Analyses of Race and Gender Issues in Shakespeare's Othello

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Analyses of Race and Gender Issues in Othello

The discussion of race in Shakespeare's Othello has received a great deal of critical attention. Virginia Mason Vaughn, in her book Othello: A Contextual History, surveys this critical history, beginning with Marvin Rosenberg's 1961 book The Masks of Othello (a book documenting the nineteenth-century tendency toward representing Othello as light-skinned), and continuing through to Jack D'Amico's 1991 book The Moor in English Renaissance Drama. According to Vaughan herself, "The effect of Othello depends . . . on the essential fact of the hero's darkness, the visual signifier of his Otherness" (51). Arthur L. Little, Jr., in his article "'An essence that's not seen': The Primal Scene of Racism in Othello," claims that "The three crucial structural elements of Shakespeare's play are Othello's blackness, his marriage to the white Desdemona, and his killing of her" (306, emphasis added) as if there were no other "crucial structural elements." It is not my intention to undercut or undervalue the attention that has been given to the discourse of race, the opposition of black and white, in Othello; however, I contend that an exclusive focus on this discourse radically reduces and simplifies the play, and I wish to focus on a different discourse, a different opposition in the play-the discourse of honesty and whoredom, the opposition of falseness and loyalty.

Dympna Callaghan, in her book Women and Gender in Renaissance Tragedy, makes the point that "Mysogynistic discourse . . . leads, directly or indirectly, to the death of the female tragic transgressor [among whose number in Renaissance drama she counts Shakespeare's Desdemona and Cordelia, and John Webster's Duche...

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... White Devil. New Jersey: Humanities Press International, 1989.

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· Little, Arthur, Jr. "'An essence that's not seen': The Primal Scene of Racism in Othello," Shakespeare Quarterly 44 (1993), 304-324.

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· Anonymous, An Apologie For Womenkinde. London: Printed by Ed. Allde for William Ferebrand, 1605.

· Vaughan, Virgina Mason. Othello: A Contextual History. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994.

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