|Tuesday, November 5, 2002
The Robert S. Liebert memorial Lecture
This paper explores two striking changes over the years in the commentary on Shakespeare's Othello. First, the focus of critical attention has moved steadily away from Othello towards Iago, and away from judgment of Othello's passionate action toward analysis of Iago's seemingly motiveless malignity. As a result it has shifted from seeing the play as a story about jealousy to seeing it as a story about envy, from a story about wanting to possess the "Other" to a story about wanting to be the Other. It is a shift, found elsewhere as well, of course, from oedipal to preoedipal concerns. The second change is related: a movement away from focusing on the character of the "hero" Othello and towards the social function of a sequence of devalued Others: not only the socially inferior Iago, but also women (in the 70's and 80's), blacks (in the 80's and 90's), and, most recently, Turks, Muslims and other "orientalized" third world figures. What might this reveal about our own perspectives? What might it reveal about Shakespeare's perspective 400 years ago?