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Home :: Archive :: 2005 :: March ::
Othello's Name
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 16.0512  Friday, 18 March 2005

[1]     From:   John W. Kennedy <
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        Date:   Thursday, 17 Mar 2005 19:37:58 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 16.0500 Othello's Name

[2]     From:   David Basch <
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        Date:   Thursday, 17 Mar 2005 21:48:09 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 16.0500 Othello's Name

[3]     From:   Ed Kranz <
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        Date:   Friday, 18 Mar 2005 08:15:57 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 16.0500 Othello's Name


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           John W. Kennedy <
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Date:           Thursday, 17 Mar 2005 19:37:58 -0500
Subject: 16.0500 Othello's Name
Comment:        Re: SHK 16.0500 Othello's Name

Ed Kranz <
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 >David Basch writes:>As a converted Moor, Othello ...
 >
 >I wonder how David knows this i.e. that Othello is a convert and he is
 >not alone. In the introduction to the Signet edition of Othello Alvin
 >Kernan also speaks of Othello as a Christian convert. How do they know
 >this, I have seen no evidence for it? What am I missing?

There is at least one point that seems to make Othello a cradle
Christian, viz., his use of "circumcised" as a dyslogism -- which is one
more point than I have observed for the "convert" hypothesis.

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Basch <
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Date:           Thursday, 17 Mar 2005 21:48:09 -0500
Subject: 16.0500 Othello's Name
Comment:        Re: SHK 16.0500 Othello's Name

Ed Kranz asks how I know that Othello was a convert to Christianity.

Moors were Muslims and Muslims were circumcised. At the period of the
play, does anyone think a Muslim would have been allowed to wed a
Christian in Venice? Othello was entrusted to guard the safety of Venice
against a Turkish threat, hence he must have totally identified with
Venice, in religion and all else. The last lines of his last speech
before killing himself speak oceans about his views. Says Othello:

                           in Aleppo once,
     Where a malignant and a turban'd Turk
     Beat a Venetian and traduced the state,
     I took by the throat the circumcised dog,
     And smote him, thus.

The incident in Aleppo, Syria, involved a Muslim Turk that hurt a
Christian Venetian. Othello tells that he had then smote that
"circumcised dog" who beat a Christian, just as he then smites the
circumcised "malignant ... Turk" in himself for having also beat a
Venetian, a perfect parallel.

 From this it would appear that Florence Amit was on the mark in reading
the Hebrew message in Othello's name, "his sign of God," as referring to
his circumcision, the fact that he is circumcised, circumcision being
the covenantal SIGN linking man to God, as the Bible describes this
covenant in the flesh. That the matter of circumcision surfaces at a
climactic moment of the play suggests that this name was chosen for
highlighting this significance.

What is more, the Hebrew meaning of Othello's name, "his sign of God,"
can also be read more personally as alluding to Othello's view of
himself as having been given "a sign from God" that he is to be judge
and jury over Desdemona's fate.

Tolstoy was critical of this play, finding as too improbable that a
sophisticated man could be so readily tricked into jealousy the way
Othello was. Apparently, the Bible disagrees with Tolstoy on the
potential for such a happening since the Pentateuch in Numbers 5:14
discusses the problem of what is to be done if "the spirit of jealousy
come upon him [the husband], and he be jealous of his wife, and she be
not defiled." The Pentateuch prescribes the procedure that is to be
followed. The husband is not allowed to harm his wife but must bring her
to a priest so that she can go through an awesome ceremony of drinking
"bitter waters." If the "bitter waters" have marked physical effects on
her, it is proof of her guilt and he may put her aside, but not harm her
physically in any way, as the Talmud interprets it. But if the waters
have no effect, the Bible specifically dictates that she must be
returned to her home and she cannot be put aside by her husband for the
rest of her life. Such a procedure would have saved the lives of both
Desdemona and Othello.

David Basch

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Ed Kranz <
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Date:           Friday, 18 Mar 2005 08:15:57 -0500
Subject: 16.0500 Othello's Name
Comment:        Re: SHK 16.0500 Othello's Name

David,

I have to say I find your argument unconvincing. In The Duchess of Malfi
(written reasonably close to Othello), John Webster has the Duchess say:
"I have heard lawyers say a contract in a chamber,/ per verba de
presenti is absolute marriage:" Who then would have been able to prevent
this marriage? Othello's final speech which you cite, indicates Othello
thought of himself as a Muslim, an outsider, the "circumsized dog" so I
don't see how that provides any support for the view that he converted
to Christianity.

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