EMC CPD Online: ‘Work on, my medicine, work!’: Befriending Iago – an EMC Lecture
This perfect amity I speake of, is indivisible; each man doth so wholy give himselfe into his friend, that he hath nothing left-him to divide elsewhere. …[He] is no other but my selfe.
(Montaigne, ‘Of Friendship’)
‘A friend is,’ as Aristotle suggested, ‘another I.’ As here, in Michel de Montaigne’s wonderfully moving essay ‘Of Friendship,’ Renaissance writers frequently extolled the mental-health benefits of close, ‘indivisible’ friendship; describing how amity ‘makes two as it were One’, providing the opportunity to ‘impart Griefs, Joyes, Fears, Hopes, Suspicions, Counsels, and whatsoever lieth upon the Heart to oppress it’. In short, a friend should be, in the words of Francis Bacon, ‘the Medicine of Life’.
And yet in this talk we will see what happens when this medicinal relationship is abused by a false friend or a duplicitous flatterer – ‘work on, my medicine, work!’ (Othello) – and when the curative attentions of a friend are mimicked by a secret enemy, such as Othello’s poisonous councillor, Iago: ‘The Moor already changes with my poison…’. And therefore we will watch how Shakespeare’s most venomous false-friend, Iago, infects his victims, ‘lying hidden and secret,’ as one Renaissance physician describes, ‘as if [he was] part of our nourishment, part of our bodies, or had entred a league of amitie and frendship with us, working at leisure, and by degrees undermining the foundation of life’. Ultimately it will become clear why Shakespeare, as another of his contemporaries writes, was so insistent that we ‘beware of enemylike friends, for under their pleasaunt sugred wordes, they keepe hidden a bitter venomous meaning’, and how his play is best understood as a tragedy of truly toxic masculine friendship.
This is an EMC lecture, with Q&A. These lectures, from experts in their field, are designed to refresh and enrich teacher subject knowledge.
- This course will be recorded but participants will not be audible or visible.
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- A recording of the session will be available for 7 days after the event.
Eric Langley is an Associate Professor in Literature at UCL, where he lectures on Shakespeare and Renaissance Literature. He has published two academic books with Oxford University Press, the first on Suicide and Narcissism in the Works of Shakespeare and His Contemporaries, and the second entitled Shakespeare’s Contagious Sympathies, from which material for his lecture will be drawn. He has also published his own poetry, and was nominated for the Felix Dennis award for Best First Collection at the Forward Prizes in 2017 for his collection, Raking Light (Carcanet).
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Erudite, perceptive and thoroughly timely. It was a joy to be in Eric's learned company for an hour.