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Home :: Archive :: 2005 :: March ::
Othello's Name
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 16.0538  Tuesday, 22 March 2005

[1]     From:   Bruce Young <
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        Date:   Monday, 21 Mar 2005 13:08:22 -0700
        Subj:   RE: SHK 16.0500 Othello's Name

[2]     From:   David Basch <
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        Date:   Monday, 21 Mar 2005 16:58:47 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 16.0526 Othello's Name

[3]     From:   William Godshalk <
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        Date:   Monday, 21 Mar 2005 17:26:52 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 16.0526 Othello's Name

[4]     From:   Lysbeth Benkert-Rasmussen <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 22 Mar 2005 09:07:54 -0600
        Subj:   RE: SHK 16.0526 Othello's Name


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Bruce Young <
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Date:           Monday, 21 Mar 2005 13:08:22 -0700
Subject: 16.0500 Othello's Name
Comment:        RE: SHK 16.0500 Othello's Name

Ed Kranz asks, "I wonder how David knows this i.e. that Othello is a
convert."

Possibly the answer is in these lines:

And then for her
To win the Moor, were't to renounce his baptism,
All seals and symbols of redeemed sin, ... (2.3.342-44)

But those lines could refer either to conversion or baptism after birth
into a Christian family.  Many assume conversion, I would guess, because
Othello is a Moor, an outsider, Moors being generally non-Christian.
Also, "renounce" suggests, though it does not prove, a profession of
faith made at baptism as an adult.

Bruce Young

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Basch <
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Date:           Monday, 21 Mar 2005 16:58:47 -0500
Subject: 16.0526 Othello's Name
Comment:        Re: SHK 16.0526 Othello's Name

In the extended discussion of Othello's name, Larry Weiss comments in an
undiscerning way concerning the Bible's ceremonial ordeal for cases
where husbands take a notion that their wives have been unfaithful. He
writes:

     To suggest that it would have been better all
     around if Desdemona had been put to the ordeal
     rather than convicted (albeit erroneously) based on
     circumstantial evidence and false testimony about a
     confession speaks volumes about those who put their
     faith in scriptures.

I think Larry misunderstands the thrust of what is behind the Bible's
ordeal for dealing with an irrational, jealous husband. There is much
wisdom behind this ceremony, designed to take the wind out of the sails
of a man driven mad from irrational, jealous rage. The Bible in its
undertstanding anticipates that there will be men who have queer and
dangerous notions popping into their head, just as there are persons who
go into unreasoning rage over Jews, and designs a ceremony that is
imbued with sufficient awe to which verdict a jealous husband must
submit. After all, the wife knows she is innocent so the ordeal is a
cake walk for her and, if it cools her husband's rage, it is worth its
weight in gold.

If Tolstoy thought that such irrational rages don't come upon certain
men, then he was truly lacking in experience of the world. Shakespeare,
like the Bible, knew better and he gave us a play portraying the
psychology of such a rageful man who has exalted the feeling of his own
holiness so that he decides to be all in one, judge, jury, and
executioner of his wife. This makes Florence Amit's insight most
pertinent on Othello's name in Hebrew, which means, "his sign of (or
from) God," since this describes Othello's character as a self anointing
kind that makes him capable of murdering his wife as an expression of
some kind of religious act.

Apparently, Larry missed the point that Othello's unreasoning, jealous
rage is indeed a human possibility and that, had there been a religious
law to compel the placing of such suspicions of a wife before a third
party review, Othello's horrible deed would have been averted. It seems
that scripture and Shakespeare knew a lot more about human nature than
Tolstoy.

Concerning the issue of Othello's religion, Todd Pettigrew has given
pertinent information on this in the play, that Othello reveals himself
in his statement, "Are we turned Turks?" and in Iago's comment about
Othello as being capable "to renounce his baptism,..." This pretty much
tells he is a Christian.  That he is also a "Moor" indicates that he
must have been converted since Moors were Muslim and circumcised.

Here again, Othello's name would confirm this since, as Florence Amit
has noted, the name means in Hebrew "his sign of God," a "sign" which
scripture identifies circumcision (a sign in the flesh). This name link
to circumcision is clearly pertinent since Othello's circumcision plays
a central part in the words Othello uses in his final speech before
thrusting his sword into himself, "I took the circumcised dog and smote
him THUS." The irony of the line is heightened maximally by this
reference, a real Shakespearean touch, since it culminates all the
parallels between Othello and the "malignant Turk" that Othello
mentions.  Both the Turk and Othello were "malignant," both "beat a
Venetian," and, third, both are "circumcised."

Note that Shakespeare has Othello use the term "malignant Turk" to
describe the Turk from Aleppo, separating that Turk from decent Turks.
Othello, the convert to Christianity, associates himself with that
"malignant Turk" in the commonality of their "malignant" behavior in
beating a Venetian and in their being circumcised, heightening Othello's
identification with the "dog" that must be killed in the name of
justice. He therefore smites the "circumcised dog" in himself, redeeming
himself as a Christian, dissociated from the evil part of himself.

David Basch

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           William Godshalk <
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Date:           Monday, 21 Mar 2005 17:26:52 -0500
Subject: 16.0526 Othello's Name
Comment:        Re: SHK 16.0526 Othello's Name

Did Shakespeare know that Africa was, had been (and still is) a bastion
of Christianity? If Othello (as constructed by Shakespeare) is from
Africa -- and this is not perfectly clear from the text -- he might very
well have been born and reared a Christian and thus not circumcised.
Othello is labeled a Moor, but he mentions nothing specific about Africa
-- does he?

Bill

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Lysbeth Benkert-Rasmussen <
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Date:           Tuesday, 22 Mar 2005 09:07:54 -0600
Subject: 16.0526 Othello's Name
Comment:        RE: SHK 16.0526 Othello's Name

John W. Kennedy <
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 >argued that:

"On the contrary, the "circumcised dog" is someone else:
                       ...in Aleppo once,
      Where a malignant, and a Turbond-Turke
      Beate a Venetian, and traduc'd the State,
      I tooke by th'throat the circumcised Dogge...."

I would argue instead that Othello sees himself as both the "malignant
and a Turbond-Turke" and the soldier who "took [him] by th' throat."
Right after he says these lines, doesn't he take himself "by the throat"
and kill himself?

Othello is caught between these two self-identities, desiring acceptance
from the Venetian society and being refused that acceptance by a
prejudiced society.  It seems to me that his reaction to his (perceived)
rejection by Desdemona is so violent because that rejection represents a
rejection by all that he sees as bright and honorable in Venice,
everything that he had hoped to become a part of.

That sense of rejection leads Othello to embrace a self-identity
represented by all of Venice's worst stereotypes (as represented both by
Iago's animalistic epithets and Brabatio's superstitious accusations).
In a sense, he thumbs his nose at Venice and declares through his
actions that "if that's what they think I am, well, then, that's what I
will become."

After his faith in Desdemona is restored, he also realizes his own
self-contradictory position in relation to Venetian society.  Othello is
stuck between worlds, neither wholly "savage" (as the Venetians would
see him) nor wholly Christian.  He is in No Man's Land.

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