPoetics(Chicago and London: U of Chicago
P, 1991), 61-63 and 75. Both Dollimore and Smith stressthe social functionsof the male
homosocial bond ratherthan the dynamicsof homoeroticfeelingpartlyon the groundsthatthe
homosexual subject is an anachronismin the earlymodern period. But Shakespeare does not
need to have the categoryof the "homosexual subject" available to him in order to represent
Iago as actingout of desiresinadmissibleto him,includingsodomiticaldesires;and criticswho
insistthatwe do awaywith"the homosexual" as a categorysometimesthrowout the babywith
the bathwater.In "Homosexualityand the Signsof Male Friendshipin ElizabethanEngland" (in
Goldberg, ed., 40-61) Alan Bray demonstratesthe cultural (nonsexual) uses to which the



In Klein's account the primitiveself is composed in part of remnantsof

internalizedobjects (people, or bitsand pieces of people, taken into the self
as partof the self'scontinualnegotiationwithwhatan outsideobserverwould
call theworld) and theworldis composed in partof projectedbitsand pieces
of the self.Ideally,"the good breastis taken in and becomes partof the ego,
and the infantwho was firstinside the mothernow has the motherinside
himself."22Internalizationof the good object "is the basis fortrustin one's
own goodness";23"fullidentification
witha good object goes witha feelingof
the self possessinggoodness of its own" and hence enables the returnof
goodness to the world: "Through processes of projectionand introjection,
an enrichmentand deepthroughinnerwealthgivenout and re-introjected,
ening of the ego comes about.... Inner wealthderivesfromhaving assimilated thegood object so thattheindividualbecomes able to shareitsgiftswith
others."24And the corollaryis clear: if the infantcannot take in the experience of the good breast (eitherbecause of his/herown constitutionalconditionsor because the experienceis not thereto be had in a consistentway),
the bad breastmaybe introjected,withaccompanyingfeelingsof one's own
internalbadness, poverty,poisonousness,one's own inabilityto give back
anythinggood to the world.
But,in thewordsof Harold Boris,a contemporarypost-Kleiniananalystof
envy,"the infantwho cannot, sooner or later,feed the hand fromwhich it
feeds ... is the childwho willthen attemptto bite it."25The infantstuckwith
a depleted or contaminatedinnerworldwill,Klein suggests,existin a peculiar
relationto the good breast:even if it is there and apparentlyavailable,the
infantmaynot be able to use it. For if the infantcannot tolerateeitherthe
discrepancybetween its own badness and the goodness outside itselfor the
sense of dependencyon thisexternalsource of goodness,the good breastwill
not be availablefortheinfant'suse: itsgoodnesswillin effectbe spoiled bythe
infant'sown envious rage. The prototypefor Kleinian envy is the hungry
baby,experiencingitselfas helplesslydependent, empty,or filledonlywith
badness,confrontedwiththe imaginedfullnessof a source of goodness outside itself:"the firstobject to be envied is the feedingbreast,forthe infant
feelsthatit possesseseverything
he desiresand thatit has an unlimitedflow
"bedfellow"could be put;but in orderforSmith,forexample,to invokeIago's reportof Cassio's
"bedfellow"dream to make the argumentthatIago is a self-consciousmale-bonder ratherthan
a repressedhomosexual, he has to ignore the explicitsexiness of the dream (the hard kisses
plucked up by the roots,the leg over the thigh). The dream clearlycrossesthe line-between
male friendshipand sodomy- thatBraydelineates,more strikingly
because Iago need not have
included all that sexiness to convey his "information"to Othello; and whetheror not the
reporteddream proclaimsIago a "repressedhomosexual," itseffecton Othello clearlydepends
as much on itscrossingof thatline as on the informationthatCassio dreamsabout Desdemona.
As forsubjectivity:
whetheror not the Renaissancesharedour sense of the bourgeoissubject-in
any case, emphaticallynot the subjectas it is construedbypsychoanalysis- Othellois obsessively
about whatis hidden awaywithinthe person,the inner,private,and unknowableselfthatmight
harborinaccessibledesires.For a good summaryof these controversies-and a sensiblemiddle
position-see Alan Sinfield,CulturalPolitics-Queer Reading(Philadelphia:U of PennsylvaniaP,
1994), 12-14.
22 Melanie Klein, "Envy and Gratitude" (1957) in Envyand Gratitude
and OtherWorks19461963 (London: Hogarth Press and the Instituteof Psycho-Analysis,
1975), 176-235, esp. 179.
23 Klein, 188.
Klein, 192 and 189.



