Othello: the Abnormalities in the Play

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Othello: the Abnormalities in the Play William Shakespeare’s tragic drama Othello boasts quite a little list of abnormalities in both occurrences and personal behavior. In the volume Shakespeare and Tragedy John Bayley explains how the abnormality of the protagonist’s behavior brings on rejection by the critics: In our own time more genteel, but also more intellectualized versions of Rymer’s disfavour have been voiced by T.S. Eliot and F.R. Leavis, who both consider and reject the personality that Othello presents to the outside world, pointing out that he is not so much deceived as a self-deceiver, a man presented by Shakespeare as constitutionally incapable of seeing the truth about himself. So the detached, ironic view of the creator contrasts with the tragical and romantic view taken of himself by the created being. (201) But Othello is defended by other critics. In her book, Everybody’s Shakespeare: Reflections Chiefly on the Tragedies, Maynard Mack defends the Moor as one who is not necessarily the victim of a psychological deficiency, as some critics maintain: What should be noticed in particular is that, essentially, Shakespeare invented Iago; set him down in his dramatis personae with the single epithet “a villain”; and devoted most of the play’s lines and scenes to showing in detail the cunning, malignancy, and cruelty of his nature, including the cowardice of his murder of his wife. It seems to me therefore impossible to believe, as some recent critics would have us do, that the root causes of Othello’s ruin are to be sought in some profound moral or psychological deficiency peculiar to him. (137) A more obvious example of the irregular appears in the conduct of Iago. The abnormal behavior of the ancient is partly rooted in his misogynism. In “Historical Differences: Misogyny and Othello” Valerie Wayne implicates Iago in sexism. He is one who is almost incapable of any other perspective on women than a sexist one: Iago’s worry that he cannot do what Desdemona asks implies that his dispraise of women was candid and easily produced, while the praise requires labour and inspiration from a source beyond himself. His insufficiency is more surprising because elsewhere in the play Iago appears as a master rhetorician, but as Bloch explains, ‘the misogynistic writer uses rhetoric as a means of renouncing it, and, by extension, woman.’ (163) And how about epilepsy?

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