Othello, the Baroque, and Religious Mentalities
Gilbert, Anthony. "Othello, the Baroque, and Religious Mentalities." Early Modern Literary Studies 7.2 (September, 2001): 3.1-21 <URL: http://purl.oclc.org/emls/07-2/gilboth.htm>.
In a recent article in this journal, Patricia Dorval has analysed, eloquently and vividly, the baroque interpretations of Othello in performance, on screen, by Oliver Parker.  The focus in the article is on the visual, liminal aesthetics of the production. It is an important reminder that all plays are performance texts, and that their full meaning can only be brought out by performance, and not by reading alone. The fact that a baroque interpretation of the play is entirely viable in performance is significant for my argument here.  For the baroque influence extends, I want to suggest, beyond the visual aesthetics of production to subject matter and topics in the actual text itself, and these are the central concerns of this essay.
In the most recent edition of the play, by E. A. J. Honigmann, we have now an invaluable collation of the original novella by Cinthio with the text of the play itself.  We see here clearly, for the first time, how many verbal echoes of the primary source are to be found in the text, and how far Shakespeare has exploited an intuitive reading of the original humanistic narrative. Shakespeare also adds what we may call a contemporary religious dimension to the play, completely lacking in the source. These religious mentalities in the play provide a richer motivation for character than the source offers. I want to suggest this is a typical baroque addition to the source. It is particularly appropriate for a performance of the play at court, on November 1 1604.  For the baroque is essentially a court genre of writing, with intellectual and political topics as the centre of interest. There is also the fact that James I was especially well-informed in religious matters, a central aspect of the baroque in its European context, and the play may have been written or rewritten  with this royal interest in mind.  In effect, I suggest, Othello is an early and original attempt at baroque European themes in English theatre, themes which had been developing on the continent for twenty years before the turn of the century.  The fact that most English accounts of later forms of the baroque have restricted the term to the Restoration of the sixteen sixties and beyond, need not be an insuperable objection.  On the contrary, some commentators on Shakespeare and early baroque have suggested that such late plays as The Tempest and The Winter's Tale are baroque in conception, and that there are baroque elements in earlier plays as well. 
What topics and themes, then, dominate Othello, and can they be interpreted as early baroque in the way they are handled? Perception, representation and truth, and their subjective uncertainties, are central themes in the play, and the emotional challenge of uncertainty is a central topic of baroque drama. There is also the problem of love and honour which haunts the play. For honour defines the social identity of the hero, and the loss of honour is the cause of his despair. Othello is trapped in a conflict of emotions between honour and humiliation, or dishonour, which in his view destroys his identity as the great general of the Venetian army. Another baroque strategy is the emphasis and focus on the audience's interpretation of the narrative. Dramatic irony is the primary device here. We are required as an audience to understand the distance between reality and appearance in Othello's distress. We are asked to reflect on the disparity between a false human engagement with reality, and the actual truth. We are driven to see the terrible absurdity of Othello's misunderstandings, as well as their plausibility, and consequences. But within the dramatic narrative, there is no resolving truth, until the end; there is a deliberate inability to simplify here, a refusal to engage with a clarifying truth, for there is no such clarifying truth for the victims in this narrative. Othello believes Iago, and the dramatic irony of the play establishes this as a terrible and false belief. But we as an audience see how persuasive this subjective and false 'truth' is. We are therefore encouraged by the narrative to view our own truths as less certain than they might have been. For what is truth, but a subjective construct rendered persuasive in the moment of its construction? There are, perhaps, no absolute truths. Again, is 'truth' merely a manipulative notion for covert purposes, as Iago's role in the play suggests? We experience the relativities of 'truth' in the last soliloquy of Othello. In his intended transgression, the murder of Desdemona, Othello confronts the tragically false, but apparently true, conflict between love and honour that motivates the action. He at last discovers that love and honour can be reconciled, but too late for his own survival and for that of his wife. The play closes on a profoundly moral insight into the complexities of appearance and reality. The cost of moral knowledge can be greater than life itself, if we are deceived by appearances and malicious persuasion. An audience of courtiers, who lived in a hotbed of gossip, intrigue and deception, the political world of the court, would recognise these insights. The baroque experience also addresses, in a more general way, the disenchantment and anguish arising from the emergence of new religious views of the world, putting into question the old religion of catholic Europe.  The play is, I shall argue, a study of human relations through a 'secularised' religious perspective.
This last point leads naturally to a consideration of the religious dimensions of the play. The discourse of all major speakers is saturated with religious ideas, sometimes explicitly. But to a much greater extent than has, I think, been noticed, we find religious ideas translated into apparently secular form. I should like to suggest that we take further the idea advanced by Stephen Greenblatt, that one of the types of symbolic acquisition of social practices from the real world to the stage is 'metaphorical acquisition.'  Here a religious practice is presented indirectly. He gives the example of the fairies in A Midsummer Night's Dream, who 'consecrate' the marriage bed with field-dew. This he sees as representing the Catholic practice of sprinkling the marriage bed with holy water, although in the play it has merely a magical, and secular mode of signification. The ritual has been partially emptied of its original significance and social function, which could not be directly presented on stage, although 'magical' practices analogous to those of the Catholic church could be.
