Othello Essay

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Othello is an essay on the cost of interpretation--a critique of people whose desire to know, to see, hear and consume the truth overrides their reason and wit. Othello's first scene opens in the middle of a dialogue and concludes with a character bemoaning his failure to properly interpret the relation between his daughter's mind and her acts. During its course Shakespeare consistently foregrounds the play's status as a piece of theatre--the extent to which it is a written text being acted by paid actors speaking someone else's words. This self-referentiality is particularly marked around the figure of Iago. The audience is trapped between its constitutive desire to participate in a collective act of interpretation, to be an audience, and Shakespeare's constant reminders that what they are actually taking part in is a performance, a show--a gaudy piece of illusion put on simply to make money. It is the audience's desire to keep this reality at bay that Iago exploits. Despite his ineptitude, and the reductive banality of much of what he says, Iago knows that his audience are 'duteous and obsequious' knaves with 'free and open natures'. After all they have paid to be tricked and seduced. Their desperate desire to be part of a communal act of interpretation means that he can give them anything and they will lap it up. It is this which makes Iago's racist representation of Othello and Desdemona having sex, 'an old black ram tupping a white ewe', so effective. It does not matter if this image appals or excites one--what is important is that it incites an act of interpretation which depends upon a suspension of the audience's reason. Iago exploits the inevitable metaphoric nature of language--that what is said is not what is--the gap between the signifier and signified. His racist imagery is seductive not because it marks this gap but on the contrary because it protects

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