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Home :: Archive :: 2001 :: October ::
Re: Othello's Name
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 12.2392  Friday, 19 October 2001

[1]     From:   C. Fortunato <
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        Date:   Thursday, 18 Oct 2001 10:19:06 EDT
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.2385 Re: Othello's Name

[2]     From:   Hugh Grady <
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        Date:   Thursday, 18 Oct 2001 10:20:22 -0400
        Subj:   RE: SHK 12.2385 Re: Othello's Name

[3]     From:   Karen Peterson <
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        Date:   Thursday, 18 Oct 2001 07:52:35 -0700 (PDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.2371 Othello's Name

[4]     From:   Grant Smith <
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        Date:   Thursday, 18 Oct 2001 12:08:39 -0700
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.2385 Re: Othello's Name

[5]     From:   David Bishop <
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        Date:   Thursday, 18 Oct 2001 15:43:03 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.2385 Re: Othello's Name

[6]     From:   Wes Folkerth <
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        Date:   Thursday, 18 Oct 2001 17:45:41 -0700
        Subj:   Othello's Name

[7]     From:   David Schalkwyk <
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        Date:   Friday, 19 Oct 2001 14:18:38 +0200
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.2385 Re: Othello's Name


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           C. Fortunato <
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Date:           Thursday, 18 Oct 2001 10:19:06 EDT
Subject: 12.2385 Re: Othello's Name
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.2385 Re: Othello's Name

>I think it was Stanley Cavell who pointed out that in the center of
> Othello is Ot-hell-o and Desdemona is Des-demon-a. As for the
> significance of this...??
>
> Ed Kranz


The name "Desdemona" comes from Shakespeare's source, Hecatommithi,
whereas "Othello" and "Iago" are his own invention.

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Hugh Grady <
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Date:           Thursday, 18 Oct 2001 10:20:22 -0400
Subject: 12.2385 Re: Othello's Name
Comment:        RE: SHK 12.2385 Re: Othello's Name

One of the best theories I know of on Othello's name is from the late
Joel Fineman's book "The Subjectivity Effect in Western Literary
tradition." He conjectures that is from a Greek root "ethelo" or
"thelo," meaning wish, want, will, or desire--all central issues in the
play, mostly concentrated in the shifting meanings of the word "will."

Best,
Hugh Grady

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Karen Peterson <
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Date:           Thursday, 18 Oct 2001 07:52:35 -0700 (PDT)
Subject: 12.2371 Othello's Name
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.2371 Othello's Name

> In conversation once the subject of where Othello's
> name came from and
> what it might mean (if anything) arose.
>
> I have always harboured a pet theory that it is an
> Italilanized version
> of Ottoman/Othoman/Othman, and that the play might
> be capitalizing on
> contemporary interest in the Turkish empire
> following the publication of
> Knolles's Generall Historie of the Turkes... to the
> rising of the
> Othoman Familie (1603).

Was this conversation with Jonathan Bate by any chance?

This is very much a part of what Bate discussed in his keynote lecture
to the World Shakespeare Congress in Valencia this past April.  A
shortened version of the lecture appears in this week's *Times Literary
Supplement* ("Othello and the Other", 19 October 2001, pp. 14-15).  Bate
cites Knolles, and also "recently published books such as Lewis
Lewkenor's 1599 translation of Gasparo Contarini's *The Commonwealth and
Government of Venice* [and] John Pory's 1600 translation of *A
Geographical History of Africa* by 'Leo Africanus'" (14).

On the matter of Othello's name, Bate writes, "The audience hears a
consonance between the names of the captain-general 'Othello' and that
of the general enemy 'Ottoman'.  This would have been especially
apparent if, as is likely, the original pronunciation of the hero's name
was Otello.  Othman was the founder of the Turkish empire; Ottoman-ness
is thus suggested by Othello's name, but he is turned against the
origina implied by that name" (14).

Further, rather than perceiving "the Turks" as a monolithic entity, Bate
argues that Shakespeare and his contemporaries, while perceiving all
Islamic characters as "other," that they did draw distinctions between
Turk, Arab, Barbar and Moorish cultures.