of milk,and love which the breastkeeps forits own gratification."26

insistenceon the priorityof the breastas the firstobject of envyeffectively
reversesFreud's concept of penis envy;in Klein's account even penis envy
becomes secondary,derivativefromthisearlierprototype.27
But Klein's concept of envyturnson an even more startlinginnovation:formostanalystsof
infantiledestructivenessand rage, the source and targetis the frustrating
"bad" object-a maternalobject thatdoesn't provide enough, is not at the
infant'sbeck and call, providesmilkthatin some wayis feltto be spoiled; but
in Klein's readingof envy,the source and targetof rage is not the frustrating
or poisonous bad breastbut the good breast,and itis exactlyitsgoodness that
provokesthe rage. Hence thepeculiarsensitivity
of theenviousto thegoodand the consequentneed not to possessbut to destroyit,or, in Klein's terms,
"to put badness,primarily
bad excrementand bad partsof the self,into the
mother,and firstof all into her breast,in order to spoil and destroyher."28
But the breastso destroyedis of course no longer available to the child as a
source of good: "The breast attacked in this way has lost its value, it has
become bad bybeing bittenup and poisoned byurine and faeces.''29 Insofar
as the infanthas succeeded in destroyingthe good object,he has confirmed
its destructionas a source of goodness withinhimself;hence the peculiarly
vicious circle of envy,whichdestroysall good both in the worldand in the
self,and hence also itspeculiar despair.
We do not, of course, need the help of a Kleinian perspectiveto identify
Iago as envious. His willingnessto killCassio simplybecause "He has a daily
beautyin his life,/ That makes me ugly" (5.1.19-20) marksthe extentto
whichhe is drivenbyenvy;in an older theatricaltraditionhe mightwellhave
been named Envy.Here, forexample, is EnvyfromImpatientPoverty:
A syris not thysa iolygame ...
Enuy in faythI am the same ...
I hate conscience,peace loue and reste
Debate and stryfethatloue I beste
Accordyngeto myproperte
When a man louethe well hyswyfe
I bryngetheymat debate and stryfe.30
This genealogy does not, however, make Iago a Coleridgean motiveless malignity.For in Iago, Shakespeare gives motiveless malignity a body: incorporating this element of the morality tradition, he releases through Iago the

range of bodilyfantasiesassociatedwitha specificallyKleinian envy.

Klein describesan envyso primal-,and so despairing-that it cannot tol-

erate the existence of goodness in the world: its whole delight lies not in
possessing what is good but in spoiling it. And that spoiling takes place in
fantasy through a special form of object-relating: through the violent projec-

Klein, 183.
For an earlystatementof thisposition,see Klein, "Early Stages of the Oedipus Conflict"
(1928) in Love,Guiltand Reparationand OtherWorks
1921-1945 (London: HogarthPressand the
Instituteof Psycho-Analysis,
1975), 186-98, esp. 190-91 and 193-96.
28 Klein, Envyand Gratitude,
Klein,Envyand Gratitude,
30 Quoted here fromBernardSpivack'sdiscussionof Jagoand the moralitytraditionin Shakespeareand theAllegory
ofEvil: TheHistoryofa Metaphorin RelationtoHis Major Villains(New York:
Columbia UP, 1958), 184.



