Illustration/Joyce Wong

Last Thursday night, after 411 years of evading justice, the antagonist of William Shakespeare’s Othello was finally tried during “Iago on Trial,” a literary moot event benefiting an organization called University in the Community, which “provides free-of-charge, educational and humanities programming for vulnerable adults living in Toronto and the GTA.”

Hosted in Innis Town Hall, the event drew a modest audience of elderly organization supporters and a smattering of students looking to get an hour-long fix of both good and bad Shakespeare.

What’s in a literary moot? Well, in this case it involved a novel and unique combination of English and law. It’s a sort of exercise in injecting a bit of reality into fiction by trying to apply real-world consequences to the actions of a villain.

Iago was tried under the Criminal Code of Canada to see if he’s guilty or not for his actions in the play. Of course, it was by no means a thorough trial—it simplified itself for the sake of clarity and time by, for example, allowing hearsay as evidence. As the prosecution pointed out, “The defense would have you rely on ‘facts.’ The defense would rely on ‘reasonable doubt.’” As you can see, the legalities of the show turn out to be quite engaging and comical.

The thing is, I hadn’t ever read Othello, so I quickly brushed up on the basics of the plot on Sparknotes a half hour before attending. Turns out, that’s probably as much as any of the players prepared either. The short of the play (WARNING: MAJOR SPOILERS!) is that Iago gets passed up for a promotion by his commanding officer, Othello, and decides to get revenge by making him think his wife Desdemona is being unfaithful. In the end, Othello kills her.

At least that’s the story the prosecution, played by Toronto lawyer Lauren Posloski, would like you to believe, to find Iago guilty of counselling a murder. She stood behind one podium, while the defense, another Toronto lawyer named Angela Chaisson, stood behind another. At the other end of the room is the judge’s table, where the U of T Faculty of Law Dean, Edward Iacobucci, sat quietly until it was time to deliver a judgment. In between these two points of authority was the witness’s table, where U of T Law professors Brenda Cossman, Anthony Niblett, and Martha Shaffer, were paraded through as wisecracking, rhyming, and dramatic characters that had a penchant for speaking in iambic pentameter (or at least attempting to).

It was a humble production, half-improvised and eliciting a lot of laughs. The fourth wall was broken a lot, often with a line like, “I can’t remember what happened in the play, it was hundreds of years ago.”

Upon fierce interrogation, one witness exclaimed, “The events happened so fast!” The defense prompted, “As much as U of T tuition rises?” The judge, Dean Iacobucci, objected with a wide grin on his face, eliciting uproarious laughter.

In the end, Iago was found not guilty, most probably thanks to the defense’s calling out of Othello’s preexisting misogyny for being the driving force behind his actions. With the trial decided, it was announced that the event made over $3,000 that night, meaning love’s labour truly paid off.

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