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Home :: Archive :: 1996 :: March ::
Re: Othello's Religion
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 7, No. 0160.  Monday, 4 March 1996.

(1)     From:   Shirley Kagan <
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        Date:   Saturday, 2 Mar 1996 10:42:30 -1000
        Subj:   Re: SHK 7.0156 Re: Othello's Religion

(2)     From:   Stephanie Hughes <
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        Date:   Sunday, 3 Mar 1996 07:58:36 -0500 (EST)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 7.0156  Re: Othello's Religion


(1)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Shirley Kagan <
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Date:           Saturday, 2 Mar 1996 10:42:30 -1000
Subject: 7.0156 Re: Othello's Religion
Comment:        Re: SHK 7.0156 Re: Othello's Religion

Perhaps an interesting issue to examine is the gap between Othello's perception
of himself as a Christian and societiy's perception of him as a Moslem.
Although I'm not looking at anything specifically textual, it seems that one
interpretation of this play presents  Othello's chief concern as assimilation
(I would even argue that the he murders Desdemona because her behavior is
societally "improper" and makes him look bad, rather than because he's jealous
- but that's another story).  And while Othello is busy trying to fit in, those
around him (particularly Iago) continue to see him as a Moslem nomatter what.

Once again, this is just an interpretation of a question that I think is quite
an open-ended one.  Like the recent Hamlet-Ophelia question, I don't think we
are provided with conclusive evidence one way or another in the play, and the
fun of this is that productions of the piece can continue to rehash these
issues and remain more interesting than if a definitive "answer" were found.

Wide open to interpretation,

Shirley Kagan

(2)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Stephanie Hughes <
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Date:           Sunday, 3 Mar 1996 07:58:36 -0500 (EST)
Subject: 7.0156  Re: Othello's Religion
Comment:        Re: SHK 7.0156  Re: Othello's Religion

Although the Italian play is given as a source for Othello, a second likely
source is the long-standing rumour that Philip of Spain strangled his young
wife, Elizabeth Valois, because of her love for his son, Don Carlos (a tale
that formed the main plot of Verdi's Don Carlo). This may be the reason for the
rather ambiguous behavior of Emilia, who may have been based on the Princess of
Eboli, Philip's mistress, who may have been involved in the intrigue that led
to the death of the Queen. A handkerchief was involved in that story as well.
To the English, the Spanish were all "moors" because of their dark coloring and
the long sojourn of the Moorish culture in Spain. In the parlance of the day, a
Moor was a person of middle-eastern origin while someone of African origin was
a Blackamoor. The term "black" for a person's coloring meant anything from
black African to white skin with dark brown hair and eyes. Thus the ambiguity
that surrounds the figure of Emilia also surrounds the religion of Othello
(Philip was a fanatic Catholic). Of course Othello can be, and has been, played
in any way that suits a director.

It also seems more likely that a story casting oprobrium on Philip would be
exciting for a London audience in the years before the Armada, when Philip was
a figure of fear and hatred to the English. This may not fit with Othello's
place in the accepted chronology, but there is a great deal of evidence that
Shakespeare's plays all appeared in their first versions much earlier than the
versions that have come down to us from the First Folio.

Stephanie Hughes
 

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