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REFERENCE

THE CRITICS - CRITICAL ANALYSIS

THE CRITICS ON OTHELLO'S RACE

Shakespeare was not trying in Othello to emphasize any racial differences between the hero and the heroine, though the differences in their background provide Iago with plausible suggestions for Desdemona's alleged disaffection.... When enemies of Othello want to abuse him, they speak opprobriously of his alien looks and wonder that Desdemona could love so strange a man, but that is part of the reality of the characterization, not a hint on Shakespeare's part of "racism." The unhappy times when men would read some suggestion of racial prejudice into every piece of literature concerned with alien characters lay some centuries ahead.

Louis B. Wright and Virginia A. LaMar "The Significance of Othello," 1957

The most important feature of Othello is the colour of the hero's skin. This is superficially obvious enough, but most critics have avoided treating Othello's colour as the essence of the play for two good reasons: first that it is unhistorical to suppose that 'colour', as we understand the term, had much meaning for the Elizabethans or early Jacobeans; and second, that to interpret Othello as a play about race would be like saying that Henry VI is a play about fatness.... [With Elizabethan audiences] the unfamiliarity of the colour-problem would even tend to increase its impact: marriage between Othello and Desdemona must have been very startling to an audience that had never seen a coloured boy walking out with a white girl. Professor Dover Wilson goes further and says: "If anyone imagines that England at that date was unconscious of the 'colour-bar,' they cannot have read Othello with any care."

G.M. Matthews, "Othello and the Dignity of Man" 1971


ON OTHELLO

...Shakespeare has shown us that his hero is not as strong or as good a man as he thinks he is, that the hero's flaw is his refusal to face the reality of his own nature. This Othello, who (I think) is the Othello Shakespeare intended to convey, is rather different from the modern Othello, who is always thoroughly noble-before, during, and after his downfall... It is not the hero's nobility in Shakespear's tragedies, but the flaw, the sin or error that all flesh is heir to, that destroys him. It is the close interweaving of great man, mere man, and base man that makes of Othello the peculiarly powerful and mysterious figure he is. In him Shakespeare shows the possible greatness, the possible baseness not only closely allied in what is after all mere man but also so casually connected that one must perforce wonder and weep.

Leo Kirschbaum, "The Modern Othello" From Shakespeare and His Critics, 1961

ON THE WOMEN IN OTHELLO

[The male characters'] vanity, their preoccupation with rank and reputation, and their cowardice render them as incapable of friendship as they are in love.... The women, in contrast, are indifferent to reputation and partially free of vanity, jealousy, and competitiveness. Desdemona's unwillingness 'to incur a general mock' is evident in her elopement and her defense of it, and her request to go to Cyprus. Emilia braves scorn to defend her mistress.... If Cassio's description of Bianca corresponds at all to fact, she too ignores reputation, comically, to pursue him.

Carol Thomas Neely, "Women and Men in Othello," 1980

ON THE USE OF THE "DOUBLE CLOCK"

Shakespeare... is not essentially concerned with time and the calendar at all. These, as with the actor and his behavior... must be given plausibility. But the play's essential action lies in the processes of thought and feeling by which the characters are moved and the story is forwarded. And the deeper the springs of these the less do time, place and circumstance affect them. His imagination is now concerned with fundamental passions, and its swift working demands unencumbered expression. He may falsify the calendar for his convenience, but we shall find neither trickery nor anomaly in the fighting of the intellectual battle for Othello's soul. And in the light of the truth of this the rest will pass unnoticed. Harley Granville-Barker, Prefaces to Shakespeare, 1946

ON IAGO

Iago stands supreme among Shakespeare's evil characters because the greatest intensity and subtlety of imagination have gone to his making, and because he illustrates in the most perfect combination the two facts concerning evil which seem to have impressed Shakespeare most. The first of these is the fact that perfectly sane people exist in whom fellow-feeling of any kind is so weak that an almost absolute egoism becomes possible to them, and with it those hard vices-such as ingratitude and cruelty-which to Shakespeare were far the worst. The second is that such evil is compatible, and even appears to ally itself easily, with exceptional powers of will and intellect.

A.C. Bradley, Shakespearean Tragedy, 1905

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