This 'analogical' use of religious ideas and beliefs explains a great deal about the mode of operation of Othello. It is a play that can best be understood, I suggest, by reference to the popular religious prejudices of the period in which it was written. These prejudices can only be recognised by implication today, but must have been so apparent to a contemporary audience that it was unnecessary to spell them out explicitly in the text. It is, I want to argue, a play about two contrasting modes of belief which have been transposed onto a popular humanist tale. The play deals, in effect, with prejudicial notions about papist belief, and calvinist critiques of that belief system, mediated and popularised into commonly held views that would find natural assent from a contemporary audience. These beliefs provide motivation and interiority to the central figures, without sacrificing their identity as historically located individuals. One of the chief obstacles in the analysis of religion in Othello has been the overwhelming critical assumption that if it is a religious narrative, it must be rooted in explicit Christian doctrines of a pseudo-allegorical kind.  But is it not likely that various contemporary religious mentalities could provide a dynamic source of dramatic confrontation in the play? By exploiting these mentalities, Shakespeare gives deeper motivation to the characters, transforming them from the sketchy figures in the novella to recognisable contemporary types for the Elizabethan audience.
Now my argument is that both Othello and Iago represent in various ways an extreme form of sectarian belief, if we take them as secular types of religious position. Othello is almost idolatrous in his love for Desdemona, and Iago refers to her as Othello's "god" at one point in the play (2.3.343). Desdemona is not of course a goddess, but she has an enormous power over his affections, which is pivotal in the play. Iago is talking alone here, and we need not think for once that there is some ulterior motive at work in what he says: there is an 'honest' prejudice here, based on anti-popish attitudes. Idolatry, and its associations with magic, was one of the common prejudices of the day against catholicism. The 'worship' of saints was one form of this, as was 'bread-worship' in the mass.  Othello's acceptance of the magic in the handkerchief is perhaps an example of the mindless acceptance of beliefs and practices merely because they were ancient, and in the context of a primitive 'barbarian' these beliefs can be read as mere superstition, but with a covert pseudo-sacred religious reference.  In the desacralised space of the Elizabethan stage this is as near as we are likely to get to an explicit reference to catholic 'superstition.' Othello appears to believe that his wooing of Desdemona is based on some covert idea of 'justification by works,' not in the sense of a religious absolution, but in the sense of inspiring pity and admiration in Desdemona. Again, a secular transposition of the sacred notion. But he comes to believe that his love is founded on trickery and illusion by Desdemona herself, for has she not deceived her own father in her sudden elopement, and has she not continued to betray her husband by her affair with Cassio? Although this seems a wholly secular consideration in the plot, the notion of trickery and deception is associated with the catholic mass and the confessional in contemporary protestant prejudice. Has what seemed an almost sacred love been transformed here into a sordid calculation? So Desdemona's association with the divine becomes tarnished with negative associations. Is she not in fact that "cunning whore of Venice" whom Othello mistakenly loved? Is her claim to virtue and innocence a mere sham? Does repentance not then require the austerities of an authoritarian religious discipline, such as the catholic church prescribed: "A sequester from liberty, fasting and prayer, / Much castigation, exercise devout…" (3.4.40-1)? Shakespeare makes Othello seize on the traditional catholic response to such moral failings, because Othello, I suggest, is meant to appear a 'secular analogue' to the devout catholic.  He wishes to retain his faith in Desdemona at all costs. Yet his reason tells him that this is impossible. She becomes the goddess that failed. Is this an analogy to the discovery of corruption in the catholic church by Lutheran protestants? There is at the least a shocking loss of faith. And Othello is tormented by doubt and uncertainty, the classic dilemma of the baroque hero, who confronts schein und sein, appearance and reality, in its most painful form.  This challenge of uncertainty and newly-found doubt is also the classic dilemma of the catholic reformation itself. Is there a religious analogy here? There is, I must dare to assert, no 'extraordinary promptness' in Othello's reflections on Desdemona, but a slow, anguished rational analysis based on the incontrovertible fact that Cassio had many times been Othello's intermediary when he wooed her.  What would a man like Cassio be capable of in the corrupt world of Venice? He is obviously promiscuous, and unmarried. Othello can only speculate, governed by the hideous reasonableness of Iago's various general arguments. Othello undergoes a tragically false, but persuasive 'enlightenment,' a secular analogy to the 'enlightenment' of the protestant critique of catholicism.
Earlier in the play, the account he gives of his life is an ironic rebuttal of a suggestion of witchcraft, but his use of the terms associated with magic would have had satisfying associations in the minds of the audience. There is something suspect, many in an Elizabethan audience might think, and unnatural, about the wooing of Desdemona; Brabantio, who has charged Othello with witchcraft explicitly, calls the Duke's acceptance of Othello's explanation "equivocal."  There is perhaps some casuistry here, equivocation being a jesuitical sin in the eyes of protestants, and a whiff of popery in the references to witchcraft by Brabantio and Othello, even though they are uttered as allegations and rebuttals. But this is at the beginning of the play, when the audience is being drawn into an acceptance of their own unexamined prejudices, which they have later to reject and re-examine. 
