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Home :: Archive :: 2005 :: March ::
Othello's Name
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 16.0567  Friday, 25 March 2005

[1]     From:   William Godshalk <
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        Date:   Thursday, 24 Mar 2005 14:46:17 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 16.0557 Othello's Name

[2]     From:   David Basch <
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        Date:   Thursday, 24 Mar 2005 13:03:13 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 16.0546 Othello's Name


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           William Godshalk <
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Date:           Thursday, 24 Mar 2005 14:46:17 -0500
Subject: 16.0557 Othello's Name
Comment:        Re: SHK 16.0557 Othello's Name

As Frank Whigham points out, Moor can refer to a Muslin Indian, and it
may be fruitful to consider that Shakespeare may have thought of Othello
as Indian, thus the absence of direct references to Africa as his birth
place.  The following passages taken from the OED, however, indicate
that Moor was not always used to mean Muslim or Indian Muslim.

c1489
<http://dictionary.oed.com/help/bib/oed2-c.html#caxton>C<http://dictionary.oed.com/help/bib/oed2-c.html#caxton>AXTON
tr. Four Sons of Aymon xxvi. 565 He was soo angry for it, that he became
as blacke as a moure. 1512 in J. B. Paul Accts. Treasurer Scotl. (1902)
IV. 338 Item,..to the Bischop of Murrais more, at brocht ane present to
the King..xiiijs. ?1555
<http://dictionary.oed.com/help/bib/oed2-b3.html#a-boorde>A.
B<http://dictionary.oed.com/help/bib/oed2-b3.html#a-boorde>OORDE Fyrst
Bk. Introd. Knowl. (1870) xxxvi. 212 Barbary..the inhabytours be Called
the Mores: ther be whyte mores and black moors. 1548 Hall's Vnion: Henry
VII f. xxiijv, Granado, which many yeres had bene possessed of the
Moores or Mawritane nacion. 1555
<http://dictionary.oed.com/help/bib/oed2-e.html#r-eden>R.
E<http://dictionary.oed.com/help/bib/oed2-e.html#r-eden>DEN tr. Peter
Martyr of Angleria Decades of Newe Worlde f. 355, Ethiopes..which we
nowe caule Moores, Moorens, or Negros. 1613
<http://dictionary.oed.com/help/bib/oed2-p3.html#s-purchas>S.
P<http://dictionary.oed.com/help/bib/oed2-p3.html#s-purchas>URCHAS
Pilgrimage (1614) 687 The Sea coast-Moores, called by a general name
Baduini.

Bill Godshalk

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Basch <
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Date:           Thursday, 24 Mar 2005 13:03:13 -0500
Subject: 16.0546 Othello's Name
Comment:        Re: SHK 16.0546 Othello's Name

The Othello name thread has generated a spirited exchange about elements
of this play that are worth pursuing since these things go to the heart
of Shakespeare's works, namely, the ability to fathom the wisdom that
the poet's insights bring.  It is through such discussion that we may
learn to delve more deeply into the meaning of his work for our own
benefit and for the benefit of society, which is why we should continue
these discussions.

In the latest round, John W. Kennedy rejects the idea that Othello's
final speech would revolve around "a point so wholly irrelevant to the
plot" as an alleged fact of Othello's circumcision. But, as I have
argued, this is indeed part of the story, made a part of it by the poet
himself in Othello's last speech and in the very name "Othello," which
in Hebrew refers to the fact of Othello's circumcision. This Hebrew
meaning is plain to anyone who understands Hebrew and recognizes the
Bible's reference to circumcision as a "sign" of the Abrahamic family's
connection to God or plain to anyone who has confidence in those who
have such knowledge.

What some persons on the list have difficulty with is crediting
Shakespeare with such knowledge and with his capacity to use this in his
play in an incident of high drama. What gives the application of this
Hebrew element further credibility is that the name "Othello," meaning
"his sign from God," could also point to Othello's character as a person
that regards himself as commissioned by Heaven to punish his wife's
adultery that he as both judge and jury has ferreted out.  With all
these connections operating, it is a very good bet that this was a
device that Shakespeare used to enrich his play and to inform of its
meaning. Hence, it is not at all as irrelevant to the play as John
Kennedy would insist. (It is to be noted that this is not the only
instance of the use of such devices in Shakespeare's plays.)

