Othello Day One Slide Show Dr. Fike ENGL 640
Outline • This presentation has two parts: • Surface vs. depth or appearance vs. reality with respect to characters and geography • Moors
Part One: Appearance vs. Reality • POINT: Only Desdemona is what she appears to be: pure, innocent, faithful. • Qualifications: • She has animus problems. • And she does not know how to be a wife.
Desdemona as Wife • See 3.3.66-100. Read and discuss. • Problem:
Everybody Else • All the other characters are problematic because their personas are not consistent with their inner selves.
APPEARANCE Brabantio: sophisticated, civilized Venetian senator Cassio: gentleman soldier Emilia: sensible, conventional waiting woman REALITY He fears the unknown and is a racist. He is prideful (2.3.92ff.) and lacks self-restraint when drunk. She is greedy and lustful: 4.3.63ff., esp. 77-79. Examples
Again the Point • There is in this play a contrast between person and persona, between what characters seem to be and who they actually are.
Iago: The Best Example • “I am not what I am” (1.1.67). • But why, if his plans depend on surprise, does he reveal himself to Roderigo?
Otherwise • For every other character, Iago is like the underwater obstructions: The guttered rocks and congregated sands— Traitors ensteeped to clog the guiltless keel— 2.1.70-72
Another Association • Turks: They try to fool the Venetians into thinking that they are bound for Rhodes when they really intend to attack Cyprus. • After Iago cuts down all women: Desdemona: O, fie upon thee, slanderer! Iago: Nay, it is true, or else I am a Turk. 2.1.115-16
Furthermore • Iago is the prime mover of the drunken brawling on the watchtower at 2.3.142ff. Othello comments: Are we turned Turks, and to ourselves do that Which heaven hath forbid the Ottomites? 2.3.164-65
The Point • Feinting, maligning women, and brawling are associated with Turks • Iago does all of these things. • Therefore, he must be associated with the Turks.
A Step Further • POINT: The Turks provide a key to understanding what Shakespeare is doing with geographical setting in this play. • What we are going to develop now has some parallels to the 3-part pattern in MSND.
Venice • What things characterize it?
Venice • The Senate • Order • Reason • Justice and law • Civilization • Culture • Wealth • Sophistication Brabantio: “This is Venice; / My house is not a grange [“isolated country house”—Bevington’s note].” 1.1.108-09
But Also a Dark Side • Sensuality • Intrigue • Machiavellian deceptions • Decadence Notes: • Notice all the references to prostitution (cf. Venetian courtesans): Bianca • Venus-Venetian-Venereal: In the English imagination, Venice was the Sin City of the Renaissance.
Now the Contrast • The realm of Othello’s exploits: 1.3.130ff.: …antres vast and deserts idle, Rough quarries, rocks, and hills whose heads touch heaven,… [where there are] Cannibals that each other eat, The Anthropophagi, and men whose heads Do grow beneath their shoulders. 1.3.142ff. • Sir Walter Ralegh “publicly affirmed his belief in the existence of men with heads beneath their shoulders” (Gwen Benwell and Arthur Waugh, Sea Enchantress: The Tale of the Mermaid and her Kin 94).
Venice: Order Reason Law Othello’s realm: Disorder Blood, passion Barbarism People like the Turks Summary
Cyprus • This setting is halfway in between Venice and the world of the Turks: an outpost between these two worlds. • It is Christian like Venice • But the only law is Othello. • He is a symbol of the place: • Savage origins • A convert to Christianity (baptism, 2.3.337)
MSND: Athens (problems) Woods (confrontation with the unconscious) Athens (restoration, reintegration) Othello: Venice: Brabantio tries to thwart the married couple, but this obstacle is quickly overcome. Cyprus: Othello and his forces go there to fight the Turks, but the weather kills the enemy before they can be engaged. People murder each other. There is no comic return to Venice. Geographical Movement
Tragedy • One way to understand tragedy, then, is as the absence of a restorative return, a third stage in a play’s overall movement. Moreover: • In comedy, characters overcome problems. • In tragedy, problems overcome characters. • POINT: There are social forces that correspond to Venice and Cyprus, forces that correspond as well to the raging seas and the “Cannibals that each other eat.”
Iago Personifies These Forces • Examples: • Panic • Darkness • Neglect of duty • Fire Iago: Do, with like timorous accent and dire yell As when, by night and negligence, the fire Is spied in populous cities. 1.1.77-79
Does Iago’s Scheme Work? • Not in Venice. The Senate rules. • But it does start to work in Cyprus: • Cassio and Montano fight each other. • Othello is set against his officer and his wife. • Christian vs. Christian. • Servant vs. master. • Manners disappear; Othello even hits Desdemona (4.1.242). • Justice is a travesty.
Problems with This Reading? • Venice—Cyprus—the wild and untamed areas through which Othello has traveled. • What critical perspectives (literary theories) might help guide you to an answer?
Answer • This pattern participates in the kind of us-them binary thinking that propels Othello toward tragedy. In other words, it sets up a subject-object relationship. From a postcolonial standpoint, this is inappropriate because it perpetuates divisions between people and peoples. From a psychological perspective, it is inappropriate because it involves projection, which obscures not only the need to do inner work but also humanity’s fundamental unity.
Part Two • The problematic reading is grounded in Elizabethan thinking about Moors.
Part Three: Moors • Moors: • African • Ethiopian • Negro • Indian • Muslim • The term was used interchangeably.
POINT • A Moor is an Other.
Question • What are Othello’s positive traits?
Answers • He has: • Converted to Christianity • Saved Cyprus • Married one of the most desirable women in Venice • Won the loyalty and respect of his officer • Great eloquence • Skin color is not = moral worth.
Queen Elizabeth • “Edict Arranging for the Expulsion from England of Negroes and Blackamoors.” • See Bedford 302.
Stereotype • “[W]homsoever they find but talking with their wives they presently go about to murther them…by reason of jealousie you may see them daily one to be the death and destruction of another . . . they will by no means match themselves unto an harlot.” --John Leo’s History and Description of Africa (trans. 1600; Othello was written in 1603-04) END