Othello: A Guide to the Play

By Joan Lord Hall | Go to book overview

Roderigo. Nor is he actively chasing Roderigo because of his "quick hunting" of Desdemona. He is, however, exploiting Roderigo's desire for Desdemona, so that, assuming that "For" means "in order to (make him)" and not "because of," the line from F might be glossed as "whose steps I pursue in order to make him hunt more quickly." 39

Perhaps the most famous single word crux in Othello is the "Indian"/"Judean" variant in Othello's final speech. The hero describes himself in Q as "one whose hand, / Like the base Indian, threw a pearl away / Richer than all his tribe" (5. 2. 342-44); F reads "base Judean [Iudean]." At first this might seem to be a straight- forward printing error, with an initial confusion of "n" and "u" (where the compositor could have accidentally turned a letter on the printing press), followed by an "e" instead of an "i." Yet "Indian" is never printed with "-ean" in the rest of the Folio, so that a double error becomes less likely. Scholars who support F's reading as an authorial alternative are divided over whether "Judean" refers to Herod the Great or to Judas Iscariot. Herod murdered his wife, Mariamne, after she had been falsely accused of infidelity and then bitterly regretted his action; this mirrors Othello's situation. 40 Herod provides a somewhat closer parallel than the morally "base" Judas who betrayed Christ (a pearl of great price), since Othello is not portrayed in the tragedy as a calculating deceiver. 41

Debate rages on, but a majority of scholars favor Q's "Indian." Richard Levin points out that the adjective "Judean" is unusual, although a few instances have now been found before the 1652 usage cited as the first by the Oxford English Dictionary; 42 he also notes that Q2, which collates Q carefully against F, prefers the Quarto reading.43 "Indian" certainly fits the tenor of Othello's speech. The assumption that (American) Indians undervalued and discarded their precious natural resources appears in other writings of the period, such as Thomas Nashe Pierce Penniless ( 1592), where artists are called "base-minded," like Indians who are "ignorant" of the value of their plentiful gold and jewels. 44 Othello's image of himself as the "base Indian" points up his tragic ignorance in destroying a human being as precious and unique as Desdemona.


NOTES
1
Thomas L. Berger, The Second Quarto of Othello and the Question of Textual 'Authority,' Analytical and Enumerative Bibliography, 2.4 ( 1988): 141-59, makes a good case for considering some of the choices made by the "active, alert editorial intelligence" behind Q2, as this editor was closer to Shakespeare's language than we are. (Reprinted in Anthony Gerard Barthelemy [ed.], Critical Essays on Shakespeare's Othello [ New York: Macmillan, 1994], pp. 144-61, quote at p. 151.) Indeed, some of Q2's emendations have been quietly adopted by most editors, as with "Her name" instead of "My name" (3. 3. 383).
2
Alice Walker, Textual Problems of the First Folio ( Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1953), pp. 138-61.
3
See Stanley Wells and Gary Taylor (eds.), William Shakespeare: A Textual Companion ( Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987), p. 476.
4
W. W. Greg, The Shakespeare First Folio ( Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1955), p. 361.

-8-

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Othello: A Guide to the Play
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Preface ix
  • Notes x
  • Journal Abbreviations xi
  • 1 - Textual History 1
  • Notes 8
  • 2 - Contexts and Sources 11
  • Notes 22
  • 3 - Dramatic Structure 29
  • Notes 57
  • 4 - The Major Characters 63
  • Notes 94
  • 5 - Themes 103
  • Notes 116
  • 6 - Critical Approaches 121
  • Notes 142
  • 7 - The Play in Performance 151
  • Notes 200
  • Bibliographical Essay 209
  • Index 217
  • About the Author *
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