Make a Donation

Consider making a donation to support SHAKSPER.

Subscribe to Our Feeds

Current Postings RSS

Announcements RSS

Home :: Archive :: 1995 :: November ::
Re: Desdemona's Death; Q: Othello and Ethnicity
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 6, No. 0873.  Monday, 6 November 1995.
 
(1)     From:   Stuart Rice <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
        Date:   Friday, 03 Nov 1995 23:17:08 EST
        Subj:   RE: SHK 6.0866  Re: Desdemona's death
 
(2)     From:   Carmine Di Biase <FCD2@JSUMUS>
        Date:   Sunday, 05 Nov 95 11:22:57 CST
        Subj:   Re: SHK 6.0866 Re: Desdemona's death
 
(3)     From:   Amy E. Hughes <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
        Date:   Saturday, 4 Nov 1995 01:35:59 -0500 (EST)
        Subj:   Desdemona's Death
 
(4)     From:   W. L. Godshalk <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
        Date:   Sunday, 05 Nov 1995 21:56:13 -0500 (EST)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 6.0866  Re: Desdemona's death
 
(5)     From:   Shaul Bassi <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
        Date:   Monday, 6 Nov 1995 18:19:26 +0100 (MET)
        Subj:   Coleridge and Lamb on Othello
 
(1)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Stuart Rice <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
Date:           Friday, 03 Nov 1995 23:17:08 EST
Subject: 6.0866  Re: Desdemona's death
Comment:        RE: SHK 6.0866  Re: Desdemona's death
 
Perhaps my somewhat flippant response to your query, Mr. Purdy, lacked the kind
of evidence I would behoove in others.  To produce evidence for my assumption I
turn to the Quarto of _Othello_, dated 1622 (per its title page) and to the
Folio of 1623.
 
The line you quote is rendered as:
 
Q: I that am cruel,am yet mercifull,
   I would not haue thee linger in thy paine, --- so, so.
 
F: I that am cruell,am yet mercifull,
   I would not haue thee linger in thy paine?
   So,so.
 
Many modern editions of _Othello_ includes a stage direction "(He dispatches
her)."  This, of course, is not included in the original publication, but
represents, I think, a logical inference.  Rather than suggesting that he again
smothers her -- which would perhaps increase her agony <a conjecture> -- I
assume this means he stabs her.  This conjecture is further supported by the
fact that he is apparently disarmed by Montano in this scene, for in the Folio
it reads:
 
F: ...take you this weapon
   Which I have recouer'd from the Moore:
 
Out of these textual clues, I have often deduced that Othello stabs her.  Your
citing of "Yet I'll not shed her blood,/Nor scar that whiter skin of hers, then
Snow," is an astute defense, but I would argue that even the best laid plans
often go astray.  Such, I think, is the way of the other commonly read
tragedies, which I would cite as: _Macbeth_, _Romeo and Juliet_, _Hamlet_,
_Othello_, and _King Lear_.  In each, plans go astray because of circumstance.
I tend to believe this is true with Othello's plan not to "scar" her.  Since he
is bewildered by the fact that he hears someone after he "smothers" or
"stifles" her, I find it not unreasonable to assume that he would have done the
very thing he said he wouldn't.
 
Yours,
Stuart Rice
Kenyon College
 
(2)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Carmine Di Biase <FCD2@JSUMUS>
Date:           Sunday, 05 Nov 95 11:22:57 CST
Subject: 6.0866 Re: Desdemona's death
Comment:        Re: SHK 6.0866 Re: Desdemona's death
 
To me what has always made Desdemona's death moving is the very absence of a
stabbing (or at least I've always thought there was no stabbing). The fact that
so many other stabbings do tkae place makes Desdemon's death - a suffocation -
delicate, grotesquely so. The emphasis is on her last breaths.  I believe tht
Ovid's story of Cephalus and Procris is behind all of ths, informing the deth
scene for those who are familia r with the tale.  In Ovid, Cephalus
accidentally kills Procris, his wife , while he is hunting (nd while she is
spying on him).  She then dies in his arms, as she breathes her last breath
into his mouth.  It's a moving passage, in in Golding's wooden verse.  Jonathan
Bate believes this is so as well (see his new book Shakespeare and Ovid).  And
I belie ve the tale forms the mythic foundtion of a Shakespeare play that is
parallel in many ways to Othello: Cymbeline.  In both plays, there is the
threat of a violent death, involving knoves or swords, and that threat, which
is never realized, is what gives both plays much of their force.  My rticle on
Cymbeline is in Cahiers Elisabethains (October, 1994): Pettie, Ovid, and the
Mythic Foundation of Cymbeline.
 
Carmine Di Biase
 
(3)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Amy E. Hughes <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
Date:           Saturday, 4 Nov 1995 01:35:59 -0500 (EST)
Subject:        Desdemona's Death
 
More thoughts about Desdemona's death...
 
1) I agree with Scott Purdy re: stabbing question. Othello's desire is to keep
her looking beautiful even after death, indicated especially by the line "Be
thus when thou art dead/And I will kill thee and love thee after."
(Necrophillia?) The "I'll not shed her blood" is another indicator.
 
2) In many editions, the stage direction reads, "Smothers her." I just finished
directing the play and decided on having him "strangle her" instead, since that
is Iago's instruction in 4.1: "Do it not with poison/Strangle her in her bed."
The choice was perhaps uninformed, however; was the "smothers her" one of
Shakespeare's stage directions? or an editor's?
 
(4)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           W. L. Godshalk <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
Date:           Sunday, 05 Nov 1995 21:56:13 -0500 (EST)
Subject: 6.0866  Re: Desdemona's death
Comment:        Re: SHK 6.0866  Re: Desdemona's death
 
As far as I can see, there is no evidence in the script that Othello stabs
Desdemona (at 5.2.89 or so). He Quarto has Othello stifling her, and the Folio
smothering. The "So, so" may simply mean that he finishes the job of killing
her "without blemish," the immaculate murder.
 
It is rather interesting that Iago likes to maculate, to make the clean dirty,
to poison, etc.  But he doesn't want others to do the same: "Do it not with
poison; strangle her in her bed" (Riverside 4.1.207), he tells Othello. Iago
will do all the blemishing.
 
Yours, Bill Godshalk
 
(5)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Shaul Bassi <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
Date:           Monday, 6 Nov 1995 18:19:26 +0100 (MET)
Subject:        Coleridge and Lamb on Othello
 
Looking at Romantic criticism on Othello, I've been struck by the mixed
reactions to the skin-colour "problem". While critics such as Hugo and Hazlitt
put blackness to a symbolical use, both Lamb and Coleridge appear to be very
disturbed by this element and try either to explain it away in a variety of
ways or to play down its relevance. They also bring it as a self-explanatory
example of how Shakespeare is better read than seen on stage. In the copious
literature on Shakespeare and ethnicity (including the material recently quoted
by SHAKSPEReans in their discussion on black actors), I still haven't found
anything specific on this particular Romantic attitude. Can anyone help me with
comments and references?
 
My sincere thanks.
 
Shaul Bassi
(a Jew of Venice at the University of Pisa, currently in Liverpool)
 

Other Messages In This Thread

©2011 Hardy Cook. All rights reserved.