Shakespeare and the Culture of Christianity in Early Modern England

By Dennis Taylor; David Beauregard | Go to book overview

16
Love and Lies:
Marital Truth-Telling, Catholic
Casuistry, and Othello

by Paula McQuade

DePaul University, Chicago, Illinois

THAT Othello (1604) engages with the early seventeenth-century Protestant idealization of marriage as a spiritual and social partnership is scarcely news.1 Stanley Cavell describes Othello as a play "in which not a marriage, but an idea of marriage, or let us say, an imagination of marriage is worked out" (1987, 131). Scholars often initially address this engagement by remarking upon the play's status as a domestic tragedy, but the classification is soon discarded. Underpinning this dismissal of Othello's generic affiliations are two factors: domestic tragedy, with its focus upon marriage and family life, is widely perceived to be the poor relation of serious—that is, political—tragedy. "The critical category of domestic tragedy," writes Karen Newman, ""is" always implicitly or explicitly pejorative because of its focus on women, jealousy and a triangle …" (1991, 92). Of equal importance is the popular perception of domestic tragedy's religious didacticism. Although Catherine Belsey and Frances Dolan have demonstrated the sophistication and complexity of individual domestic tragedies such as Arden of Faversham (1592), many critics adhere to the argument articulated by Henry Hitch Adams more than seventy-five years ago: early modern domestic tragedies are moralistic exemplums depicting the costs and consequences of sexual transgression for an urban, largely Puritan audience; as such, they are related to early modern religious works and thus simplistic and moralistic (1943).2

Recent scholarship has challenged these assumptions by demonstrating both the sophistication of early modern English texts by or

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