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Home :: Archive :: 1999 :: February ::
Re: Othello
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 10.0322  Friday, 26 February 1999.

[1]     From:   Ed Taft <
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        Date:   Thursday, 25 Feb 1999 10:10:40 -0500 (EST)
        Subj:   Othello

[2]     From:   Peter T. Hadorn <
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        Date:   Thursday, 25 Feb 1999 14:19:54 -0600
        Subj:   RE: SHK 10.0313 Getting Back . . .


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Ed Taft <
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Date:           Thursday, 25 Feb 1999 10:10:40 -0500 (EST)
Subject:        Othello

Brian Haylett's comments on the character of Othello seem pretty much on
target to me, though I'm not sure if I agree that Othello lacks
sufficient regard for himself, as both Brian and Arthur Kirsch argue.
After all, Iago successfully "practices" on Cassio, who may be a bit of
a anob and a ladies' man, but certainly does not lack confidence in
himself. But I think that the heart of Brian's comments is "Iago
embodies fears that are already within Othello." One of those fears,
perhaps prejudices would be a better word, is latent misogyny, which
Othello shares with Cassio. Indeed, Hamlet shares it, as good as he may
be in other areas, and so do Lear and Leontes. I would suggest that
through his tragic heroes, Shakespeare often explores the costs to both
society and the individual of this deeply embedded hate toward half of
humankind, and I think he is quite conscious of what he is doing. It may
well be that Shakespeare sees misogyny as the rock on which the ship of
both the family and the state may founder. Such a rock is, of course,
below the surface, but when the ship hits it, it's all over. Might this
be an additional reason for the sea/ship/ storm imagery at the start of
Othello?

--Ed Taft

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Peter T. Hadorn <
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Date:           Thursday, 25 Feb 1999 14:19:54 -0600
Subject: 10.0313 Getting Back . . .
Comment:        RE: SHK 10.0313 Getting Back . . .

I would like to respond to Brian Hayleltt's assertion about Othello:

"Othello's major faults are threefold. First there is the lack of
confidence of the soldier when it comes to courting a woman -
understandable enough. . . ."

I disagree.  I think Othello is very good at wooing young women.
Consider the stories he tells to Desdemona.  They make him look like a
hero and victim; i.e., someone to be admired and pitied.  Just something
a foolish young girl would fall for.  Are we really expected to believe
that he saw the monsters that he says he saw?  In other words, he's very
good at telling stories, particularly ones that serve his purpose.
Consider what he says about the handkerchief.  He claims it has all
these magical powers, but later admits that it was just some
handkerchief his father had given to his mother (5.2.223-34).

I'm reminded, too, of the wooing scene between Henry V and Katherine.
He says to her that he is a soldier and not a lover, and that he is not
good at speaking.  But if that play demonstrates anything it
demonstrates that Harry is a master of words.  With Katherine, he claims
that he is inept at speaking like a lover.  Yet his "ineptness" is
endearing and is meant, I think, to woo us as much as Katherine.

I know I have strayed a bit from Professor Haylett's original point (but
he pushed a button), but I think the point is, I think, that Shakespeare
is saying something about effective leaders (and lovers): they must be
able to manipulate language effectively.  The irony is that Iago is
better at manipulating language.
 

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