Othello (Arden Shakespeare Third Series)

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William Shakespeare edited by E.A.J. Honigmann

DOI: 10.5040/9781408160206.00000010
Acts: 5. Scenes: 15. Roles: Male (11) , Female (3) , Neutral (0)

Quite apart from the brilliance of its language and characters, Othello is remarkable amongst other early modern plays for its inversion of traditional, racially-defined roles in tragedy – the black man, Othello, becomes the hero, whereas the white man, Iago, is the obvious villain. Although ‘black’ characters were common on the Elizabethan and Jacobean stage, a black hero was unique.

More recent criticism has also expanded this discussion by considering Othello’s identity not just as a Moor, but as a Muslim. In doing so, it allows modern readers to examine the larger question of ‘otherness’ in relation to race, religion, and culture. Othello is now studied as part of a wider tradition of ‘Turk plays’, which also include Philip Massinger’s The Renegado and Christopher Marlowe’s Tamburlaine. This critical lens allows scholars to expand their understanding of the relationships between early modern European countries and the Ottoman Empire.

Despite the tendency of modern audiences to focus on the racial element, however, Othello is only partially about race. It is also a deeply moving and tragic depictions of the consequences of passion and the effects of jealousy. The insidious Iago has become the archetypal agent provocateur, and the shocking final scene is one of Shakespeare’s greatest.

The Arden edition prefers to date the play to late 1601-1602, (it is traditionally dated to 1603–4). Two early texts of Othello survive – a Quarto from 1622 and the text in the First Folio of 1623. This edition preferences the Quarto text, but in instances of textual cruxes, the editor has produced a carefully thought-out meditation between the two texts.