tion of bitsof the selfand itscontaminatedobjects-often localized as contaminatedbodilyproducts-into the good object. By means of thisprojection,the selfsucceeds in replicatingitsown innerworld"out there" and thus
in destroying
the goodness itcannot tolerate;at the end of theprocess,in the
wordsof one Kleiniananalyst,"There is nothingleftto envy.'"'3 Throughthe
lens of a Kleinian perspective,we can see traces of thisprocess as Iago fills
Othello withthe poison thatfillshim.
In Iago's fantasy,as I have suggested,thereis no uncontaminatedinterior
space: he can allow no one access to his interiorand has to keep it hidden
awaybecause it is more a cesspool than a palace or a garden.And thereare
taken in
no uncontaminatedinnerobjects:everyintruderis foul; everything
turnsto pus or faeces or poison; everything
swallowedmustbe vomitedout.
This sense of inner contaminationleaves him-as Klein would predictparticularlysubject to the sense of goodness in othersand particularlyambivalenttowardthatgoodness. His goal is to make those around him as ugly
to theirbeauty.Even
as he is; but thatgoal depends on his unusual sensitivity
afterhe has managed to bring out the quarrelsome drunkard and classhim into a man who clearlyenjoys
conscious snob in Cassio, transforming
sneakingaround to see his general's wife,Iago remainsstruckby the daily
beautyin Cassio's life-at a point when thatbeautyhas become largelyindenies the
visibleto the audience. To Roderigo,Iago alwayscontemptuously
goodness of Othello and Desdemona (he is an erringbarbarian and she a
supersubtleVenetian); but in soliloquy he specificallyaffirmstheir goodness-and affirms
it in order to imaginespoilingit. Othello's "freeand open
nature" he willremakeas the stupidityof an ass who can be led by the nose
(1.3.397-400). He will not onlyuse Desdemona's virtue;he will turnit into
pitch,in a near-perfectreplicationof the projectionof faeces into the good
breastthatKlein posits.
For Iago the desire to spoil alwaystakes precedence over the desire to
in their
possess;one need onlycontrasthimwithOthello to see thedifference
relationto good objects.32Othello's anguishover the loss of the good object
givesthe playmuch of itsemotionalresonance.He imagineshimselfas safely
enclosed in itsgarnery,nourishedand protectedbyit,and thencastout: "But
there,whereI have garner'dup myheart,/ Where eitherI mustlive,or bear
no life,/ The fountain,fromthe whichmycurrentruns,/ Or else dries up,
to be discardedthence" (4.2.58-61). When he is made to imaginethatobject
as spoiled-"a cistern,forfoul toads / To knot and gender in"-its loss is
whollyintolerable to him; even at the end, as he kills Desdemona, he is
workingveryhard to restoresome remnantof the good object in her. Although he approaches Desdemona's bed planning to bloody it ("Thy bed,
lust-stain'd,shallwithlust'sblood be spotted" [5.1.36]), his deepest desireis
31 BettyJoseph,
"Envyin everydaylife" in Psychic
and PsychicChange:Selected
ed. Michael Feldman and Elizabeth Bott Spillius (London and New York: Tavistock/Routledge,1989), 181-91, esp. 185.
32 In Kleinianterms,
Othello has reached thedepressiveposition,characterizedbythecapacity
to mourn for the damaged object and to make reparationsto it (see especiallyKlein, "A Contributionto the Psychogenesisof Manic-DepressiveStates" [1935] and "Mourning and its Relation to Manic-DepressiveStates" [1940], both in Love,Guiltand Reparation,
262-89 and 34469); Iago functionsfromwithinthe more primitiveparanoid-schizoidposition,withits characteristicmechanismsof splittingand projection/introjection(see especiallyKlein, "Notes on
Some Schizoid Mechanisms" in Envyand Gratitude,



not to stain but to restorethe purityof the good object, rescuingit from
contamination,even the contaminationhe himselfhas visitedupon it.Bythe
time he reaches her bed, he has decided not to shed her blood (5.2.3).
Instead he attemptsto recreateher unviolatedwholeness ("that whiterskin
of hers than snow,/ And smooth,as monumentalalabaster" [11.4-5]) in a
death thathe imaginesas a revirgination;33
in fantasyhe cleanses "the slime/
That stickson filthy
deeds," remakingher unmarredand unpenetrated,"one
entireand perfectchrysolite"(11.149-50, 146).
But Iago's onlyjoy comes in spoilinggood objects: Othello mournsbeing
cast out fromthe garnery/fountain
thathas nourishedhim; Iago mocksthe
meat he feedson (3.3.170-71). His descriptionof thegreen-eyedmonsterhe
cautionsOthello againstmarkstheworkingsof a veryKleinianenvyin him:34
like the emptyinfantwho cannot toleratethe fullnessof the breast,he will
mock the objectsthatmightnourishand sustainhim,spoilingthembymeans
of his corrosivewit.35(Or perhaps-in good Kleinianfashion-by tearingat
themwithhis teeth:especiallyin conjunctionwiththe image of feedingon
meat, "mock" maycarrytracesof mammock,36
to tear into pieces, suggesting
the oral aggressionbehind Jago'sbitingmockeryand hence the talion logic
in his fantasyof being pecked at.) Mockery-especially of the meat he might
feed on-is Iago's signature:different
as theyare, Othello, Cassio, and Roderigosharean almostreligiousawe towardDesdemona; Jagoinsiststhat"the
wine she drinksis made of grapes" (2.1.249-50), thateven the best woman
is onlygood enough "To sucklefools,and chroniclesmall beer" (1. 160). If