Othello's love for Desdemona is made to have the associations of a false miracle, typical of the antics of catholicism (in protestant opinion), when he begins to doubt her. The glitter and extravagance of the rhetorical sublime, when he lands in Cyprus after the storm that wrecks the Turkish fleet, and might have drowned Desdemona, is perhaps too baroque and brittle to last. Nevertheless it becomes the final truth, and this is what we are to understand by it at the end of the play. The love of Othello and Desdemona is sublime, noble and authentic. It shares some of the mystical quality of the sacrament of marriage in the catholic church. Yet the marriage is soon shown to be flawed by a conflicted relationship between the protestant notion of equality in marriage, held by Desdemona, and the old-fashioned catholic notion of patriarchy, and the man as the head of the household.  The highly rhetorical passage of the baroque sublime follows the conversation of Iago and Desdemona, with its "critical" remarks from Iago.  His view of Cassio's gallantry towards his wife, Emilia, his satire on domesticity and women, and his cynical remarks later to Roderigo, the gull and fop, present a world opposed to traditional catholic values and social customs, in effect, the emergent world of puritan resentment. We stand in the presence of two quite distinct and opposed discourses: the language of the sublime and the language of doubt, scepticism, and domestic, rational 'enlightenment.' The two discourses interrogate each other. There is a deliberate structural opposition here, I suggest, which implies a narrative focus on the questions raised in the play. In fact, a contrast between the protestant world of domestic duty and its minor key, and the world of the catholic baroque and its heroic sublime. The baroque style is not heavily mined in the play, but used as a structural contrast to the much more domestic and local events of daily life. Shakespeare knows the fragility of the fashionable public style of speech; it cannot bear too heavy a load of narrative, 'world of the play,' reference. Othello's account of the origins of the handkerchief, another example of this discoursal antithesis, combines, in a contrastive fugal pattern, domestic detail and the mystical sublime of an empowering love. There is magic in the web of the handkerchief, perhaps a secular analogy to the transubstantiation of the host and wine in the catholic mass. Marriage and human love acquire a sacramental value in the context, but only for a moment. And the handkerchief becomes transformed again, by tragic irony, into a visual argument for Desdemona's adultery. We might further suggest that the baroque sublime in the play is rendered strange and almost alienating, like Othello's language itself, making him the "extravagant and wheeling stranger/Of here and everywhere." Could this notion of making things strange be Shakespeare's most original insight into the new dramatic role of the baroque? For it reminds us always of Othello's difference from others, by exploiting a linguistic difference, ("bombast circumstance" in Iago's terms), marking out his own speech from the rest of the characters. They speak for the most part in the language of contemporary English, with its range of formal and informal registers. Iago is particularly clever at varying his language across the formal/informal register to suit his listeners. He is clearly a sophisticated speaker, whose knowledge of fashionable rhetorical strategies is persuasive and considerable. But he can also play the rough-spoken military man when he wants to.
In the last soliloquy before Othello kills Desdemona, we see the confusion of a mentality deprived of moral knowledge. The so-called enlightenment (which is the reverse), that Iago has achieved in Othello, is unable to destroy his love for her, and the images he uses are at once falsifying and truthful. They express the conflicted torment between duty and love, a typical baroque dilemma. This conflict of view implies an emergent rejection of Iago and his clever destructive visual imagery. But it doesn't prevent the murder. Again, popish attitudes to sex are nicely exploited in the immediate motive for killing Desdemona: papists were held to tolerate a notorious sexual laxity, and the revenues of the church from the Roman stews were often cited. Desdemona must die "else she'll betray more men."  Iago has pointed this up already in his earlier remark, "I know our country disposition well: / In Venice they do let God see the pranks / They dare not show their husbands. Their best conscience / Is not to leave't undone, but keep't unknown." (3.3.205-7). Desdemona is condemned for a typical popish practice, in the eyes of the calvinist. But Othello is wrong, and has merely accepted a common prejudice against papists. The effect of this recollection by Othello is to expose the damage prejudice does to innocent catholics, for it is obviously a mistaken view in the knowledge of the audience. Iago has also added here a gibe at the confidentiality of the confessional, which was regarded as a sign of hypocrisy on the part of papists. The guilt of any sin could be assuaged by a simple act of external religious observance, according to anti-popery prejudice. This is a popular protestant misunderstanding of the confessional.
We see Othello, then, gradually infected by the scepticism of Iago, and coming to see his love for Desdemona as a false miracle of utter hypocrisy, a form of idolatry from which he must escape to achieve enlightenment, rationality and the sounder knowledge of a calvinist/protestant belief. Yet Othello is at the last able to see that this is a false enlightenment, based on a travesty of his true beliefs, and he is able to recover the divine vision, and make a final gesture that asserts a spiritual truth at the cost of his own martyrdom. For his death asserts the innocence and value of Desdemona, his love for her, and his belief in their love for each other. The notion of the sublime and its transcendental values has been recuperated, after the travails of the baroque saint/hero in his moments of doubt and disbelief. The audience have experienced their own prejudices against catholicism through the eyes of Iago and Othello, and have, perhaps, been forced to recognise a sublime truth. Evil may corrupt, but it cannot finally destroy all. The pearl may have been flung away in ignorance of its true value, but ignorance has been replaced with moral knowledge, the loss is understood, and the moral consequences accepted.