Concerning the term "Moor," this refers to the mixture of Arab and
Berber people that conquered Spain in the 8th century that were later
expelled just prior to the expulsion of the Jews in 1492. The expelled
Moors were dispersed to the many Muslim lands, including Turkey.
Presumably, it was Othello's Moorish background and sojourns in Muslim
lands, including Aleppo, Syria, that uniquely made him capable of
leading Venetian forces in defense of Venice after he had surfaced in
Christian lands, having presumably converted to Christianity. That would
explain why he was circumcised.  Otherwise, had he been born a Christian
in a Christian land, he would not have been circumcised. His name and
the few words of his last speech, in Shakespearean fashion, bring
together this history.

Concerning Ruth Ross's comment, I am amused that she is amused that I
have brought information forward that suggests the poet's personal
background as a Jew. I and Florence Amit have brought not a few
indications of this to the list. There is much more in this vein that
has not been presented and it is available to anyone who wishes to
further probe these matters.

A good part of this information consists of the evidence of
Shakespeare's facility in the use of the Hebrew language and his
knowledge of Talmudic and other Judaic literatures that he displays
throughout his work and which he uses in telltale ways.  I and Florence
Amit and many others competent in this material have certified its
presence. Sure, there may be controversy as to exactly what these
findings signify, but their presence is harder to explain away.
Scholarship is a discipline that deals with such things and is an
attempt to probe their meaning, not to ignore them because to the
unacquainted they seem "farfetched."

Larry Weiss again reveals his capacity to misunderstand the written word
and to stamp what he reads with his own personal preoccupations. As he
himself says, "no amount of information or reason can supply vision to
the willfully blind." So be it with Larry. But others on the list may be
willing to sort through what I have wrote and what Larry chooses to make
of it.

I raised the issue of the Bible's prescribed ordeal of dealing with the
jealous husband as an aside to Tolstoy's allegation that he found
unconvincing that a character like Othello could have so easily
succumbed to murderous jealousy. I referred to the Bible as evidence
that such things do happen, as if that were needed in a world in which
rage shootings have become all too common. It is Larry that takes it
upon himself to show his "higher wisdom" that rises above the Biblical
and to bring forward to the list his poor understanding of this trial by
ordeal and its procedures, its circumstances and its efficacy in
defusing the rage of a jealous husband.

The Biblical prescription for dealing with the jealous husband was used
whether the wife was guilty on not in cases where no one was caught in
the act. The ordeal presupposed a religious society that regarded the
Bible as God's law. The ordeal protected the wife from direct harm
whether she was guilty or not. If she was guilty, she might suffer pangs
of guilt and physical or psycho-somatic suffering through the ordeal as
her punishment, but nothing more than this. (Larry uses his active
imagination to imagine the great harm that dirty water might bring,
something parents often see their young children do, rather than
visualize the potential great harm of a jealous husband operating as a
loose cannon.) But since the specific physical effect on the guilty wife
could not be predicted, her fate would literally have been "left to
Heaven." [Has anyone heard that phrase before? How about the ghost
telling Hamlet to leave his mother to heaven?].

Meanwhile the Bible's ordeal would enable an innocent wife to reconcile
her husband, such being his devotion to the "Word." In any case, the
husband's jealousy was dealt with in a prescribed way. Unless he was
altogether crazy and could not be bounded, in which case all bets would
be off, the ordeal would be a useful tool.

When I alleged that such an ordeal would have cooled down Othello, I
meant it in the context of a religious Othello wishing to uphold
religious law rather than filling a vacuum in the law that enables him
to view himself as God's instrument of punishing his adulterous wife,
which Shakespeare's play reveals he feels himself to be.

Anyway, the Bible point was beside the point, an interesting aside that
was my attempt to make aspects of the circumstances of Othello's
jealousy more three dimensional. But this was made into a super heated
issue by Larry who apparently has an axe to grind that is outside the
purview of this discussion of Othello, the reasons for which we can all
imagine.

Concerning embedment in Shakespeare's Sonnets that Larry says do not
exist, I have presented numerous instances of these, one of them
involving the poet's full name and proving that he made use of such
devices. Here is that one from Sonnet 148 repeated below. Let Larry
laugh that one off:

[11]                                    ake
  [12]               selfe               h         eere
  [13]                l                 s          p
  [14]                w                            s


  [11] No maruaile then   though  I   mistake my view,
  [12] The  sunne it selfe sees not,till heauen  cleeres.
  [13]   O cunning    loue,with    teares  thou keepst me blinde,
  [14]   Least eyes   well seeing  thy foule  faults should finde.