33As many have argued: see especiallyCavell, 134; and Snow, 392. See also my Suffocating
FantasiesofMaternalOriginin Shakespeare,
Hamlet toThe Tempest (New York and London: Routledge, 1992), 69-70.
34 Iago's words here, like Emilia's at 3.4.157-60, referexplicitlyto jealousybut nonetheless
define the self-referential
qualities of envy.Althoughthe two termsare sometimespopularly
confused,theyare distinctin psychoanalytic
thought:jealousy occurs in a three-bodyrelationship,derivedfromthe oedipus complex,in whichthe loss of a good object to a rivalis at stake;
envyoccurs in a pre-oedipal two-bodyrelationship,in whichthe "good" qualitiesof the object
are feltto be intolerable.Jealousyseeks to preservethe good object,ifnecessarybykillingit;envy
seeks to spoil the good object. (For thesedistinctions,
see Klein,Envyand Gratitude,
196-99; and
Joseph in Feldman and Spillius,eds., 182.) Jealousyis a derivativeof envybut is more easily
recognizedand more sociallyacceptable (Klein,Envyand Gratitude,
198;Josephin Feldman and
Spillius,eds., 182); partlyas a consequence, it can sometimesserve as "an importantdefence
againstenvy" (Klein,Envyand Gratitude,
198). This defensivestructureseems to me at workboth
in Iago and in the play at large: in Iago, who repeatedlycomes up withnarrativesofjealousy as
though to justifyhis intolerableenvyto himself(tellingly,he uses the traditionallanguage of
envy-Spenser's Envy "inwardly... chawed his owne maw" in TheFaerieQueene[I.iv.30]-to
registerthe gnawingeffectsofjealousy on him); and in Othello
itself,insofaras itsown narratives
ofjealousy are farmore legible and recognizably"human" than the envyrepresentedthrough
Iago and dismissedin him as unrecognizable,inhuman,or demonic.
35 "Mock" has puzzled commentatorsforyears,occasioningfivepages of commentaryin the
New Variorum edition of Othello(ed. Horace Howard Furness [Philadelphia:J. B. Lippincott,
1886]). WilliamWarburton(1747) glosses "mocke" (in termsstrikingly
close to my own) as
"loaths thatwhichnourishesand sustainsit" (176). Withverylittleplausibility
but some interest
formyargument,AndrewBecket (1815) transforms
"mocke" to "muck,"glossingitas to "bedaub
or makefoul"; two other commentators-Zachariah Jackson and Lord John Chedworthapprovedof thisemendationenough to come up withcandidatesforthe monstrousanimal that
befoulsitsfood, mouse and dragon-fly,respectively(179).
36 ZacharyGreysuggestedin 1754 that"mock" is a contractionfor"mammock" (Furness,ed.,
176); as faras I can tell,his suggestionhas been entirelyignored.



"the firstobject to be envied is the feeding breast," Iago's devaluation of

maternalnurturancehere is just whatwe mightexpect.
But envydoes not stop there. As Klein suggests,"Excessive envy of the
breastis likelyto extend to all feminineattributes,in particularto the woman's capacityto bear children.... The capacityto give and to preservelifeis
feltas the greatestgiftand thereforecreativenessbecomes the deepest cause
forenvy."37If Othello's potencyand fullnessmake him the immediatetarget
has been
of Iago's envious rage, the destructionof Desdemona's generativity
Iago's ultimategoal fromthe beginning:"poison his delight,"he says;"And
thoughhe in a fertileclimatedwell,/ Plague himwithflies" (1.1.70-71). The
image half-echoes Hamlet's linkingof conception and breeding with the
stirringof maggotsin dead flesh,38for the "fertileclimate" that Iago will
transforminto a breeding ground for plague is Desdemona's generative
body.Hence, I think,theurgencywithwhichIago propelstheplot towardthe
marriagebed ("Do it not withpoison, strangleher in her bed, even the bed
she hath contaminated" [4.1.203-4]): the ultimategame is to make father
destroymotheron thatbed in a parodyof the life-givinginseminationthat
mighthave taken place there.39
And hence the subterraneanlogic of Iago's favoritemetaphor for that
destruction,his monstrousbirth.For ifIago enviouslydevaluesDesdemona's
generativity(she can onlysuckle,and onlysuckle fools; her body willbreed
only flies), he also appropriatesit, and appropriatesit specificallythrough
imitation.Here both sensesof mock-as devaluationand derisiveimitationcome together,as Boris'sworkon envypredicts:"The urge to take charge of
the envied object has severalcomponentsto it. First,of course,is the denuding (an idea) and disparagement(an emotion) of the inherentvalue of the
original.This makes possible whatfollows,namelythe idea thatthe 'knockoff' (the 'as-if') is in everywaythe equal of the real thing."40In conceiving
of his monstrousbirth,thatis, Iago not onlymocksbut also displaces Desdeby takingon its powersfor himself,denyingthe differmona's generativity
and his barrenness,betweenher fullnessand
ence-between her fruitfulness
in factproceeds by
Iago's substitution
his emptiness-that he cannot
stages. When he firstinvokesthe metaphor of pregnancy,he is merelythe
"There are manyeventsin thewombof time,whichwillbe
lines laterdelivered" (1.3.369-70). But his triumphant"I ha't" onlythirty
"I ha't, it is engender'd;
the world's light"-replaces time's womb with his own: as I have already
argued,his is the bodyin whichthe monstrousbirthis engendered,and hell
and nighthave become the midwives.