Can the recovery of full moral knowledge at the very last really be interpreted as the consequence of a mind unconsciously trapped by a racist ideology? For that paradoxical suggestion is, in effect, the confused conclusion some modern critics draw from Othello's death.  He has internalised the racism of Venice, it is argued, and obeyed the implicit racist social order to expunge the alien from that white world. It was not in historical fact a wholly white world. But the "turbanned Turk" he refers to at the moment of death is a figure of religious significance to him, an infidel, a "circumcised dog," an alien Mohammedan. An enemy of Venice he had a duty to kill. So, surely, Othello affirms in his death his loyalty to Venice, and his sense of a betrayal not only of the Venetian world and Desdemona, but of a religious truth as well. Can he really be thought to kill himself, as another infidel? Can moral knowledge be simply a construct from social knowledge? Can a Shakespearean hero die deceived to the end? Could Shakespeare himself have believed this, as an Elizabethan? It is an extraordinarily modern view. For Othello is clearly, I suggest, a catholic conformist. His last speech and his death are theatrical moments beyond all reason and expectation; his words define and contextualise his action as martyrdom, not suicide. He must at once accept his guilt and the consequent punishment, and affirm his recovered love for Desdemona. A martyr dies to make a statement about some transcendental truth more valuable than life itself. Since Othello nowhere shows any inclination to protestant views of marriage, or the scepticism about Venice that Iago displays, and seems to show in a secularised form many catholic beliefs, it is surely easier to see him as a secular version of a catholic martyr. As a martyr, he must explain his actions and give meaning, however paradoxical, to his last moments.
Othello is not cheering himself up, nor is he indulging in vainglory. These are stabs in the dark at an explanation that is much more complex. Shakespeare's sense of the theatre as an explanatory narrative, rendering transparent what would otherwise have been an unintelligible, irrational act is, I suggest, the purpose of this last scene. But this at once gives authority to the unconscious motives of Othello, whatever he says now. Or does it? "Nothing extenuate, / Nor set down aught in malice" seems to have been ignored by theorists preoccupied with racism. For them, Othello kills himself out of awareness of an internalised Venetian, racist contempt for blacks. But this is not what he says, and to defend this view, we have to ignore or treat as mere irrelevance, or as rationalisation, what he does say. Yet what do we expect him to say in context: can such a terrible moment produce clarity and explicitness? Does not the crisis of the moment reach down into the inner depths of Othello's very being, and expose a humiliating truth? But if Othello dies a deluded and confused figure, would that not rob him of all dignity and nobility, turning him into the pitiful victim of a vicious, hostile society? But perhaps not: a victim is not necessarily ignoble or contemptible, except in the racist terms of others. It is possible to defend the racist view, and argue that Othello in his death exposes something that he is unaware of. His actions then would speak louder than his own words. His words, it could be suggested, are a mere pretext for a deeper and more terrible racist guilt, which society has made him accept and internalise without realising it. But Othello is clearly not deluded in his recovered belief in his wife, and confronts at least some of the truth about his actions at the last. But perhaps he believes out of awareness that he was unworthy of his white wife, and so must punish himself for that. There may well be a racist element of internalisation here, but I cannot see it as a major part of Othello's actions. It may well be unconscious. For Othello now, again, loves and believes in Desdemona, even if, at the same time, according to the racist argument, accepting implicitly his inferior status as a black Moor despised and rejected by Venice. As a baroque hero he has the courage to recognise and accept the tragic error. But is not love and honour more important to him than racist attitudes? Is not Othello a general first and a black second? What are the priorities here in his own conscious mind? Again, because racism is something outside the consciousness of the victims of racism in many cases, it could be argued that he has absorbed, without knowing it, a racist contempt for himself. But has not Othello recovered his self esteem, even at this late moment, and shown himself to be a courageous person without fear? Again, doubt arises, for although he is a successful general on any account, is the public role enough to justify his actions? In spite of all arguments about a non-textual unconscious, which can neither be demonstrated nor rejected by an appeal to the text, it remains a fact that only Iago voluntarily uses racist language in the play, while Roderigo imitates him; Brabantio calls Iago a "profane wretch," "a foul-mouthed despicable person," a "villain," and does not appear to agree with the racist slanders. Perhaps he would do so in private. There is an undercurrent of the lingua mordace of the Italian streets in this early scene.  And this is where in the play the racist prejudice is planted and seeded, for it is not evident in the rest of the play.  Readers today can carry over the early racist remarks into the rest of the play, as we are all inclined to do. Perhaps we should not indulge in the old 'New Criticism' idea of the organic coherence of the text, and let the text, in its fault lines, speak for itself in all its ambiguity. There may be no intended consistency in the matter of its supposed racism.
