Call all in all sufficient?

…He is much changed(4.1.264ff)

Why, what art thou?

Your wife, my lord: your true and loyal wife

Are you not a strumpet?

No, as I am a Christian…

I took you for that cunning whore

That married with Othello


…My friend thy husband, honest, honest Iago(5.2.150)

Where is this rash and most unfortunate man?

That’s he that was Othello? here I am.(5.2.280-281)

Speak of me as I am…(5.2.340)

These short, pointed phrases stab out of the linguistic world of over-indulgent exotic eloquence just as, in the visual world, glimpses of bright light – bright swords or white flesh – momentarily flash out of dark passages and chambers. Iago declares that he is not what he seems. This much we can be confident of, but is this then a warning that even his seemingly open "confessions" to the audience are not what they seem either? Are they not an invitation to look further than the motives he so openly admits for a deeper motive? Is Desdemona really as naïve as she makes out? In Othello’s eyes, she becomes "thou black weed". Finally, we must consider Othello. He is introduced as "the Moor", painted as a savage whose day is only complete when he made the "beast with two backs". He claims to be of royal birth, speaks nobly and eloquently, at once as a soldier and as a courtier, at once as an exotic foreigner and as a civilised Venetian, at once as a heathen and as a Christian – "Amen to that, sweet powers!" (2.1.193). He then becomes mad with jealousy, savage and uncontrolled. He becomes a passionate murderer. Or is he a heathen lord, making an honourable sacrifice? Is he merciless or merciful? He dies, killing himself as he once slay a "circumcised dog". Which is he then? The Christian soldier or "turbann’d Turk"?


Otherness is central to Othello. It underpins the racism, Iago’s malignity and Othello’s misconception of Desdemona: Othello is a Moor. He is obviously foreign. But in his manners and speech he seems as civilised and noble as any Venetian. He is not a slave or a conscript, he is a general and a governor. Iago is a soldier. He is not an officer. He is not a curlied darling. He was not born into the "officer class" and is consigned by this to be an ensign. Though he mocks the "manners" of his peers, he also tries to imitate them, addressing Montano and Gratiano as "gentlemen", the dead Roderigo as "my friend and my dear countryman" (5.1.89). In his attempts to be a gentleman, he is most obviously not one. Desdemona is a Venetian woman. Byron wrote of them in 1817 that "a woman is virtuous…who limits herself to her husband and one lover; those who have two, three or more, are a little wild…"9. According to Elizabethan accounts, Venetian women dressed and behaved much like courtesans. Desdemona is not one of these. She is faithful.

Sex, love and the soul

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