201- 2.
Klein,Envyand Gratitude,
See Hamlet,2.2.181-82.
39 This destructionalso has the effectof separating the two figureswhose conjunction has
haunted Iago's imagination.Klein hypothesizesthe combined parentfigureas a special targetof
envy ("the suspicion thatthe parentsare alwaysgettingsexual gratificationfromone another
198]); Iago in
reinforcesthe phantasy ... thattheyare alwayscombined" [Envyand Gratitude,
in his initialdescriptionof Othello and Desdemona as fused,a
factevokessuch a fantasy-figure
"beast withtwo backs" (1.1.116), alwaysin the process of achieving the "incorporate conclusion" (2.1.258-59) thatis alwaysdenied him.
40 Boris,36.




Through thismetaphor,Iago's mental productionbecomes his substitute

birth,in whichhe replaces the worldoutside himself4"-the worldof time's
womb,or of Desdemona's-with the projectionof his own interiormonstrosity;thus conceived,his plot manages simultaneouslyto destroythe generativity
thathe cannot tolerateand to proclaimthe superiorefficacy
of his own
product.Emilia's descriptionof thejealousy Iago createsin Othello-it is "a
monster,/ Begot upon itself,born on itself" (3.4.159-60) -is not accurate
about Othello,but itsuggestively
tracksIago's own envyto itspsychicsources.
If Jagoimagineshimselfenactinga substitutebirth,makingthe world conformto the shape of his envybyundoing the contoursof the already-existing
generativeworld,Emilia expressesthewishbehind his metaphor:thewishto
bebegotupon oneself,born on oneself,no longersubjectto-dependent on,
vulnerableto-the generativefullnessoutside the selfand the unendurable
envyit provokes.42Unable to achieve thatend, he willemptyhimselfout on
the weddingbed, substituting
his own monstrousconceptionforthe generain the processthe envied good
tivefullnessthattormentshim,and destroying
object in Desdemona.
And it isjust here, in thisfantasy,thatOthello's blacknessbecomes such a
powerfulvehicleforIago. I have alreadysuggestedthatIago's capacityto spoil
good objects restson his capacityto blacken them, and to blacken them
througha bodilyprocess of projection.His monstrousbirthis fromthe first
associatedwiththe darknessof hell and night;and when,in his conversation
withDesdemona, he imagineshis inventionas his baby,thatbabyis associated
withthe extrusionof a dark and stickysubstance:

Comes frommypate as birdlimedoes fromfrieze,

It plucks out brain and all: but myMuse labours,
And thusshe is deliver'd....

41 Myformulation
here is partlyindebtedtoJanineChausseguet-Smirgel'sworkon perversion,
especiallyanal perversion,which she sees as an attemptto dissolve generationaland gender
differencesin order to defend againstacknowledgmentof the pervert'sown puniness and vulnerability;thoughshe does not drawspecifically
on Klein's concept of envy,her worksometimes
intersectsusefullywithKlein's. In Chausseguet-Smirgel'sreading,Sade's intention,forexample,
is "to reduce the universeto faeces,or ratherto annihilatethe universeof differences"("Perversion and the UniversalLaw" in Chausseguet-Smirgel,Creativity
and Perversion
[New York:
W. W. Norton,1984], 4). Insofaras perversionattemptsto replace God's differentiated
withits own undifferentiation,
it is "the equivalentof Devil religion" (9); the undifferentiated
anal universe"constitutesan imitationor parody of the genital universeof the father" (11).
While thisformulationis suggestiveforIago, f thinkthatChausseguet-Smirgelis hampered by
her Lacanian milieu,withitsovervaluationof the phallus and the father'slaw; Iago is at least as
intenton imitatingand ultimately
replacingthe mother'sgenerativefunctionas the father'slaw.
42 With the kind of psychologicalintuitionthateverywhere
animateshis portrayalof Satan,
MiltonreworksEmilia's comment:unable to stand the "debt immenseof endless gratitude"to
the God who has created him (ParadiseLost,Bk. 4, 1. 52), Satan proclaimshimself"self-begot,
self-rais'd/ By our own quick'ningpower" (Bk. 5, 11.860-61). Klein citesMilton'sSatan as an
instance of "the spoilingof creativity
implied in envy" (Envy and Gratitude,
43 Accordingto the Oxford
birdlimeis a stickysubstancemade out ofthebark
of the hollytreeand smearedon branchesto entrapbirds;"WiththebarkesofHolme theymake
Bird-lyme,"cited fromHenryLyte's 1578 Nieweherballorhistorie
EnglishDictionary,prep. J. Simpson and E.S.C. Weiner, 2d ed., 20 vols. [Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1989],
2:216). Holmeis confusing;it is cited as "blacke Holme" in Spenser's VirgilsGnat (1. 215), but
thereapparentlyrefersto the oak, not the holly.In anycase, despite the echo of lime,birdlime
seems to have been dark,not white.