I also showed how Shakespeare embedded transliterations of the
Tetragrammaton in Sonnets 30 and 31. I found these to be the poet's way
of communicating Who his Friend was. While the last time I showed this
embedment in Sonnet 31, I revealed three instances. This time I want to
show that there are actually at least three more.

I repeat an amended account of Sonnet 31 below and follow it with three
additional Tetragrammaton representations;

     And if there is any doubt as to whom Shakespeare
     directs his praise and love, he once again spells
     out his name in the first set of letters that begin
     lines 1 and 2 and transliterate the Tetragrammaton
     as yh-W-h. [Read line 1 from right to left and line
     2 from left to right. Y-W-H can also be read down
     from 1 to 3 (YaWaH). The original quarto printing makes
     this even more evident since the letters "hy" both
     straddle the wide letter "W" below.

         [1]         hy
         [2]          Wh
         [3]          h

     Additional transliterations of the name occur in
     the words, "I view," which, since the "I" is also
     the Elizabethan letter "J" becomes JaVIEW," and in
     the ascending string that occurs in lines 14 to 12
     in the words "theY," loUe, and "noW," a set of
     whose stacked letters read "Y-U-W" or "Y-V-W" (YaVaW)
     since the letter "U" is also the Elizabethan "V."


                       31
        ___
[1]     |    hy bosome is indeared with all hearts,
[2]     |    Which I by lacking haue supposed dead,
[3]     And there raignes Loue and all Loues louing parts,
[4]     And all those friends which I thought buried.
[5]     How many a holy and obsequious teare
[6]     Hath deare religious  loue stolne from mine eye,
[7]     As interest of the dead,which now appeare,
[8]     But things remou'd that hidden in there lie.
       -----------------------------------------------------
[9]     Thou art the graue where buried loue doth liue,
[10]    Hung with the  tropheis  of  my louers gon,
[11]    Who all their parts of me to thee did giue,
[12]    That due of  many,now is thine alone.
[13]       Their images I lou'd, I view in thee,
[14]       And  thou(all they)hast all the all of me.


Here are another three versions of the Tetragrammaton in this sonnet not
shown earlier. Again, since the Elizabethan "i" is also a "j," we can
read the transliteration in the following:

[6]                            o
[7]                             whi
[8]                             hi

[6]     Hath deare  religious loue stolne from mine eye,
[7]     As interest of the dead,which now appeare,
[8]     But things remou'd that hidden in there lie.

Since the "i" is a "j," reading right to left on line 8 and then up and
to the right, we get JH-WH (JaHWaH). Note the similarity of this
configuration to that in the opening lines of the sonnet shown above.
This is a similarity that clearly reveals that this was the poet's
deliberate contrivance.

Continuing,... reading again right to left on line 8 and then up and
diagonally left up, we get JH-W-O (JaHWO); or reading right to left on
line 7 from the "i" and then down, we get JHW-H (JaHWaH), not bad
transliterations. [The letters are treated like Hebrew consonants to
which, like in the Hebrew, the vowels are understood as existing through
the cues of context.]

And then there are still others, two divided versions, not uncommon
devices in these special sonnets. One reads Y-H-W-H, making use of the
acrostic W-H in lines 11 and 10 and the aligned
Y-H in midline:

[10]    H                             y
[11]    W                             h


[10]    Hung with the  tropheis  of  my louers gon,
[11]    Who all their parts of me to thee did giue,

The other divided mode appears on line 6 as "yah-woH"
with the first syllable read from left to right and
the second read right to left:

[5]     How    y a h

[5]     How many a holy and obsequious teare

Again, these are hardly imagined but are some of quite a few instances
that show up in certain sonnets in which the poet addresses The Lord,
their frequency being evidence that these were the product of craft and
intention. No doubt, some of the instances presented would be marginal
as representations were they to appear isolated and alone. But they
become convincing through their repetitions in appropriately themed
sonnets. The example of the poet's name embedded in the same manner a
further confirmation that a device is being used. Readers can judge the
meaning and significance of these for themselves, but they cannot
imagine these configurations are not there or that they can be made to
appear by a charlatans in such frequent clusters within sonnets at whim,
as any reader can confirm for himself if he tries.

David Basch

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