William Shakespeare's Othello

William Shakespeare's Othello

William Shakespeare's Othello

William Shakespeare's Othello


-- Presents the most important 20th-century criticism on major works from The Odyssey through modern literature

-- The critical essays reflect a variety of schools of criticism

-- Contains critical biographies, notes on the contributing critics, a chronology of the author's life, and an index


Dr. Samuel Johnson found in the representation of Othello, lago, and Desdemona "such proofs of Shakespeare's skill in human nature, as, I suppose, it is vain to seek in any modern writer." The High Romantic Victor Hugo gave us the contrary formula: "Next to God, Shakespeare created most," which does not seem to me a remystification of Shakespeare's characters, but rather a shrewd hint in what might be called the pragmatics of aesthetics. Shakespeare was a mortal god (as Hugo aspired to be) because his art was not a mimesis at all. A mode of representation that is always out ahead of any historically unfolding reality necessarily contains us more than we can contain it. A. D. Nuttall wonderfully remarks of lago that he "chooses which emotions he will experience. He is not just motivated, like other people. Instead he decides to be motivated." Though Nuttall says that makes of lago a Camus-like existentialist, I would think lago is closer to a god, or a devil, and so perhaps resembles his creator, who evidently chose emotions to be experienced, and decided whether or not to be motivated. We do not feel Othello to be a critique of Shakespeare, but in some sense lago is just that, being a playwright, like Edmund in King Lear, like Hamlet, and like William Shakespeare. Hamlet's "the rest is silence" has a curious parallel in lago's "from this time forth I never will speak word," even though Hamlet dies immediately and lago survives to die mutely under torture.

It is not that lago is in Hamlet's class as an intellectual consciousness. No, lago is comparable to Edmund, who in King Lear out-plots everyone else in the royal world of the play. Othello is a glorious soldier and a sadly simple man, who could have been ruined by a villain far less gifted than lago. A. C. Bradley's charming notion is still true: exchange Othello and . . .

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