If there is a cluster of 'secularised' catholic ideas associated with Othello, when we turn to Iago we find, if we historicise his attitudes and remarks in contemporary terms, another set of ideas which have a distinctly protestant flavour. He represents an oppositional figure in the play, a typical early 'puritan' figure at the turn of the century.  (The Arden editor now suggests a new date of late 1601-2 for Othello.)  Because he is an 'ethical' puritan, "honest Iago," he does not need to be explicitly named as a puritan or calvinist.  He believes, or affects to believe, in a subjective form of reason which he uses to advance an extreme and destructive hostility to the papist world around him.  The mercantile city of Venice had been particularly astute in keeping excessive catholic and protestant influence at bay during the sixteenth century, and was virtually an independent enclave in the catholic south of Europe. Hence the plausible presence of a puritan or calvinist amongst catholics in the city. It may be significant that Iago claims he was supported by "three great ones of the city" in his application to Othello, for although this may refer to the Savii Grandi, or 'ministers of state,' it could also refer, for a contemporary Elizabethan audience, by a semantic glissage, to the puritan grandees of the city of London, who would be quite likely to support such a calvinist artisan as Iago. They would have met such people through the puritan classis in their local church. Thomas Middleton, we may recall, had many such patrons later in the century, from 1615 onwards.  Most of Shakespeare's patrons in his later career were of course catholics, which tends to support the pro-catholic tendencies I claim to see in the play.
- What evidence, then, is there for Iago's 'ethical' puritanism, and can it be demonstrated in the text? I want to suggest here that everything Iago says is directly related to the presentation of 'ethical' puritanism. It cannot be accidental that most of the quotations from the Bible in the play, or allusions to it, come from Iago.  When we first discover Iago onstage in the first scene, he is busy explaining to Roderigo his resentments against Othello in the matter of the promotion of Cassio. This would immediately have struck a contemporary audience as the typical whingeing of an 'ethical' puritan. For puritans resented the notion of careerism, and condemned it as ungodly.  Rising through the ranks, by the influence of supporters, implied a positive self-regard, which puritans emphasised one could never claim as a certainty. Iago complains of "preferment" which is taking the place of the "old gradation," where each man stood to move upwards automatically, in turn. This had nothing to do with merit but with years of service. Had not Calvin demonstrated the total depravity of man, without the intervention of divine grace, whose actions were invisible to man because of his corrupted will and deficient self-knowledge? And one could never be certain of divine intervention. Divine grace was unknowable directly, and could only be seen by its indirect effects. However, these could be calculated by the famous syllogismus practicus, or 'practical syllogism', much employed by calvinists. The argument went like this:
All who are elected exhibit certain signs as a consequence of that election.
But I exhibit these signs.
Therefore I am among the elect. 
It is significant for my account of Othello that this is exactly the argument Iago employs in his first extended utterance onstage. Again, it is transferred to a secular context and emptied of sacred meaning. Iago clinches, to his satisfaction, his own claims for recognition by saying of Cassio, "but he, sir, had th'election / And I, of whom his eyes had seen the proof / At Rhodes, at Cyprus and on other grounds, / Christian and heathen, must be be-leed and calmed." ( 1.1.26-29). The puritan mentality and characteristic mode of thinking is evident, but transformed ironically into a secular argument. The "election" is to the post of lieutenant, and the "proofs" are not of success in the world, but of loyal service in battle.  We can add a further point that confirms the 'ethical' puritan stance: Cassio is attacked for having no practical experience of battle, "mere prattle without practice / Is all his soldiership." (1.1.25-26). "Practice," or praxis, the demonstration of social virtues in action is a key notion in puritan thinking. Iago uses the discourse of puritanism for his own advantage here.  Another puritanical comment may lurk in the obscure reference to Cassio as "A fellow almost damned in a fair wife," for puritans were preoccupied with the potentially sinful aspects of married relations. Sexual relations were not for pleasure but for the production of children only. The fact that later in the play Shakespeare seems to have forgotten that Cassio is married need not worry us too much, especially if the play was written backwards.  It's a minor lapse, but the reference here is consistent with Iago's thinking at this moment. 
Later in the first scene, Iago boasts to Roderigo of his deceptive nature, and his intention to serve Othello for his own advantage only. (1.1.40-64). Here again, a puritan or calvinist stance may be detected. He is virtually admitting to being a hypocrite puritan. Where did this cultural strategy come from; was it simply the stance of a disaffected servant? Or can it be that it derives from a wider cultural tendency? The insistence on outward conformity only in Elizabeth's religious policy meant a widening gap between inner convictions and observable behaviour. It is here that the explanation must surely lie for Iago's self-congratulation. He is pretty sure he can get away with his strategy. As Peter Lake remarks of Elizabeth's religious policy: "This, at least potentially, opened up a gap between the inward and the outward, the real inner convictions of a person and his or her outward behavior, a space which, it seemed to many contemporaries, could be exploited for all sorts of dissimulation and pretence by the faithless and the unscrupulous. Here, rather than in some nebulous practice called 'Renaissance self-fashioning', may be a major source of the contemporary obsession with dissimulation and the de facto atheism of the Machiavel."  The baroque also has a preoccupation with deception and uncertainty, as we have already seen.
