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Home :: Archive :: 2005 :: March ::
Othello's Name
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 16.0546  Wednesday, 23 March 2005

[1]     From:   John W. Kennedy <
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 >
        Date:   Tuesday, 22 Mar 2005 16:36:35 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 16.0538 Othello's Name

[2]     From:   Ruth Ross <
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 >
        Date:   Tuesday, 22 Mar 2005 17:23:47 -0500
        Subj:   RE: SHK 16.0538 Othello's Name

[3]     From:   Larry Weiss <
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 >
        Date:   Tuesday, 22 Mar 2005 17:27:09 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 16.0538 Othello's Name

[4]     From:   David Evett <
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 >
        Date:   Wednesday, 23 Mar 2005 10:59:59 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 16.0471 Othello's Name


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           John W. Kennedy <
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 >
Date:           Tuesday, 22 Mar 2005 16:36:35 -0500
Subject: 16.0538 Othello's Name
Comment:        Re: SHK 16.0538 Othello's Name

Lysbeth Benkert-Rasmussen <
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 >

 >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?

I cannot help thinking that if Shakespeare had wanted Othello's final
speech to turn on a point so wholly irrelevant to the plot, he could
have found something better. Perhaps "Invectives against holders of
Tithes" might do.

Othello is a Moor, not a Turk, and he has traduced something quite other
than the State.

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Ruth Ross <
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 >
Date:           Tuesday, 22 Mar 2005 17:23:47 -0500
Subject: 16.0538 Othello's Name
Comment:        RE: SHK 16.0538 Othello's Name

I once posted the following regarding Othello:

 >Regarding Shakespeare's knowledge of Moors, especially since Africans had
 >been expelled from England during his time: the Folger Shakespeare Library
 >has a lesson plan using Leo Africanus' History and Description of Africa
 >(1526) which was translated into English by John Porys in 1600. Perhaps
 >Shakespeare got his hands on a copy and used the personal characteristics
 >ascribed to Moors in it to flesh out the character of the Moor. My
students
 >use Leo's text to write a
 >paper in which they compare Othello to Leo's description. The similarities
 >are striking. The URL for this lesson is:
 >http://www.folger.edu/education/lesson.cfm?lessonid=61

I am amused that David Basch and Florence Amit have turned Shakespeare
into a crypto-Jew, finding all kinds of evidence in Othello and The
Merchant of Venice to buttress their (farfetched, to me) claims.
Sometimes a cigar is a cigar... David Basch seems to have entirely too
much time on his hands. I have a very hard time accepting this kind of
scholarship. If one looks hard enough, one could find almost anything in
the works of Shakespeare.

Ruth Ross

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Larry Weiss <
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 >
Date:           Tuesday, 22 Mar 2005 17:27:09 -0500
Subject: 16.0538 Othello's Name
Comment:        Re: SHK 16.0538 Othello's Name

Until his latest post I had assumed that Basch's lunacy was confined to
finding cryptograms in the Shakespearean canon which his fevered
imagination believes allude to passages in the Old Testament. But now I
find that this is too straightforward for him. When the biblical passage
he wants WS to allude to doesn't fit, he pares, pads, and prods it until
he feels it does. His reading of Numbers 5:14, et seq. is a case in
point. That passage provides an ordeal test for women whose husbands
suspect them of infidelity. The test is to be applied whether they are
guilty or not: (vs 14: "and she be defiled .. [or] she be not defiled").
The ordeal requires the suspect to drink water contaminated with dirt
from the ground. If her belly swells, which is a normal sequella of
ingesting mud, she is ostracized (or perhaps killed).

But Basch, unable to admit that he is offended by an atrocity far worse
than Othello's being gulled by contrived circumstantial evidence and
false hearsay evidence of a confession, or even Leontes's refusal to
accept the clear and correct oracle of Apollo, he decides that the
lengthy scriptural passage is a practical joke. On top of that, he
begins with the superstitious notion that the ordeal is a reliable test:
"After all, the wife knows she is innocent so the ordeal is a cake walk
for her." I guess there would be no way for a woman to contract
septicemia, diarrhea or any other disease from drinking muddy water, if
she "knows she is innocent." On the other hand, the ordeal would point
unerringly to an adulteress wife because she has no such conviction.

Basch's premise leading to his advocacy of the Pentateuch ordeal is also
nonsense. He says Othello's "horrible deed would have been averted" if
there had "been a religious law to compel the placing of such suspicions
of a wife before a third party review." Of course, there were such laws.
A husband believing he had been cuckolded had no authority to kill his
wife; he could simply sue her for divorce on grounds of adultery or
prosecute her for the crime of adultery. One of the themes of "Othello"
is that overly proud men are not contented with such milquetoast sops.
So the hypothesized availability of the dirty water trial would have
accomplished nothing.

Actually, though, I rather like the economies that can be achieved by
reinstating the ordeal in lieu of our cumbersome and unreliable
fact-seeking judicial system. Consider the fortune being spent on the
Michael Jackson trial, not only by the prosecution and defense but also
by the hoards of media ghouls reporting every titillating twist, and
their sponsors. It would be far simpler, cheaper and less time consuming
if we just dipped his dong in boiling water for 20 seconds and judged
his guilt or innocence based on whether it blistered. As an added bonus,
the outcome would have a better chance of being accurate than entrusting
the decision to twelve of Jackson's peers.

Not long ago Hardy tried to squelch Basch's rantings by tactfully
pointing out that he was arguing points of faith, and no amount of
information or reason can supply vision to the willfully blind.
Unfortunately, Basch just exported his nonsense to other threads. Can
something more definitive be done?

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Evett <
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 >
Date:           Wednesday, 23 Mar 2005 10:59:59 -0500
Subject: 16.0471 Othello's Name
Comment:        Re: SHK 16.0471 Othello's Name

 >Remember that in the Hellenistic period guile, treachery, trickery and
 >dishonesty were not necessarily considered bad traits.  The great hero
 >Odysseus, the grandson of Autolykus, was renowned for his lying and his
 >slyness.

I'm not sure what "Hellenistic" means, here.  The *Odyssey* (in the
taxonomy of ancient Greek literature I learned as a youth, a product of
the period called "Archaic", pre-500 BCE) generally endorses Odysseus'
ability to gain his goals by means other than physical violence (though
he can manage that, too, at need): these include deceptions of many
kinds - silence, disguise, devices such as the blinding of Polyphemus
and the test of the bow, outright lies. By the time of the great tragic
poets of Athens  ("classical") these qualities are as often as not
presented as unheroic, even cowardly (emerging in Sophocles and dominant
in  Euripides). That is also the prevailing vision of the man now
usually known as Ulysses in Apollodorus, Pausanius, and Plutarch (all
"Hellenistic," the term commonly applied to Greek culture after the
death of Alexander the Great in 390 BCE), carried on in Latin by Vergil,
Horace, and Ovid. Shakespeare seems to draw on both views in
constructing the perceptive, productive, manipulative Ulysses of
*Troilus and Cressida*, who devises the plans and lets others carry them
out.

Archaically,
David Evett

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