PresumablyIago means that his inventionis as slow-as laborious-as the

process of removingbirdlimefromrough cloth (frieze),in whichthe nap of
the cloth is removedalong withthe soilingagent (hence "plucks out brain
rationalmeaningis treacherous:the
and all"). But the route to thisrelatively
presentsus withbirdlimeoozingfromhishead ("invention/ Comes
frommypate as birdlimedoes"), takes us on an apparent detour through
the soilingofcloth (the birdlimestuckto thefrieze),and ends withthe image
of his head emptied out altogether("plucks out brain and all"), as though
in a dangerous evacuation.Then, througha buried pun on conception,the
concealed intermediaryterm,the evacuationbecomes a pregnancyand delivery,displaced fromhis own body to that of the Muse, who labors and is
Invention,in otherwords,becomes the male equivalentof pregnancy,the
productionof a stickydark baby.Whatwe have here, I suggest,is the vindictivefantasyof a faecal pregnancyand deliverythatcan project Iago's inner
and darknessinto the world:44initiallydisplaced upward to the
evacuatedpate, thisfaecalbabyis thenreturnedto itssource as his monstrous
birth,the baby he has conceived in response to Desdemona's request for
labor) thathe
praise (2.1.124) and the easygenerativity
(his own is a difficult
envies in her. This baby'semergencehere marks,I think,both the source of
his envyand the exchange thatenvywilldemand: he willattemptin effectto
replicatehis dark stickybaby in her, soilingher generativebody by turning
her virtueinto pitch,45spoiling the object whose fullnessand goodness he
cannot toleratebymakingit the receptacleforhis own bodilycontents.And
he counts on the contagion of thiscontaminatedobject: he willturnDesdemona into pitch not only because pitch is black and sticky-hence entraphis scheme depends on using
ping-but because it is notoriouslydefiling;46
Desdemona as a kind of tar baby,countingon her defilement-her blackening- to make Othello "black." In fantasy,that is, Iago uses Desdemona
and Othello to contaminateeach other; theybecome for him one defiled
object as he imagines them on that wedding bed. But at the same time,
Othello plays a special role forIago: in Othello's black skin Iago can finda
fortuitousexternalsign for the entire process, or, more accurately,a containerforthe internalblacknessthathe would projectoutward,the darkbaby
thathell and nightmustbringto theworld'slight;emptyinghimselfout,Iago
can project his faecal baby into Othello, blackeninghim withhis own inner
Iago plainlyneeds an Othello who can carrythe burden of his own contamination;and to some extentthe playmakesus complicitin the process,as
44 The equation of faeces withbaby is familiarto psychoanalysis;
see, e.g., Freud, "On the
Sexual Theories of Children," on the cloacal theoryof birth("If babies are born throughthe
anus, then a man can give birthjust as well as a woman" [9:205-26, esp. 219-20]); Jones,
274-75; and Susan Isaacs, "Penis-Feces-Child," InternationalJournal
8 (1927):
74-76. For fantasiesthat overvaluethe power of faecal creation "to create or destroyevery
object," see Abraham, "The NarcissisticEvaluationof ExcretoryProcesses," 322; about one of
his patientshe reports,"That nighthe dreamed thathe had to expel the universeout of his
anus" (320).
45 Oddly,RidleyassociatesthepitchintowhichIago willturnDesdemona's virtuewithbirdlime
withoutnotingits source in Iago's earliermetaphor (88n).
46 For Shakespeare'sreworkings
of the proverbially
defilingpropertiesofpitch,see, e.g., Love's
Labor'sLost,4.3.3; 1 HenryIV, 2.4.394-96; and MuchAdoAboutNothing,



