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Home :: Archive :: 2005 :: March ::
Othello's Name
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 16.0596  Wednesday, 30 March 2005

[1]     From:   Peter Bridgman <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 29 Mar 2005 19:32:21 +0100
        Subj:   Re: SHK 16.0584 Othello's Name

[2]     From:   David Basch <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 29 Mar 2005 21:30:02 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 16.0584 Othello's Name

[3]     From:   Larry Weiss <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 30 Mar 2005 00:13:46 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 16.0584 Othello's Name

[4]     From:   Robin Hamilton <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 30 Mar 2005 13:52:35 +0100
        Subj:   Re: SHK 16.0584 Othello's Name


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Peter Bridgman <
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Date:           Tuesday, 29 Mar 2005 19:32:21 +0100
Subject: 16.0584 Othello's Name
Comment:        Re: SHK 16.0584 Othello's Name

Stuart Manger writes ...

 >I ask because I am now totally confused: is David Basch assuming that
 >ONLY Jews were circumcised in Elizabeth Europe / Middle East? If so,
 >what is his evidence?

David Basch is correct to assume that the only circumcised males in
early modern England were Jewish or Muslim.  Circumcision was only
introduced for non-Jews in Britain during the 1860s (in an attempt to
stop masturbation).

Peter Bridgman

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Basch <
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Date:           Tuesday, 29 Mar 2005 21:30:02 -0500
Subject: 16.0584 Othello's Name
Comment:        Re: SHK 16.0584 Othello's Name

In this last round of comment concerning the meaning of Othello's name,
a number of issues have been brought up that are worth discussing for
clarification.

Ruth Ross has every right to her vision of Shakespeare as basically a
down to earth man working for profits in the theater industry, but she
has no right to insist that all others take her narrow vision of the man
as their own.

I began my interest in Shakespeare having learned of him as someone
bigger than life and with extraordinary capacities.  Nothing that I
later learned disabused me of this. The poet was not a person that was
merely interested in making money through entertaining the public but
someone who obviously had an interest in making statements on human
values, the nature of man, human psychology, and even man's relation to
a higher world.

If not also from other sources, these were insights he had gained from
at least the biblical tradition of England he was raised in.  Clearly he
sought to create plays and literary works that served as parables
presenting philosophical, moral, and religious views that his learning
and journey through life had left him with.  We can conclude this
intention because this is there in his work.  The poet is a person far
more complex than Ruth Ross envisions, light years beyond the stuff of
her imagination and no doubt mine too.

Ruth can't picture such a man with the boundless energy he would have
had to have. Others also have written about how there was so little time
in a day for him to be Shakespeare considering the full plate that the
demands of merely acting and running a theater company imposed.
Apparently, Shakespeare was no ordinary man and must have had amazing
stamina and reach to have been able to fit all that he did into his
schedule.

As to when he would have learned things like Hebrew and Talmud, I submit
that there would have been ample opportunity for this from the age of 3
to seventeen, as happens to many traditional Jewish children today. If
Ruth Ross cannot, I envision the poet set within a secret Jewish
community in Stratford, one of numerous such communities that may have
existed throughout England at the time in addition to ones in London and
Bristol that we now known about, which historian Cecil Roth wrote about.

I have concluded that there must have been such a scenario in his life
since Shakespeare's work is filled with many allusions to Talmudic and
other strictly Judaic literatures as well as signs of a facility with
the Hebrew language. The density of these allusions must force this
conclusion on anyone familiar with this type of material and willing to
check it out in Shakespeare's work.
Were these attainments in language impossible for him to have achieved?
A few months ago I read in The New York Times about a young Englishman
who was an unusual type of idiot savant. Not only did he have amazing
mathematical computational abilities, but he could learn new languages
in a week. He demonstrated that by studying Icelandic for a week and
showing up on a talk program on Icelandic television to easily converse
in Icelandic. Do we have here a taste of some of the mental facility
that Shakespeare may have had?

I am sorry that this kind of discussion and technical exploration goes
over Ruth's head, who apparently desires that all discussion be reduced
to her own level and not beyond. But I have confidence that the readers
on this list are capable of dealing with such material and would want to
learn about it and to have it discussed. In any case, readers who feel
the way Ruth does surely know where the delete key is.

Stuart Manger asks about circumcision for Christians during
Shakespeare's time. While it was usual for Jews and for Muslims, as far
as I know, judging from Michaelangelo's David and other of my
experiences, it was not usual for Christians, but maybe someone else on
the list knows what the general situation was.

It doesn't really matter except that the facts about this give a little
more background on how to take Othello's remark about "a circumcised
dogge." That line cites a distinction that Othello brings up in his
remark about the "the malignant Turbaned Turk" he struck, a remark that
would be (pardon the pun) pointless were everyone circumcised at that time.

