Shakespearian Comedy and Other Studies

By George Gordon | Go to book overview

X
OTHELLO, OR THE TRAGEDY OF THE HANDKERCHIEF

To speak for an hour about the tragedy of any handkerchief --even when that handkerchief is the charmed and significant lost property of Desdemona--may seem an odd use of one's time. In fact I shall not do so; there are other things which I must talk of first. What I wished to indicate by my title was this: that in my treatment of the play I shall be chiefly interested in the nature of Domestic Tragedy, as distinguished from other and more heroic kinds, and in the strange and sinister importance which quite small things--apparent trifles --may assume in Domestic Tragedy: how such things, in the tense and intimate drama of domestic life, may become, symbolically, overwhelming.

I am also profoundly interested in Desdemona's reception of the tragic dilemma in which she was placed. Should she --could she--have brushed her way through it, with a woman's common sense, and cleared up the childish muddle which in the end destroys her? Or did she show even greater wisdom--a finer perception of what makes life worth living --when she resigned herself, almost without a struggle, to her fate. I am well aware, of course, that I risk here the impertinence of attempting to solve the dramatist's chief problem after he has settled it for himself.

Let me be elementary, and state in the simplest terms the opening situation of Othello. The play begins in a street in Venice, late at night. Two men, one a professional soldier, are walking together. The soldier, Iago, is complaining that he has been passed over for promotion, and the staff billet which he thought his due given to a certain Florentine,

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