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Home :: Archive :: 2001 :: March ::
Re: Othello in Aleppo
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 12.0697  Saturday, 24 March 2001

[1]     From:   Gabriel Egan <
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        Date:   Wed, 21 Mar 2001 10:59:35 -0000
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.0652 Re: Othello in Aleppo

[2]     From:   Graham Bradshaw <
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        Date:   Thursday, 22 Mar 2001 12:31:25 +0900
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.0652 Re: Othello in Aleppo


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Gabriel Egan <
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Date:           Wed, 21 Mar 2001 10:59:35 -0000
Subject: 12.0652 Re: Othello in Aleppo
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.0652 Re: Othello in Aleppo

Don Bloom wrote

>Good point about circumcision. Vasectomy may be
>reversible, but circumcision was not, at least not that
>I know of.

In his historical novel _Schindler's Ark_, Thomas Kenneally wrote of
Jewish men's attempts to reverse the process using wires attached to
metal weights hung over the end of the bed at night. The intention was
to evade Nazi biometrical tests of Jewishness.

Gabriel Egan

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Graham Bradshaw <
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Date:           Thursday, 22 Mar 2001 12:31:25 +0900
Subject: 12.0652 Re: Othello in Aleppo
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.0652 Re: Othello in Aleppo

I haven't followed all of this thread, but the discussions I have seen
don't connect with what most puzzles and worries me about Othello's
earlier murderous activity in Aleppo.

Othello speaks as though his murder of the Turk was in some way just,
and even admirable. But it's difficult or impossible to see how this is
the case, and neither of the "two noble Venetians" who are present sees
this case that way. "Oh,bloody period", says Lodovico; "All that is
spoke, is marr'd", says Gratiano. I must say, I wouldn't like to have
been stabbed every time I have lamented what is politely called American
foreign policy.

I shan't say that Othello's suicide speech is "out of character",
because that might unleash a flow of confidently anachronistic
objections. But, to make the same point in yet another way, what Othello
says before he stabs himself contrasts very sharply with his very first
words in the play. When Iago says that only his conscience prevented him
from "yerking", i.e. stabbing, Roderigo (or, which may make better
sense, Brabantio) "under the ribbes", Othello says: "'Tis better as it
is."

For Coleridge, this first affirmation of Othellos's "self-government",
when Othello reveals or introduces himself as a remarkably peaceable
soldier who prefers civil and legal process to summary execution,
impresses "at the outset the truth of Othello's own character of himself
at the end--"that he was not easily wrought." But, as carpenters say of
joints, this doesn't "sit" with that final and (in chronological,
"story" terms) Clint-Eastwood-in Aleppo termination. (I note, in
passing, that the only way in which this play is unquestionably "racist"
has to do with its attitude to Turks, not Moors. This will be discussed
more frequently, if the European Community is so foolish and
conscienceless as to accept the Turkish application to join the EU. On
this matter I would value the comments of Robert Fisk more highly than
those of any Shakespearean critic or editor.)

Poor Coleridge, in his fat, slack, non-psychedelic Tory Anglican phase
or posture, was obsessed with the idea that Othello was not only
"contradistinguished throughout from Leontes": he was also, inseparably,
and pitifully, obsessed with the idea that Othello was a "gentleman"!!
That, for Coleridge--if we can trust the (at this point) especially
murky textual history of "Table Talk--was why Kean couldn't act Othello.
The sentence in question, about how Kean couldn't play Othello as a
"gentleman"--immediately follows what is probably the most quoted
sentence in the history of Shakespeare in performance, where Coleridge
(allegedly) described Kean's performances as Othello by saying that
watching Kean was like reading Shakespeare by "flashes of lightning".
Americans, please note this historically idiomatic and politically
charged, prejudice. At this time, a "flash of lightning" was a shot of
gin. Coleridge's disapproval is implicit in the self-applauding
metaphor, which then leads into the sentence about how Kean couldn't be
a "gentleman" (to his great credit, as Hazlitt might have said). Gin was
cheap, and these "flashes of lightning" were drunk in public bars, which
the almost or all-but alcoholic Kean frequented, but which the older
Coleridge would never have entered. (Ditto the older Wordsworth, who
took government bribes for betraying his revolutionary associates.)

Suppose we set aside Coleridge, and turn to the very much greater critic
from whose Vienna lectures Coleridge took, or stole, so much: August
Wilhelm von Schlegel: the Aleppo speech is no less problematic in the
account of the far more intelligent and well-read Schlegel, which
suggests that Othello is "divided" between two "spheres". So Schlegel
also gets into difficulties with the reported, and putatively (cfEliot
and Leavis) Aleppo murder.  Schlegel argues that the executive Othello
executes himself as a "runaway slave". PC growls follow, but Schlegel's
analysis is firmly founded in the metaphors of Shakespeare's final
scene, and the idea that the Othello who executes the anonymous Turk is
now executing (and forever damning) the "Slave"-part of himself.  That
also leaves in doubt the morality or justice of the Aleppo execution,
doesn't it?  In Schlegel's metaphorical construct, the higher Othello is
executing the lower Othello. But the Aleppo murderer seems lower, not
higher? "O bloody period"!

Cheers, Graham Bradshaw

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