Larry Weiss questions my motive for bringing up the Bible's account of
the ordeal trial of a wife suspected by a jealous husband. I do confess
that I saw the parallel of this situation to Othello and I thought it
would be of interest to bring it up as a legal device that might have
saved Desdemona had it existed in Venetian society. Also, I did wonder
if the biblical account, which Shakespeare was undoubedly familiar with
whether he was Jew or gentile, was something that played a part in his
interest in exploring this theme. But I would not have brought it up had
I not learned from Florence Amit how to read Othello's name in Hebrew,
OTH-EL LO, (Oth sounded Ot in the Elizabethan period), which literally
means "he has the sign of God," which biblically refers to circumcision
as a sign of the covenant of Abraham with God, which Muslims adhere to.
This led me to remember Othello's last speech mentioning circumcision
and to think further that this name is revelatory of character since it
could also signify that the bearer has an anointing to fulfill God's
word, as Othello thinks to be true of himself. Both applications of the
name seem to fit Othello's case, which was discussed on the list. The
chain of linkages would strongly suggest to my mind that this was one of
the reasons that Shakespeare chose this name. It will not be the first
time that the poet selected names that in Hebrew denote characterlogical
or other aspects of their bearers. I can't imagine why these thoughts
would be so offensive to Larry since they could be true irrespective of
Shakespeare's religious background.

Larry goes on with his obsession that water which contained some blotted
ink, which is the only thing in the water described in the biblical
account, would by itself necessarily cause catastrophic illness. (If so,
there would be far more disastrous incidents of sick children than we
are aware of since drinking dirty water happens to children all the time
with little ill effect.) Aside from taste, the biblical drink can be
expected to be harmless and I take the Bible's account of the ordeal as
something designed to bring about a wholesome end result.

Perhaps Larry is a neat freak and may quibble about this, but so what?
The reality of the ordeal is such that neither the guilty nor the
innocent wife was likely to suffer bad effects from the water. Any bad
effects were likely to be the outcome of a guilty conscience rather than
anything else, which was the only penalty a guilty wife would suffer,
aside from divorce if she owned up to her guilt. She would indeed have
been left to heaven for her penalty. The ceremony seems designed to calm
the jealous husband.  I fail to see how this psychologically perceptive
ritual is superstitious, though designed for those who deeply believe in
the word of the Bible. I see it as crafted to produce a calming and
defusing effect on a jealous husband in the social setting it was
designed to operate in. We can today remark on the psychological insight
(or lack of it) behind such an ordeal, as I did, and even apply it to
the situation of Othello, hardly a federal case and a reason for high
emotion even on our list.

Concerning embedment in sonnets, let Larry choose any sonnet he wishes
and see what he can come up with presenting clusters of configurations,
some involving repeated structural arrangements, of the Tetragrammaton.
The examples in the sonnets I demonstrated (and the ones that I haven't
even shown) are not irrelevant to the themes of the sonnet, each of
which involves an instance of praise of the Lord and identifying the
Lord as the target of that praise, lest the world be left with the
thought that the great poet adored a selfish, self centered young man.
Anyone trying to find such structures will learn that they are harder to
do randomly than Larry thinks. Again, let readers judge this for themselves.

Concerning the meaning of "Moor," Robin Hamilton has made her
contribution to the list of her researches and she is to be thanked. I
do believe that the Ethiopian case she brings up of circumcised "Moors"
is not the kind of Moor that Othello is, a man of the Mediterranean who
travelled widely as far as Aleppo, Syria. Possibly the source material
for the play in earlier versions may give some further insight on just
what kind of Moor he was.

Aside from the Scottish moors, I first heard of Moors in connection with
their expulsion from Spain and knew that they were Muslims that had
lived in Spain, like the Jews, for hundreds of years. I recently checked
it out in Websters dictionary, where I found the following:

      Moor - n [ME More, fr. MF fr. L Maurus]

      1 a : one of the mixed Arab and Berber conquerors
            of Spain in the 8th century A.D.
        b : BERBER

      2: MUSLIM - Moor-ish \ -ish\adj.

It is this train of thought that guided me and I found it illuminating
of what I was finding as the meaning of Othello's last speech in
conjunction with the Hebrew meaning of his name.  To my mind, it all
makes a convincing case, though others may disagree.

Othello's name is one of others in Shakespeare's plays that have meaning
in Hebrew and that are relevant in communicating aspects of the
character or role of the bearer within the play.  This is a device that
is often to be found in the Hebrew Bible and its use could have been
learned there by the poet. Anyone who has knowledge of Hebrew will see
that such Hebrew presences in Shakespeare's work are too numerous and
deep to be discounted, though, of course, their significance can still
be debated.

David Basch

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Larry Weiss <
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 >
Date:           Wednesday, 30 Mar 2005 00:13:46 -0500
Subject: 16.0584 Othello's Name
Comment:        Re: SHK 16.0584 Othello's Name

 >Ruth Ross ... has no right to insist that all others take her narrow
vision of the man as their own.

