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Shakespeare and Austen Ride Again

P. D. James and David Snodin dream up irresistible sequels to classic works

Equally true to its literary roots is David Snodin’s first novel, Iago, a sequel to Shakespeare’s The Tragedy of Othello.

Opening three weeks after Othello’s and Desdemona’s deaths on 16th-century Cyprus, Iago pits Shakespeare’s legendary villain against the virtuoso chief inquisitor of Venice, Annibale Malipiero.

Having escaped from a tower on the island, where he was being held in connection with the deaths of Othello and Desdemona, Iago is recaptured and imprisoned in Venice. Malipiero, due to retire in just two months, is intrigued by Iago’s reputation as “an infestation that can invade and kill you before you even know you are sick.” He therefore enlists Gentile Stornello, a guileless Venetian boy, to endear himself to Iago and learn “what lies behind his crimes.” This case, Malipiero hopes, will be the capstone to his illustrious career.

Iago is richly cinematic. As a historical novel, it delights in re-creating the nuanced infighting among Venice’s power elite. It also vividly illuminates the context — civil unrest in Cyprus, the Ottoman Empire ascendant — in which Shakespeare anchored Othello. And it is frequently savage, as when Gentile’s uncle stumbles across some of Iago’s handiwork on Cyprus:

“The fresh-faced soldier from Florence, the sometimes infuriatingly voluble youngster whom Graziano Stornello had grown to like for his thoughtfulness and rare optimism, sat in a chair with his head lolling backward, an open, blood-caked mouth, and a cruel gash across his neck.”

At the core of both these novels is the primacy of family. In Death Comes to Pemberley, Mr. Darcy is never as happy or as sure of himself as we find him at the end of the novel, sitting alone with Elizabeth, hoping her third pregnancy means a daughter’s on the way. And in Iago, Malipiero discovers firsthand how ruined homes can produce ruined men.

Perhaps the young Gentile should have the last word, for in Iago he offers an insight that would feel right at home in the pages of Death Comes to Pemberley: “The loyalty and protection of those closest to you, I think, is what makes for true succor — a shield against the fears of the night and the perils of the world outside.”

John Wilwol is a writer living in Washington, D.C.

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