The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 10.1685 Tuesday, 5 October 1999.
From: Geoffrey Forward <
Date: Monday, 04 Oct 1999 15:34:43 -0700
Subject: 10.1643 False as water?
Comment: Re: SHK 10.1643 False as water?
I'm currently directing Othello for The Actor's Shakespeare Workshop, so
I have an immediate interest in the meaning of the line, "She was false
as water" (Othello, 5.2.132).
This is the way I read it.
The Arden Shakespeare notes Genesis, 49.4, "Unstable as water, thou
shalt not excel; because thou wentest up to thy father's bed; then
defiledst thou it: he went up to my couch."
This refers to Reuben, who slept (had sex) with his father's concubine,
Bilbah (Genesis, 35.22).
Going back to Genesis, 49, in verse 3, Reuben is described as having
Reuben's sexual violation makes him unstable as water.
Water cannot be counted on to maintain a form or pattern. It cannot be
Shakespeare's line -- false as water. Things false cannot be trusted.
Sexual violations link up Desdemona and Reuben in Othello's mind.
Hence, Desdemona, like Reuben, is false as water.
That's my take.