An important passage on the calvinist notion of the will occurs in Iago's conversation with Roderigo in 1.3.320 ff. Here Iago is urging, in a typical puritan way, that Roderigo should take practical steps to advance his cause, translating belief into action (again in a secularised context, for he is encouraging Roderigo to commit adultery), and spend some of his cash prudently on the project, by improving his appearance, and entertaining more lavishly in his pursuit of Desdemona. Again, a sacred notion of praxis is perhaps translated ironically into a secular context. Iago's speech is a mock sermon,  but it contains in its colloquial form certain elements that reflect calvinist thinking. The will is capable of discrimination between good and evil, but it is wholly corrupted by original sin in fallen man. Only through the intervention of divine grace can it make the right choices. Human will opposed God's will in all matters; it suffered from concupiscence, a perpetual disorder in all our actions.  Love, to Iago, is "merely a lust of the blood and a permission of the will" (1.3.335-6). Here the "will" is clearly a matter of "concupiscence," or false desire. When he first speaks, Iago refers to the will as an ethical force (1.3.321 ff), and this may cause confusion. But Iago is referring in the first context to the ability of the will to choose between right and wrong, supported by the reason when it is inspired by divine grace. The will is the servant of reason when it acts rightly.
The total depravity of man, without the saving grace of God, as a general calvinist principle, may well also account for Iago's readiness to convince himself of Othello's and Cassio's adultery with his wife ( 1.3.385-89 and 2.1.284-310). Both ideas may be "mere suspicion," but Iago is willing to consider that even he himself is guilty of lustful thoughts about Desdemona (2.1.289-91). So depraved and distorted is the calvinist view of the human condition, and human relationships. And it is sexual behaviour that Iago constantly shows interest in, as when he comments on Cassio's friendly, but entirely polite, exchanges with Desdemona (2.1.167-77). Does Shakespeare write here from a sense of the difference calvinism or puritanism makes to the perception of others? Othello is a play based almost completely around mutual misperceptions, deliberate distortions of perception, and their consequences.
Iago's success in disgracing Cassio is another instance of 'puritan' attitudes in the play (2.3.45 ff.). For puritanism was particularly concerned about the increasing secularisation of society, and the unacceptable social practices that went with it. Piety of a personal kind was not enough; it should be openly displayed in an oppositional stance to society and its conduct. Professor Patrick Collinson has something apt to say on this: "Yet a Puritanism which was no longer in contention, no longer setting itself against the stream, would cease to be in any meaningful sense Puritanism."  As Iago says, "I am nothing if not critical" (2.1.119). By which he means, 'censorious, fault-finding.'  Another recent commentator adds, "I shall use Puritan and ...puritanism to denote the aggressive, reformative, and hence socially disruptive aspects of zealous Protestantism. Puritan, as I understand the term, implies a will to impose certain standards upon society as a whole. Puritanism entails hostility to the traditional culture as well as enthusiasm for sermons and predestinarian theology. A man of irreproachable personal piety who nevertheless has no objection to his neighbors' boozing on the Sabbath or fornicating in haylofts is not a Puritan. A Puritan who minds his own business is a contradiction in terms."  Iago does not mind his own business at all. He intervenes in Othello's marriage; he destroys Cassio's reputation; he deceives Roderigo; he brings about the death of Desdemona. He is at war with the social order of society. And being a hypocrite ethical puritan he can justify this in terms of justice to himself. As Professor Collinson remarks elsewhere, "Puritanism was more of a process and relationship than it was state or entity."  Iago's dealings with others are the centre of the play, and his manipulative techniques are the main focus of the action. He is a character engaged in process, without any clear position on anything; he responds to opportunity with lightning quickness, but remains an enigma. There is a general resentment against society in his stance, and his hatred of the Moor and Cassio is only a particular symptom of it.
It can be no accident that puritan surveys of their ministers are concerned mainly with the leisure of the parson rather than his labours, about his attendance at the alehouse more than his work as a farmer, as many of them were.  For this was evidence of an undesirable association with, and submergence in, secular culture. Perhaps it is significant then that the disgrace of Cassio through drinking is not mentioned in Shakespeare's main source for the play.  (And it is not mentioned again in acts III, IV, and V; further evidence of the play having been written in two halves.) Iago himself is opposed to the gallantries and polite talk of Cassio, especially in regard to Desdemona. He stands outside the officer class, and also despises the gull Roderigo for his foolish obsession with Desdemona. All these commonplace ideas of social resentment and rejection characterise the puritan at work in society.