it makes Othello in effectinto Iago's monstrouscreation,carryingout Iago's

"conception" as he murdersDesdemona on her wedding bed, enacting a
perverseversionof the childbirththatmighthave taken place there.Othello
himselfseems to recognizethata birthof sortsis takingplace, thoughhe does
not recognize it as Iago's: preparingto kill Desdemona on thatbed, he says
thather denials "Cannot remove,nor choke the strongconception,/ That I
do groan withal" (5.2.56-57),4 as thoughhe has been impregnatedthrough
Iago's monstrousbirth.And in facthe has: partof the peculiar horrorof this
playis thatOthello becomes so effective
a receptacle for-and enactor ofIago's fantasies.If Iago imagines himselffilled with a gnawingpoisonous
mineral through what amounts to Othello's anal insemination of him
(2.1.290-92), he turnsthatpoison back on Othello: "I'll pour thispestilence
into his ear" (2.3.347). This retaliatoryaural/anal inseminationfillsOthello
withIago's own contents,allowingIago to servehis turnon Othello bydoing
to Othello whathe imaginesOthello has done to him. ("I followhim to serve
myturnupon him" is sexualized in waysnot likelyto be audible to a modern
audience [1.1.42]. For turn,see Othello's later "she can turn,and turn,and
yetgo on, / And turnagain" [4.1.249-50];48 characteristically,
Othello replicatesin Desdemona the "turn" Iago has replicatedin him.) And "The Moor
alreadychanges withmypoison," Iago says,adding forour benefit-in case
we have not noticed the linksbetweenhis poisonous conceitand Othello's"Dangerous conceitsare in theirnaturespoisons,/ Which... Burn like the
mines of sulphur" (3.3.330-34).
"The Moor alreadychanges withmypoison": the line markswhat is distinctiveabout projection in this play-and distinctively
Kleinian. Before
Klein,projectionwas usuallyunderstoodas a relatively
in whichdisownedideas and emotionsweredisplaced onto an externalfigure.
Klein insistedboth on the fantasiesof bodily functionaccompanyingthis
process and on the extentto whichit is specificallypieces of the selfand its
innerobjects thatare thusrelocated,withthe consequence thatpieces of the
selfare nowfeltto be "out there,"both controllingthe objectintowhichthey
have been projected and subject to dangers from it; Klein renamed this
process "projectiveidentification."And her followershave expanded on the
concept,stressingthe effectsof these projected contentson the recipientof
the projection,the waysin whichthe projectorcan in factcontrolthe recipient. In this version of projectiveidentification,the recipientwill not only
experience the bitsof selfprojected into him but also enact the projector's
fantasyscenarios, hence relieving the projector of all responsibilityfor

I7I here departfromRidleyin following

F and Q2; Q1, Ridley'scopytext,gives"conceit." The
half-buriedmetaphorof childbirthis, I think,presentin eithercase, both throughthe associationof "groan" -especially in proximity
to a bed-with childbirth(see, e.g., All's WellThatEnds
Well,1.3.140 and 4.5.10; and Measurefor
Measure,2.2.15) and throughthefamilyrelationbetween
and Latin conceptus,
cited in the OED; the OED also gives"Conception of offspring"as an
witha 1589 instance,thoughit notes thatthisusage is "Perhaps only
a pun" (3:647-48, esp. 648).
48 See also "the best turni' th' bed" (Antony
and Cleopatra,
2.5.59). For serve,
see Lear's Oswald,
"A serviceable villain,/ As duteous to the vices of thymistress/ As badness would desire"
(4.6.248-50); forservemyturn,see Costard's exchangewiththeking (Love'sLabor'sLost,1.1.28182). For follow/fallow,
see Parker in Hendricks and Parker,eds., 99, citingHerbert A. Ellis,
LustyPunningin Love'sLabour'sLost (1973).



