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Lecture on Othello
Transcript of Lecture on Othello
Venice vs. Cyprus
Cultural and Religious Differences
racial, cultural, gender
Toni Morrison's Desdemona (Peter Sellars) at NYC's Lincoln Center inspired by Othello: Desdemona and her African nurse Barbary. Meditation in poetry and song on violence, womanhood, and the transcendent power of love.
O Trailer – Race and Its Modern Simplification
“Teen movie” era: why prevalent or pertinent to use Othello as vehicle?
What is the movie trying to convey in terms of characters, plot, etc.?
Things to keep in mind when complicating Othello’s difference and references to “humor”
First two images of "Moor" on Google Search
It has been suggested that the figure of Abd el-Ouahed ben Messaoud may have inspired the character of William Shakespeare's Moorish hero Othello. The painting of Abd el-Ouahed ben Messaoud is visible at the Shakespeare Institute at Stratford-upon-Avon.
OED classifies as early as 1398 as “a native or inhabitant of ancient Mauretania, a region of North Africa corresponding to parts of present-day Morocco and Algeria. Later usually: a member of a Muslim people of mixed Berber and Arab descent inhabiting north-western Africa (now mainly present-day Mauritania), who in the 8th cent. conquered Spain."
Historic populations of Berber and Arab descent from Northern Africa, who came to conquer, occupy and rule the Iberian Peninsula for nearly 800 years.
They called the territory Al Andalus, comprising most of what is now Spain and Portugal
Having dark or deadly purposes, malignant; pertaining to or involving death, deadly; baneful, disastrous, sinister (1547)
Designating something which indicates disgrace, undesirability, failure, liability to punishment (1550)
Having an extremely dark skin…often, loosely, to non-European races, little darker than many Europeans (1591)
Iago: …’Tis but his humor (4.2.165)
Reference to theory that the humors are regionally inflected and framed
Ancient theory was geographically centered on the Mediterranean, giving the homeland of its Greek originators the ideal climate for the humorsDivided into tri-partite system of northern, southern, and temperate zones
“…early modern geohumoralism contradicts many of the racial stereotypes concerning the behavior and capacities of non-English ‘others’” (Floyd-Wilson 3)
Really though emphasizing of English “northern bodies”
Thus, any people living in an area north or south of this central location was seen as lacking in the passions. Africans were seen as cool and dry, as “the heat in Africa ‘burneath and wasteth humours’” (Floyd-Wilson 2)
Only Africans explicitly cited were those familiar to the Greeks – the Ethiopians – who were seen as physically weak, but wise and spiritual
Leo Africanus background
Lifetime: pre-eradication of Moors in Spain at least 1528 (finished manuscript)
Transition and transformation (possible connection to Othello)
Hasan Ibn Muhammad al-Wazzan becoming Joannes Leo Africanus
Notably able to travel before conversion but basis for all of his writing
Question basis of reality in writings, basis of motivation?
Passages to consider: “Author’s note,” p. 256
"The author does not feel a little shame and confusion in telling and uncovering the vices and flaws of Africa, where he has been nurtured and raised, and since he is known as a good man. But it is necessary to one who wants to write and describe things as they are.”
Idea of bird who could live underwater as well as on the earth
Reminiscent of DuBoise “double consciousness”
“Description of Africa,” p .250
Coming from Muslim perspective
Beginning delineation between “Arab” Africa and “Black” Africa
Linguistically 1 language (“noble language”)
All of “right” religion
“The Africans who live in the cities of Barbaria, specially those on the Mediterranean coast, devote themselves with great care to studies and sciences, specially in humanities and in their theology and in matters of faith and law. They used to study the sciences of the Ancients, mathematics and astrology and philosophy….They are honest, without a lot of malice. They are virile men who will confirm in your presence what they said in your absence. They have courage and spirit…They keep their word when they have promised something. They are jealous and despise their own life when they have been dishonored, specially when it concerns their wives.” (254)
Ibn Battuta, 1304-1369
Famous Moroccan scholar
Wrote famous travelogue entitled Ibn Battuta in Black Africa
Black Africa determined as south of the Sahara desert
Took two extensive trips to Horn of Africa and West Africa
Hierarchy created even amongst Black Africa that is muslim
Refers to himself as “white”
Section of log in Mali titled “An Account of What I found Good Amongst the Blacks and of What I Disliked”
“Amongst their good qualities is the small amount of injustice amongst them, for of all people they are the furthest from it. Their sultan does not forgive anyone in any matter to do with injustice. Among these qualities there is also the prevalence of peace in their country, the traveler is not afraid in it nor is he who lives their in fear of the thief or of the robber by violence They do not interfere with the property of the white man who dies in their country even though it may consist of great wealth, but rather they entrust it to the hand of someone dependable among the white men until it is taken by the rightful claimant.” (58)
J.M.W Turner, The Dogana and San Giorgio Maggiore, 1834
Iago vs Othello vs Desdemona
Lewes Lewkenor (d. 1626) -- largely responsible for spreading the myth of Venice in England
Translated Gaspar Contarini's De Magistratibus et Republica Venetorum
Extolled the many glories of Venice
Believed the Venice was a cousin to England -- the ultimate in rational government and good order
Venice's extensive sea trade and commanding navy --> future of England?
