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Home :: Archive :: 2001 :: March ::
Re: Othello in Aleppo
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 12.0625  Thursday, 15 March 2001

[1]     From:   Peter Groves <
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        Date:   Thursday, 15 Mar 2001 11:54:08 +1100
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.0611 Re: Othello in Aleppo

[2]     From:   Ros King <
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        Date:   Thursday, 15 Mar 2001 13:31:12 +0000
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.0611 Re: Othello in Aleppo


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Peter Groves <
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Date:           Thursday, 15 Mar 2001 11:54:08 +1100
Subject: 12.0611 Re: Othello in Aleppo
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.0611 Re: Othello in Aleppo

> Isaac Asimov in his Guide to Shakespeare remarks: "If Othello
> killed a
> Turk in Aleppo, he was killing him in the midst of a city of Turks and
> it is not likely he would have got away alive."  Asimov suggests that
> Othello was originally a Moslem (when he did the Aleppo murder) who
> converted to Christianity later in life.

But Othello kills him for beating a Venetian, and traducing the State.
Doesn't that suggest that S. thought that Aleppo was an outpost of the
Ventian Empire?

Peter Groves

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Ros King <
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Date:           Thursday, 15 Mar 2001 13:31:12 +0000
Subject: 12.0611 Re: Othello in Aleppo
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.0611 Re: Othello in Aleppo

Bill Godshalk cites Isaac Asimov in his Guide to Shakespeare: '"If
Othello killed a Turk in Aleppo, he was killing him in the midst of a
city of Turks and it is not likely he would have got away alive."
Asimov suggests that Othello was originally a Moslem (when he did the
Aleppo murder) who converted to Christianity later in life.'

I'm not convinced that we should be applying modern notions of national
(or even religious) identity when dealing with such issues. Aleppo as a
centre of world trade would have been full of merchants and adventurers
of all colours castes and creeds.

Travellers' dealings with foreigners, while subject to wider political
or diplomatic relations, may also be coloured more by pragmatism,
personal experience and the hope of personal gain, than by racial and
religious prejudice or national identity. The legal decisions made by
the local governors in trading towns may be similarly pragmatic. I
suppose a modern analogy would be Hong Kong which operates under
slightly different rules from those in mainland China. (And maybe the
Turk really was, personally, at fault!)

In this context, I've always been amazed by the story of John Newberry
who set sail on a trading expedition to the East Indies in 1583. He took
with him letters of introduction from Queen Elizabeth to the King of
China and the King of Cambay (on the Indian sub-continent). But he was
also carrying letters from Don Antonio - the pretender to the throne of
Portugal, supported in exile at both the French and English courts - and
was therefore denounced as a spy, by a rival Italian merchant, to the
Portuguese authorities in Ormuz. He was first imprisoned in Ormuz,
ostensibly in reprisal for an attack that Francis Drake had made on a
Portuguese galleon, and subsequently detained under supervision in Goa
in India (also Portuguese), where he was allowed to continue trading. He
was at length released through the good offices of 'two Padres or
Jesuits of S. Pauls colledge' one from Bruges, the other born in
Wiltshire (2.i.245-53). In such circumstances, distinctions between
different types of foreigner - and even those between Englishman and
foreigner - are not stable, and personal safety depends on a more
flexible approach than we might initially assume.  All this from Hakluyt
- who of course also has an axe to grind about English trade.

Maybe, though, Othello's story about the Turk is an embellished
traveller's tale.  Maybe he hit him but didn't kill him. But I don't
think any of these questions would arise when actually watching the
play. Surely the point about the line is that he now believes himself to
be a 'dog' (circumcised or not) for by killing Desdemona he has become
the anti-Venetian villain that her father took him to be - once he'd
become a member of the family and had therefore ceased to be an exotic
and useful stranger.

Best
Ros
Ros King
School of English and Drama
Queen Mary, University of London
University of London
 

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