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Home :: Archive :: 2009 :: July ::
Othello's Handkerchief
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 20.0364  Thursday, 9 July 2009

[1] From:   Nicholas Clary <
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     Date:   Monday, 6 Jul 2009 11:38:39 -0400
     Subj:   RE: SHK 20.0358 Othello's Handkerchief

[2] From:   Martin Mueller <
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     Date:   Monday, 6 Jul 2009 11:01:36 -0500
     Subj:   Re: SHK 20.0358 Othello's Handkerchief

[3] From:   John Cox <
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     Date:   Monday, 6 Jul 2009 17:10:27 -0400
     Subj:   Re: SHK 20.0358 Othello's Handkerchief

[4] From:   Val McDaniel <
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     Date:   Tuesday, 7 Jul 2009 15:09:36 +0200 (GMT+02:00)
     Subj:   Re: SHK 20.0358 Othello's Handkerchief


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:       Nicholas Clary <
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Date:       Monday, 6 Jul 2009 11:38:39 -0400
Subject: 20.0358 Othello's Handkerchief
Comment:    RE: SHK 20.0358 Othello's Handkerchief

I have generally accepted Othello's story to be a true recollection, 
which confirms his exoticism. To read him otherwise would diminish his 
tragic status, wouldn't it?

Nick Clary

[2]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:       Martin Mueller <
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Date:       Monday, 6 Jul 2009 11:01:36 -0500
Subject: 20.0358 Othello's Handkerchief
Comment:    Re: SHK 20.0358 Othello's Handkerchief

The only thing that 'really' happened in this scene is that Shakespeare 
makes Othello say the stuff about magic in the handkerchief. There is no 
further discussion of it, and there is no way of determining whether or 
not the words should be taken at face value. It is probably a useful 
rule of thumb in literary analysis that you should take words at face 
value unless there is evidence that suggests otherwise.

There is some interesting stuff about 'magic' in this play. The word is 
not very common in Shakespeare. It occurs once in four different plays, 
twice in The Winter's Tale, and three times in Othello.

In Othello, it is first used by Brabantio, who believes that Othello 
practiced magic to win his daughter (1.2.65). Othello refers directly 
and skeptically to that passage when he demythologizes the 'mighty 
magic' of his seductive powers.

But in the handkerchief scene speaks of the object as imbued with magic. 
Instead of asking what Othello 'really' thought about the handkerchief, 
it may be more productive to appreciate the odd space  between magic and 
reason that Shakespeare 'conjures' up. It's not unlike the discussions 
about ghosts and whether they 'really' exist.

It is interesting to look at The Winter's Tale, where the word 'magic' 
appears twice in the scene of Hermione's resurrection. Is there a 
connection between

There's magic in the web

and

There's magic in thy majesty

Othello and Leontes are both studies in the pathology of jealousy or 
false belief.

[3]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:       John Cox <
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Date:       Monday, 6 Jul 2009 17:10:27 -0400
Subject: 20.0358 Othello's Handkerchief
Comment:    Re: SHK 20.0358 Othello's Handkerchief

Othello says a woman gave the handkerchief to his mother, and his mother 
gave it to him as she was dying. I'd like to see a production that takes 
seriously Othello's repeated mention that he was a child soldier from 
the age of seven. This was clearly neither his choice nor his family's, 
since he came from a royal family that would not have risked a 
seven-year-old prince in combat. The child soldiering seems linked to 
his mother's death and helps to explain the exaggerated value of the 
handkerchief to him as a talisman of immense and magical importance.

Can a production convey any of that?

Best,
John Cox
Hope College

[4]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:       Val McDaniel <
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Date:       Tuesday, 7 Jul 2009 15:09:36 +0200 (GMT+02:00)
Subject: 20.0358 Othello's Handkerchief
Comment:    Re: SHK 20.0358 Othello's Handkerchief

I think it's legitimate to have Othello engage in a bit of fabulation at 
this point -- but he should really believe whatever flourishes he adds 
-- one Iago is enough for any play.

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