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Home :: Archive :: 2000 :: November ::
Re: Adams' Essay on Desdemona
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 11.2073  Monday, 13 November 2000.

From:           Jean Peterson <
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Date:           Friday, 10 Nov 2000 12:01:26 -0500
Subject:        Adams' Essay on Desdemona

I must confess I am extremely puzzled by Prof. Moore's gloss on the
essay cited on the classical theater homepage
(www.classicaltheatre.com). I quote from his comments below:

*****
The following essay was written by former United States President John
Quincy Adams. Adams' essay is very much a product of the time in some
respects, and it is unfortunate that he doesn't extend his moral to the
conclusion that the real tragedy of Othello is that racism exists at
all. In other respects, his observations add texture and depth to a
character who is often simplified.
******

Having read the essay, I certainly agree that it is a product of its
time, but I marvel at Prof. Moore's implication that Adams' racist
"moralizing" and sexist condescension could offer valuable insights into
anything other than the thinking of a white supremacist patriarch in
1863, and the ways in which Shakespeare has been historically "enlisted"
in support of such repellent views.

Adams makes it clear that he feels readers have missed the true moral
lesson of *Othello*, which he explicates:

My objection to the character of Desdemona arise not from what Iago, or
Roderigo, or Brabantio, or Othello says of her; but from what she
herself does. She absconds, from her father's house, in the dead of
night, to marry a blackamoor. She breaks a father's heart, and covers
his noble house with shame, to gratify--what? Pure love, like that of
Juliet or Miranda? No! Unnatural passion; it cannot be named with
delicacy...

I still retain, then, the opinion-

First. That the passion of Desdemona for Othello is unnatural, solely
and exclusively because of his color.

Second. That her elopement to him, and secret marriage with him,
indicate a personal character not only very deficient in delicacy, but
totally regardless of filial duty, of female modesty, and of ingenuous
shame.

Third. That her deficiency in delicacy is discernible in her conduct and
discourse throughout the play.

*******
In such a context, I find Prof. Moore's claim that "it is unfortunate
that [Adams] doesn't extend his moral to the conclusion that the real
tragedy of Othello is that racism exists at all" either deliberately
disingenuous or shockingly misguided. Perhaps he could further enlighten
us?

Jean Peterson
Associate Professor of English
Bucknell University

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