Extraordinary that this should come from Basch.  Even more extraordinary
that someone so cognitively challenged feels free to insult the
intelligence of a thoughtful member like Ms. Ross.  Consider:

 >Larry goes on with his obsession that water which contained some
 >blotted ink, which is the only thing in the water described in
 >the biblical account, would by itself necessarily cause
 >catastrophic illness.

Ink?  The passage Basch cites, Numbers 5:14 et seq., provides in verse 17:

"And the priest shall take holy water in an earthen vessel; and of the
dust that is in the floor of the tabernacle the priest shall take, and
put it into the water."

Nary a word about ink, blotted or otherwise.  The indictment is getting
longer; it now includes deliberate misrepresentation of published sources.

Dirt from the floor mixed with water is hardly a nutritious cocktail.  I
guess Basch declines my challenge to put it to the test.

On the other hand, I am willing to accept Basch's dare.  Finding sonnets
that contain the letters I (or J), H and W (or V or U) in that order
within 14 lines is a little too easy.  So I set myself a harder task
Shakespeare, being the messiah he undoubtedly was, could be expected to
say a few choice words about his 21st Century commentators; and there it
was staring me in the face in the very first sonnet:

If you take the initial letter of the first word of the third line and
the entire ensuing word as well as the first word of the fourth line (a
simple cryptographic technique -- Skip 2, take 2, skip & take 1), you get

[3] B     as
[4] H is

The unvoiced "c" in Basch is a Germanic idiosyncrasy, so its omission by
Shakespeare was unquestionably a signal to astute readers to search for
a word which, when translated into German, completes the message.  That
word is, of course, "ornament" at the end of line 9.  QED.  What could
be more certain?  And it took me less than five minutes.

As much fun as this is, Basch has a serious, even frightening, side.  I
was curious about what, if anything, could occupy the income-producing
time of anyone as silly as Basch.  I was confident that he could not be
a businessman or a member of any profession that requires reasoning
skill.  An occupation entailing routine applications on a repetitive
basis, like postal worker or architect, seemed likeliest.  And guess
what! Basch hold himself out as an architect in New York.  The New York
State Department of Education, which regulates that profession, however,
reports that he is not registered and, consequently, he may not lawfully
practice architecture in New York.  So the question is still open.

But my research produced far more disturbing intelligence.  It turns out
that Basch, is a rabid advocate for a particularly virulent strain of
irredentist Zionism.  For example, he is a vocal defender of the
genocidal Meir Kahane, whose political party is even banned in Israel.
This is one of the things Basch has to say about him:

    "Rabbi Kahane wanted to expel the Arabs from Israel because he
believed that they are unwilling to live in peace and want to destroy
the Jewish state. The evidence of the Arabs of Hebron itself as well as
the Arab terrorist bases that the other Arab autonomy areas have become
indicate that Rabbi Kahane had a point"

It gets worse:  Basch is an apologist for the murders committed by a
madman who sprayed Uzi fire into a mosque and killed about 30 men, women
and children at prayer, He says:

    "Another bit of misinformation was that Dr. Boruch Goldstein just
upped and murdered 29 Arabs at prayer, an alleged Jewish fundamentalist
hate in action. Were Yossi [the person Basch was responding to] the
genuine article, that is having been a real member of an observant
Jewish community, he would know that such things do not just happen in a
vacuum. Even I, sitting in     Connecticut, know that, just before the
incident, Dr. Goldstein was approached by the Israeli army to alert him
to an expected Arab terrorist attack on the Jews of Hebron. The Arabs,
who are described as in prayer, were in fact chanting, 'Kill the Jews!
Kill the Jews!' Here was an Israeli army powerless to stop what they
believe was an immanent Arab terrorist attack on the Jews of Hebron and
Dr. Goldstein was alerted to this. Perhaps Dr. Goldstein was concerned
that his own              family was in danger as he walked in among the
Arab chanters" [with the safety off his loaded Uzi]

You can read the whole diatribe, if you are so inclined, at
http://www.freeman.org/m_online/sep96/basch.htm

I do not offer this to invite a discussion about Zionism or any related
subject, and I hope that Hardy will squelch any such discussion.  But I
believe it is relevant in evaluating the bona fides (and sanity) of the
proponent of the notion that Shakespeare was a Jew who left hidden
Hebraic messages in his works.  I agree with Ms. Ross who implores Hardy
to "please bring an end to this ridiculous thread."


[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Robin Hamilton <
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 >
Date:           Wednesday, 30 Mar 2005 13:52:35 +0100
Subject: 16.0584 Othello's Name
Comment:        Re: SHK 16.0584 Othello's Name

Was Othello a Morisco?

Moriscos were Spanish Moors who converted to Christianity after the
Christian reconquest of Spain, or their descendents (in contrast to
Mud

 

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