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Home :: Archive :: 1996 :: March ::
Re: Othello's Religion
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 7, No. 0156.  Saturday, 2 March 1996.

(1)     From:   Chris Fassler <
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        Date:   Friday, 1 Mar 1996 11:27:40 -0500
        Subj:   Othello: Muslim or Christian?

(2)     From:   Ian H. Doescher <
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        Date:   Friday, 1 Mar 1996 19:35:57 -0500 (EST)
        Subj:   Othello's religion

(3)     From:   Susan Mather <
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        Date:   Friday, 1 Mar 1996 21:42:19 -0500 (EST)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 7.0143  Qs:  *Oth.*

(4)     From:   Daniel Vitkus <
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        Date:   Saturday, 2 Mar 1996 12:45:32 GMT
        Subj:   RE: SHK 7.0143  Qs:  *Oth.*


(1)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Chris Fassler <
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Date:           Friday, 1 Mar 1996 11:27:40 -0500
Subject:        Othello: Muslim or Christian?

Regarding Tunis Romein's comments on what he takes to be textual evidence of
Othello's Christianity:

These questions and the ways we answer them certainly bear on the issues under
discussion on the character track.  What does it mean to write in an academic
setting that Othello was a Christian (or a Muslim)?  What effects do playing
and costuming Othello as a Muslim (or Christian) have on the presentation and
reception of the performance?

Aside from those interesting questions, however, I wonder about inter- preting
the Romein's chosen lines as he does.  In the first instance, Iago's language
can easily be taken as a metaphor, common and powerful enough in the
pervasively Christian culture of early modern London.  Perhaps the metaphor is
inevitable, regardless of the particular religious preferences that writers,
performers, or audience members would have associated with the figure of the
Moor.  In any case, I wonder if any but a very select few early modern
Englishmen could have constructed metaphors usefully indicative of Islamic
faith--apart from some off-handed references to "Mohamet" (e.g. _Tamburlaine_)
or some glib reference to circumcision (readily applicable to Jews as well).

(2)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Ian H. Doescher <
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Date:           Friday, 1 Mar 1996 19:35:57 -0500 (EST)
Subject:        Othello's religion

Caroline Gebhard wonders whether or not Othello is a converted Christian.
There is a line suggesting that perhaps Othello is a Christian when, telling
Montano and Cassio to stop fighting, he says "For Christian shame put by this
barbarous brawl!" (II.iii.162).

However, the key issue I think depends on when the play is set.  Muslims had
control in Sicily in the middle 1400s, and therefore if the play is set before
that time we may be prone to believe that Othello is a Muslim.  It is likely,
though, the play is meant to be set after Muslim control in Sicily.  One reason
is that Shakespeare's source for the play is an Italian play called
"Heccatommithi," published in 1565, well after the Muslim control.  Also,
considering that Othello is fighting the Turkish fleet, it seems more likely
that he is Christian, as he is fighting for the Christian cause against the
Muslims.  Finally, if the play is indeed set after the 1400s, it is unlikely
that a Muslim would be allowed a position of nobility in a Christian society,
especially one that had recently rid themselves of Muslim control.

Ian Doescher

(3)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Susan Mather <
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Date:           Friday, 1 Mar 1996 21:42:19 -0500 (EST)
Subject: 7.0143  Qs:  *Oth.*
Comment:        Re: SHK 7.0143  Qs:  *Oth.*

I realize that the list will receive many answers to this question on Othello's
Christian beliefs.  I have always thought that Othello chose to assimilate with
the Venetian culture and that he believes himself to be Christian, having taken
on the beliefs of this culture as his own.  I wrote a paper on this that I
titled, "Reading the texts of Desdemona and Othello" (or something like that)
and I argued that the two characters become trapped in this foreign discourse
that limits them in their expression, i.e. spiritually or otherwise.  Also,
Othello knows his Scriptures for he uses them to defend his right to murder
Desdemona.  I realize that this does not mean he's a Christian; it might mean
that this is his cover though.

Cheers,
Susan Mather

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(4)---------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Daniel Vitkus <
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Date:           Saturday, 2 Mar 1996 12:45:32 GMT
Subject: 7.0143  Qs:  *Oth.*
Comment:        RE: SHK 7.0143  Qs:  *Oth.*

Othello is clearly identified as a Christian in Shakespeare's play.  Of course,
as a Moor he cannot escape being identified with the Muslims of the early
modernMediterranean, and by the end of the play he "turns Turk," one might say.
Thus, at the end, Othello kills the infidel enemy to Venice that he has become.
The Christian language of damnation and salvation is central to the text, but
whether Othello was born a Muslim or not is not stated specifically.  Christian
anxieties about conversion and the Islamic Other are played out in the
"conversion" of Othello.  I have not seen the Fishburne film, so I can't
commenton the Muslim rites performed therein.

D. Vitkus
 

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