Perhaps the most striking aspect of Iago's speech is his use of Ramistic logic to distort reality and persuade others of the truth of his own perceptions.  Ramism was a particularly protestant and puritan form of rhetorical argument, favoured by many Cambridge puritan preachers.  Iago even goes so far as to employ the Ramistic method of crypsis or prudence in his persuasion of Othello in act III. This was distinct from the normal method of presentation of arguments in Ramistic logic, the method of nature, which proceeded from general points or axioms to particular, less obvious, and more detailed points. In the method of crypsis, or the "craftie and secrete methode," as an early translator of Ramus describes it,  the speaker proceeds by indirection and dissimulation from apparently casual and disconnected particular points until his listener has gathered the threads of his argument together himself, and so constructed the concealed general argument in his own mind.  Ramistic logic was concerned with the persuasive presentation of arguments and had no ability to test the truth of axioms against uncertain evidence. It was a fundamental break with the Aristotelian distinction between logic and rhetoric, as Barbara J. Shapiro explains: "For Aristotle, if one began from premises that were certain and proceeded by arguments that were logically correct, one arrived at a demonstration of truth. This was the realm of logic. If one began from plausible but uncertain premises and proceeded by logical argument, one had entered the realm of dialectic. Many humanists believed that this was a distinction without a difference because both involved the same operations. Accordingly, dialectic became the appropriate means of handling all kinds of argument, and all kinds of subject matters."  In this way Ramus' logic became a form of rhetorical discourse that lent itself to the manipulation of words without being able to relate thought to experience or reality.  A thought, to Ramus, was a matter of 'natural reason,' an intuitive act as natural as the way the eye sees colour. If a thought occurs to you, it must by definition be true, otherwise it could not be thought at all. Obviously, observation and reflection play a part, and correct distorted thinking which is visually or evidently absurd. But often observation is ambiguous, and we see this clearly in Cassio's alleged guilty disappearance when Othello and Iago approach as he is talking to Desdemona. Cassio is not in any way guilty of improper advances to Desdemona, yet Iago can construct a plausible interpretation of his action. The idea of a thought as 'natural reason,' available to all, and something we see rather than analyse, perhaps explains Iago's reference to "ocular proof" as the final test of Desdemona's infidelity. This kind of proof would seem true to a Ramistic rhetorician, mainly because there is no way in Ramism to distinguish between true and false arguments. But the difficulty of obtaining such proof means that Iago carefully warns against it (is "ocular proof" another example of Iago's use of swanking technical jargon to give him a spurious authority with Othello?). Iago uses instead 'inartificial' arguments: testimony of Cassio's dream, the departure of Cassio from Desdemona as he and Othello approach. These inartificial arguments in Ramistic terms rely on the integrity of the reporter or observer, and cannot require any other proof but that. Iago weaves a web of suspicion with no other 'proof' than his own false reputation for honesty in Othello's eyes. He then engages in persuasive argument that distorts the truth, and isolates Othello from his own knowledge of Desdemona. Othello has a distorted visual image of her, and cannot rid himself of that evil construction. He is deceived by the apparent integrity of the ethical puritan. He cannot confront Desdemona with his suspicions, so they grow and become real to him. He struggles with an internal doubt that poisons his mind. He too is the victim of the fashionable notion of rhetoric, logic and truth that was so widely admired at the time. The handkerchief, that appears to be the Aristotelian 'clincher,' is just another 'visual argument' in Ramistic logic, for it seems to confirm the infidelity of his wife. Yet the significance of the handkerchief is entirely constructed by Iago. Perhaps Shakespeare knew of Ramus' famous remark that everything that Aristotle said was false, and applied it here. If a contemporary audience could recognise Iago as a Ramist, they might have seen the irony of this apparent Aristotelianism. This is perhaps yet another example of Shakespeare's acute exploitation of contemporary fashion.
If, as I have suggested, Othello depends to a much greater extent on the religious mentalities of the time, translated into secular social types, than has been previously recognised, we need no longer regard it as a covert allegory of a strictly doctrinal Christian form. We can however retain the significance of the religious dimensions of the play. The study of conflicting subjectivities in the play may derive from religious beliefs, but it is clear there is a distinctly different modality of borrowing for each of the main characters. The catholic baroque hero, Othello, is less obviously constructed in terms of a religious position than Iago and Desdemona. His character is formed by a sense of honour and duty typical of the baroque hero. Yet he is associated in a secular way with many ideas that have a catholic origin. The primitive, alien elements in Othello's speech and thinking, for example in relation to the history of the handkerchief, his clear belief in old-fashioned catholic notions of authoritarian religious discipline, his belief in justification by works, and his baroque ostentation in language, are sufficient indications of his difference from his wife and Iago. Iago is more overtly calvinist in his social outlook, both in his professional outlook as a soldier in relation to Cassio, and in his general philosophy of life, as we might call it. He frequently introduces religious notions, commonplace as they may be, into his conversation. But significantly, not so much with Othello. In the persuasion scene he avoids all religious references, and focuses on a secular rhetoric of a fashionable kind, as we have seen. But this rhetoric was known to be entirely protestant, constructed by a famous protestant martyr. Desdemona speaks in a vigorous plain language with a strong ethical dimension. This is the language of the practical housewife, and establishes the domestic world of the play. Yet here too, as has been shown by a recent commentator, the language and social outlook are derived from a conflicted religious discourse of contemporary protestant thinkers.  Shakespeare, then, seems to have made the old story of Cinthio relevant to an Elizabethan audience by modernising the characters, and transforming them into social types that could gain instant recognition from an English audience of the day. The plot has been refashioned as a baroque study of innocence, deception, and betrayal, but the play as a whole carries conviction by its subtle exploration of contrastive and irreconcileable religious mentalities. The audience undergoes the anguish and disenchantment of the classic baroque experience. And there has always been a complex relationship between the baroque and religious ideas, for the baroque as a genre is concerned with the loss of belief, the necessity to recover that belief, and the desperate need to overcome a moment of religious doubt. But as we see in all examples of baroque, in literature and art, this religious doubt is presented in secular terms, in vivid, realistic images that attempt to counter the reforming zeal of a bleaker and more abstract protestant world. Shakespeare demonstrates in Othello, I suggest, a conflicting order of religious discourses in society that cannot be resolved by any totalising or simplifying strategy, such as allegorical Christian interpretations might appear to offer. These secularised religious discourses convey, and construct, the characters' mentalities, the way they see the world. Such discourses explain the events of the plot in a way that renders redundant any further explanation, for they are fundamentally opposed to each other in almost every social and religious aspect. Shakespeare uses them to imply the social animosities and tensions that arise quite naturally when people of such contrastive outlooks live together.
