othello and eros
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Othello and Eros. 7/10/2009. Date of composition / Texts. 1603-1604 Some critics suggest an earlier date, late 1601-1602. (between Hamlet and King Lear ) First Quarto (1622) Folio version (1623). Differing versions.

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date of composition texts
Date of composition / Texts
  • 1603-1604
  • Some critics suggest an earlier date, late 1601-1602.
  • (between Hamlet and King Lear)
  • First Quarto (1622)
  • Folio version (1623)
differing versions
Differing versions
  • Many instances of “profanity” replaced in the Folio. (Act of Abuses 1606). For instance, ‘Sblood (1.1.4) is not in the Folio; the Folio’s “the very quality of my lord” replaces the quarto’s “utmost pleasure of my lord” (1.3.252).
  • Giraldi Cinthio’s Hecatommithi (1565) (ten “decades” each containing ten stories) (S. may have consulted the French translation, 1583) (series of short stories about married love; third decade, story 7).
  • John Leo’s A Geographical Historie of Africa (John Pory’s translation in 1600). John Leo or Leo Africanus was a Moor from Granada, who converted to Christianity. For centuries this text provided knowledge about Africa. Significant distinction between the civilised tawny Moor from North Africa and the “land of the Negroes”, “a beastly kind of life” (see my book Approximate Bodies, 79). Othello oscillates between these two poles.
sources 2
Sources (2)
  • The impact of the recent visit to the Elizabethan court by a Moroccan ambassado (see slide) (many diplomatic and commercial links with North Africa).
  • Holland’s translation of Pliny’s Historie of the World (1601; the reference to Pontus).
  • Lewis Lewkenor’s The Commonwealth and Government of Venice (1599), translation from Contarini’s Latin.
sources 3
Sources (3)
  • The double face of Venice for English people (ideal government, independent from the Pope; site of the proliferation of eros)
  • Cyprus (after the battle of Lepanto, back in Ottoman hands)
what s in a name
What’s in a name?
  • Othello (in Cinthio, “il moro”); Brabantio (non-Venetian name);
  • Cassio; Iago (Sant-Iago, Matamoros) (Jacob, in the Bible the one who replaces Esau); Roderigo; Desdemona (Disdemona=unlucky fate); Bianca (ironic)
Nicholas de Nicholay (1585) (Desdemona’s identification with the “maid of Barbary”; she becomes metaphorically “other”
languages of eros
Languages of Eros
  • Eros: Substitution (Service)
  • To serve
  • (I am not what I am)
  • Poison / delight
  • Theft (of Desdemona qua passive object)
  • Eros and the visual: “Even now…the beast with two backs”
  • Eros and bestiality (Venice vs “grange”)
  • Eros and “charm”
  • Love and “unhoused fre condition” (1.2.26).
  • Eros and difference
  • The ear (Desdemona’s ear; the “pestilence, 2.3.350)
  • Desdemona’s language: “my downright violence…” (1.3.250)
  • Language of Eros, but Eros is also the site where language meets its limits.
eros 2
Eros (2)
  • Eros and appetite
  • Eros and reason in Iago’s dialogue with Roderigo at the end of Act 1 (and soliloquy): Proliferation of the sexuality Iago wants to curtail.
  • Iago’s analysis of eros.
  • Eros and substitution in the final soliloquy of act 1.
eros 3
Eros (3)
  • Eros / Death / Thanatos: “If it were now to die / ‘Twere now to be most happy” (2.1.187)
  • Especially 5.2. (sex and death coincide; strangling and making love; “to die upon a kiss”, 356)
  • Homo / Eros (“leaped into my seat”, 2.1.294).
  • Eros (inseparable from race, gender and religion-conversion)
  • Eros and “turning”. Changeability versus fixed identity
  • Smell:
  • O thou weed,Who art so lovely fair and smell'st so sweetThat the sense aches at thee, would thou hadstne'er been born! (4.2)
  • I'll smell it on the tree.Kissing her Ah balmy breath, that dost almost persuadeJustice to break her sword! (5.2.1)
  • “My heart’s subdued even to the utmost pleasure of my lord” (quarto). Eros as dis-possession, subjection to desire, a desire over which one has no control. (More “disturbing” because Desdemona is a woman, speaking in public. But she shifts from one position to another: see the Desdemona of act 3 to 5).
the senses
The senses
  • “greedy ear” (1.3.150): Desdemona devours up Othello’s tale
  • Sight: Eros and what can be seen, what cannot be seen, what can only be seen in part. “Would you, the supervisor, grossly gape on?” (3.3.397); “It is impossible you should see this…” (405).
  • Jalousie: French word for Venetian blinds
  • Othello as voyeur, projecting his fears (and desires) onto a blank screen, forced by Iago to construct a story of betrayal out of flimsy and trivial signs (words, handkerchief, etc.).
  • The meta-theatricality of Othello. The audience as voyeur: how does one interpret signs in the theatre? The stage cannot show the sexual act. This obscene scene is literally “ob-scene”, off-stage; it cannot be seen and yet it attracts the viewer. (Replaced by Iago in bed with Cassio—Iago plays Desdemona to Cassio; replaced by the final murder, etc.)