them.49When lago imaginesRoderigo turnedinside out, his bodyfilledwith

pus, he seems to me to be engaging in somethingclose to garden-variety
projection:he is attributing
to Roderigo portionsof himself,or ideas about
himself,thathe would like to disown;and, as faras we know,Roderigo does
not come to experience himselfas pus-filledor inside out. But when lago
imaginesfillingOthello withhis poison, when he imagines (in Klein's formulation) "the forcefulentryinto the object and control of the object by
parts of the self,"50he is much closer to a specificallyKleinian projective
identification;and, as Klein's followerswould predict,Othello reallydoes
change withlago's poison, as he begins to experience himselfas contaminated and hence to act out lago's scenarios.
And the playdepends on preciselythisspecialized kind of projectiveidenin whichlago's fantasiesare replicatedin Othello's actions.When
we firstmeet Othello, he is confidentenough about his statusand his color
that he wishes to be found; he can confidentlywish "the goodness of the
night" (1.2.35) on Cassio and the duke's servantsbecause blacknesshas not
yet been poisoned for him. But as lago projects his faecal baby into him,
Othello comes more and more to imaginehimselfas the foul thing-the old
black ram-intruding into thepalace ofVenetiancivilizationor thepalace of
Desdemona's body;as lago succeeds in makingOthello the containerforhis
own interiorwaste,Othello himselfincreasinglyaffiliates
his blacknesswith
soiling (he becomes "collied" or blackened bypassion [2.3.197];51 his name
is "begrim'd,and black" as hisface) and withbad interiorobjects. (In "Arise,
black vengeance, from thyhollow cell" [3.3.454], he calls on "black vengeance" to arise as thoughfromwithinthe hollowof himself.)52His experience of himself,that is, comes increasinglyto resemblewhat lago has projected into him; and he begins to act in accordance with that projection,
replicatingin Desdemona thecontagionofprojectionitself.The Othellowho
feels himselfbegrimedbecause he has internalizedlago's foul intruderwill
necessarilysee Desdemona as "foul" (5.2.201), as a "begrim'd" Diana or a
"black weed," and will evacuate his good object as lago had predicted
(1.3.350); bythe end of the play,Emilia can call Othello "the blackerdevil,"
Desdemona's "most filthy
bargain," "As ignorantas dirt" (5.2.132, 158, 165)
because he has so perfectlyintrojectedlago's sense of inner filth.
4 This is an oversimplified
summaryof a verycomplex developmentin psychoanalytic
for a fuller summary,see "Projective Identification"in R. D. Hinshelwood's A Dictionaryof
KleinianThought(London: Free AssociationBooks, 1991), 179-208; or ElizabethBott Spillius's
"Clinical experiences of projectiveidentification"in ClinicalLectureson Kleinand Bion, Robin
Anderson,ed. (London and New York: Tavi~stock/Routledge,
1992), 59-73, esp. 59-64. For
Klein's initialdevelopmentof the concept of projectiveidentification,
see Envyand Gratitude,
8-11. The developmentof the concept byher followershas had broad ramifications
work; for a particularlylucid account of some of these, see, in addition to Spillius,Joseph,
"Projectiveidentification-some clinical aspects" in MelanieKleinToday:Developments
in Theory
and Practice,Elizabeth Bott Spillius, ed., 2 vols. (London and New York: Routledge, 1988),
Klein,Envyand Gratitude,
Colliedis conjecturallyrelated to coalyby the OED, 3:390-91.
Folio gives"hell" forQi's "cell." The Folio readingwould allyblackvengeancewithlago's
monstrousbirth.In either reading, the apparentlysuperfluoushollownesssuggestsan inner
space; as Ridleynotes,it occurs,again redundantly,
in the referenceto a "hollow mine" (4.2.81).
Shortlyafterhe calls up black vengeance,and again in 5.2, Othello imagineshis revengeswallowingup his victims(3.3.467 and 5.2.76), as thoughreturningthemto the interiorsource of his



Insofaras lago can make Othello experience his own blacknessas a contaminationthatcontaminatesDesdemona, he succeeds in emptyinghimself
out into Othello; and insofaras Othello becomes in effectlago's faecal baby,
Othello-rather than lago-becomes the bearerof thefantasyof innerfilth.
thatis,lago inventsblacknessas a contaminated categorybefore our eyes,enactinghis monstrousbirththroughOthello, and thenallowingtheVenetians(and mostmembersof theaudience) to
congratulate themselves-as he does-on their distance from the nowracializedOthello. Throughthisprocess,Othello becomes assimilatedto,and
motivatedby,his racial "type"-becomes the monstrousMoor easilymade
jealous-and lago escapes our human categoriesaltogether,becoming unknowable,a motivelessmalignity.
But thisemptyingout of lago is no more than lago has alreadyperformed
on himself:if the projectionof his own inner contaminationinto Othello is
lago's relief,it is also his undoing,and in a waythatcorroboratesboth the
bodilinessof the fantasyof projectionand itsdangersto the projectoras well
as the recipient.Klein notes that excessiveuse of projectiveidentification
resultsin the "weakeningand impoverishment
of the ego"; in the wordsof
BettyJoseph, "at timesthe mind can be ... so evacuated by projectiveidentificationthatthe individualappears empty.'53 If at the end of the playthere
is nothingleftto envy,there is also no one leftto experience envy:lago's
projectionof himselfinto the racial otherhe constructsas the containerfor
his contaminationends not onlybydestroying
his (and our) good objectsbut
also byleavinghim entirelyevacuated.Having poured the pestilenceof himself into Othello, lago has nothingleftinside him: his antigenerativebirth
hollowshim out,leavinghimempty.The closerhe is to hisgoal, theflatterhis
language becomes; bythe end, thereis no insideleft,no place to speak from.
The playthatbeginswithhisinsistent"I" ends withhis silence:fromthistime
forthhe neverwillspeak word.


Klein, Envyand Gratitude,

11; Josephin Spillius,ed., MelanieKleinToday,140.

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