For what it's worth.

Karen Peterson

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Grant Smith <
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Date:           Thursday, 18 Oct 2001 12:08:39 -0700
Subject: 12.2385 Re: Othello's Name
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.2385 Re: Othello's Name

I have offered a hypothesis in two forums,

Smith, G.  (Sept. 23, 1999).  "Word play as invention in Shakespeare's
naming," XXth International Congress of Onomastic Sciences, Santiago de
Compostela, Spain.  [the proceedings are presumably forthcoming], and

Smith, G.  (Dec. 29, 1999).  "The function of sound in Shakespeare's
coinage of names," Am. Name Society, Chicago.

based on pronunciation and Occam's razor-i.e., that Othello's name is a
pun with the pronunciation of the medial -th- being /t/, much like we
find in the title of Much Ado.

In most cases, when his name is used in the text, a simple literal
meaning may be construed, O-Tell-O.  Thus, the name, Othello, echoes the
storytelling and truth-telling themes which run throughout the play.

It may also be observed that the main character is referred to by name
far fewer times than the other characters (especially Cassio)-i.e., just
in contexts where the pun makes sense.  Thus, the fact that this pun is
possible in the vast majority of a few cases strengthens the probability
that Shakespeare's coinage of the name is the simple result of wordplay.

[5]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Bishop <
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Date:           Thursday, 18 Oct 2001 15:43:03 -0400
Subject: 12.2385 Re: Othello's Name
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.2385 Re: Othello's Name

Just for fun, I like to give students this little mnemonic verse:

O the hell o' th' low!
Demon desire of mine,
Destined to moan,
I, ego--I, a god--
Cast you!

[6]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Wes Folkerth <
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Date:           Thursday, 18 Oct 2001 17:45:41 -0700
Subject:        Othello's Name

If you're interested in Othello's name, an article worth looking into is
Joel Fineman's "The Sound of O in Othello." Fineman hears a Greek
derivation in the name, along the lines of "I desired."  The article is
included in the collection "Critical Essays on Shakespeare's Othello,"
Anthony Gerard Barthelemey (ed.), New York: G.K. Hall, 1994.

Wes Folkerth

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[7]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Schalkwyk <
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Date:           Friday, 19 Oct 2001 14:18:38 +0200
Subject: 12.2385 Re: Othello's Name
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.2385 Re: Othello's Name

A number of people have written about this topic.  Those that I recall
are:

Henry Kahane, "Desdemona: A Star-Crossed Name", _Names_ 35.3-4 (1987),
232-235.

John A Rea, "Iago", _Names_, 34.1 (1986), 97-8.

John C. Stephens, "Iago and His Good Name", _Notes and Queries_ 28:2
(1981), 136-7.

Samuel L. Macy, "The Naming of the Protagonists in _Othello_", _Notes
and Queries_ 25 (1978), 143-5.

Robert F. Fleissner, "The Moor's Nomenclature", _Notes and Queries_, 25
(1978), 143.

William C. Woodson, "Iago's name in Holinshed and the Lost English
Source of Othello", _Notes and Queries_, 25 (1978), 146-7.

T. Sipahigil, "Othello's name, Once Again", _Notes and Queries_, 18
(1971), 147-8.

Manfred Weidhorn, "The Rose and its Name: On Denomination in Othello,
Romeo and Juliet, and Julius Caesar", _Texas Studies in language and
Literature_, 11 (1969), 671-686.

I think that Brabara Everett's "'Spanish' Othello: The making of
Shakespeare's Moor",  _Shakespeare Survey_ 35 (1982), 101-12 contains a
discussion of names, but I'm not sure.

Stanley Cavell's remark about the shared satanic cores of Othello and
Dedemona's names is made on page 495 of _The Claim of Reason_ (Oxford:
OUP, 1979), "It is against the tradition of the morality play that I now
go on to call attention--I cannot think I am the first to say it out
loud-to the hell and the demon staring out of the names of Othello and
Desdemona".

Martin's notion is more than his pet theory.  It's been offered and
contested for a while....

Hope this helps.

David Schalkwyk

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