Four poems preface Lewkenor's volume
Praises for Lewkenor's translations of Contarini's representations of Venice
Draw a "concept map"
What comes to mind when you think of Venice?
Comparisons of Venice with the book
Comparisons of Venice to Babel and Rome
Image of Venice as a woman
Venice as a virgin city (Ashley's poem)
--> BUT unlike Elizabeth whose virginity represented a homogenous insularity that protected the English
---> the virgin Venice was imagined as a prostitute
Venice as the Virgin / Whore --> image came from two actual Venetian practices
strict control of marrage among elites
state regulation of prostitution
(Venetian women described as sophisticated and fashionable but confined by JEALOUS HUSBANDS or overprotective fathers
Take 5 minutes to explore how Leo Africanus and Ibn Battuta inform possible readings of Othello.
Moors in Early Modern Drama•During “Age of Exploration” as collective imagination of England grew and expanded, increasing the prevalence of "Moor" figures in 16th century drama•Some Moors seen as villains because of rumored violence they enacted against EuropeansPerception was not widely viewed •Some critics point to the idea that the English stereotyped the cultures that they were unfamiliar
In all of Shakespeare’s plays, there are only three main black male roles: Othello, Aaron from Titus Andronicus, and the Morocco from Merchant of VeniceThese three men are not in control of their destiny, as their fates and actions are intricately bound up in their “otherness” Ex. “If I did one good deed in all my life I did,/I do repent it from my very soul.”Each represent very different type of character: protagonist, villain, nominal character
•Other deeply racialized stereotypes are those most familiar to the English: the Dutch, German, Italian, Irish, and Spanish nationals, which would be prevalent in theater of the 16th and early 17th centuriesThese generalizations seen as having more resonance with an English audience
•Iago: …’Tis but his humor (4.2.165)•Reference to theory that the humors are regionally inflected and framed•Ancient theory was geographically centered on the Mediterranean, giving the homeland of its Greek originators the ideal climate for the humorsoDivided into tri-partite system of northern, southern, and temperate zones•“…early modern geohumoralism contradicts many of the racial stereotypes concerning the behavior and capacities of non-English ‘others’” (Floyd-Wilson 3)oReally though emphasizing of English “northern bodies” •Thus, any people living in an area north or south of this central location was seen as lacking in the passions. Africans were seen as cool and dry, as “the heat in Africa ‘burneath and wasteth humours’” (Floyd-Wilson 2)•Only Africans explicitly cited were those familiar to the Greeks – the Ethiopians – who were seen as physically weak, but wise and spiritual
What makes up Othello's identity?
In what other ways in Othello "other"?
Now climbeth Tamora Olympus' top,
Safe out of fortune's shot; and sits aloft,
Secure of thunder's crack or lightning flash;
Advanced above pale envy's threatening reach.
As when the golden sun salutes the morn,
And, having gilt the ocean with his beams,
Gallops the zodiac in his glistering coach,
And overlooks the highest-peering hills;
So Tamora: Upon her wit doth earthly honour wait,
And virtue stoops and trembles at her frown.
Then, Aaron, arm thy heart, and fit thy thoughts,
To mount aloft with thy imperial mistress,
And mount her pitch, whom thou in triumph long
Hast prisoner held, fetter'd in amorous chains
And faster bound to Aaron's charming eyes
Than is Prometheus tied to Caucasus.
Away with slavish weeds and servile thoughts!
I will be bright, and shine in pearl and gold,
To wait upon this new-made empress.
To wait, said I? to wanton with this queen,
This goddess, this Semiramis, this nymph,
This siren, that will charm Rome's Saturnine,
And see his shipwreck and his commonweal's.
Holloa! what storm is this?