• Othello and the Body in Transformation

    Albert Rolls (see profile)
    Human body, Shakespeare, William, 1564-1616, Other (Philosophy)
    Item Type:
    Othello, Shakespeare, Otherness
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    At the start of Shakespeare's play, Othello and Iago exchange the symbolic positions that the audience expects them to hold, implying that cultural otherness is not the same thing as racial otherness. The implication is confirmed by Renaissance medical thought, oddly because of the connection that was made between culture and what we would call biology. Medical discourse in Shakespeare's age connected biological difference to cultural difference, assuming that bodies living in different cultures were physically different. Marsilio Ficino thus notes in the Book of Life (1489), a health guide chiefly addressed to students, that 'differences in . . . customs, of course, are seen in the fact that what is poison to a Persian is good for the heart in Egypt' (Ficino 1996, 49). The difference referred to by Ficino, as we will see, was thought to be neither innate nor permanent: the connection between biology and culture was predicated upon the assumption that the human organism was affected on a biological level by the cultural milieu that it inhabited. In the following pages, I want to argue – with reference to this medical discourse, which has been ignored by critics who have set out to explain the Renaissance understanding of cultural difference – that the problem of Shakespeare's play, Othello's becoming an unsuitable husband for Desdemona, is a consequence of a physical and cultural transformation in his body, as well as his mind. Othello, according to this argument, embarks upon a real and symbolic journey from otherness to sameness and back to otherness.
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    Journal article    
    Last Updated:
    5 years ago
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