Untimely Matter in the Time of Shakespeare

By Jonathan Gil Harris | Go to book overview

SIX
Crumpled Handkerchiefs
William Shakespeare’s and Michel Serres’s Palimpsested Time

We must obey the time.

—William Shakespeare, Othello, 1.3.301

… Some other time.

—William Shakespeare, Othello, 3.3.55

OTHELLO HAS LONG been regarded as afflicted by a temporal anomaly in need of correction. Cracking the infamous “double time” conundrum—do the events of the play take place over a day and a half or over a much longer duration?—was a favorite parlor game of Shakespeareans for more than a century, and the temptation to straighten out the play’s story into an orderly, linear succession of events remains irresistible to many readers.1 In this chapter, by contrast, I consider how the play refuses linear temporality. Rather than a singular progression that can be geometrically plotted, time in Othello is a dynamic field whose contours keep shifting, bringing into startling and anachronistic proximity supposedly distant and disparate moments. So if some of the play’s critics have sought to heed Othello’s injunction to “obey the time” by making its events march in lockstep with a unilinear chronology, I instead follow his advice, to Desdemona, to find “some other time” —not another moment in time but, rather, another understanding of temporality altogether.

-169-

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