1. Patricia Dorval, "Shakespeare on Screen: Threshold Aesthetics in Oliver Parker's Othello," Early Modern Literary Studies, 6.1 (May, 2000), 1.1-15.
2. We must also take into account the fact that all of Shakespeare's plays are capable of substantial reinterpretation in performance, as has been shown by Terence Hawkes, Meaning by Shakespeare, London, 1992. But the baroque interpretation of Othello seems so natural, unforced, and illuminating that it carries a compelling authenticity.
3. E. A. J. Honigmann, (ed.), Othello, The Arden Shakespeare, 3rd Edition, 1997, Appendix 3, "Cinthio and Minor Sources," 368-87. All future references to the text of Othello are to this edition.
4. See Honigmann, op. cit., Appendix 1, 344. This is unlikely to have been the first performance of the play, which Honigmann argues convincingly in the Appendix, "would have been performed not later than March 1603, a terminus ante quem that again points to 1602 as the probable year of the play's first performance," (ibid., 350), for Elizabeth was ill on the 19 March in 1603, and plague broke out in London in April, and continued for the rest of that year, which almost certainly led to the abandoning of playing for that year. (ibid.) We might speculate that since James was the only obvious successor to the throne, a play like Othello could have been written in 1601-2, or revised (see note 5 below), with that virtual certainty in mind.
5. See further E. A. J. Honigmann, The Texts of 'Othello' and Shakespearian revision, London, 1996.
6. Patrick Collinson, The Puritan Character: Polemics and Polarities in early Seventeenth-century English Culture, Los Angeles, 1989, 18, makes the apt remark "Puritans, like Catholics, were important parts of the stage scenery composing this king's world view"; see further R. Ashton, (ed.), James I by his Contemporaries: An account of his career and character as seen by some of his contemporaries, London, 1969, 4: "He discusses literary matters, and especially Theology, willingly." A wider political view of James's religious strategy can be found in Kenneth Fincham and Peter Lake, "The Ecclesiastical Policy of James I," Journal of British Studies, 24 (1985), 169-207.
7. See F. J. Warnke, Versions of Baroque: European Literature in the Seventeenth Century, New Haven and London, 1972, 1-2, where he suggests 1580-1610 as an early phase of the baroque in Europe; further references passim. See further, D. Scarisbrick, Baroque: the Age of Exuberance, London, 1973, and P. N. Skrine, The Baroque: literature and culture in 17th century Europe, London, 1978. Skrine refers to Othello on 71-2, and comments that "Shakespeare anticipated the tastes and preoccupations of the century, as its admiration for his play bears out," although he thinks the strangulation of Desdemona is "an outcome far removed from that which baroque taste was to demand of its heroes." But what of the idea of the 'sacrificial hero'and the interest in martyrdom and sacrifice in the baroque of later years, discussed by Warnke, op. cit., Chapter 8, 187-204? Desdemona's innocence and Othello's 'martyrdom' for the truth of her love for him, against the lies of Iago, seems entirely within the baroque traditions of violent narrative closure. For the European tastes of the court of James, see L. L. Peck, The Mental World of the Jacobean Court, Cambridge, 1991.
On the particular point of Othello's death, new historicists have spent much energy on promoting the 'racist' elements in the text, reducing the noble Moor to a black barbarian who has internalised the racial hatred of the Venetian state. As a good Venetian citizen, Othello finds it is his duty to destroy himself as the alien within Venetian society. (A. Sinfield, Faultlines: Cultural Materialism and the Politics of Dissident Reading, Oxford, 1992, 33-35, argues this very point.) Sinfield suggests that the civilised and the barbaric are not very different from each other in most states, and by this deconstructive move eliminates all possibility of any moral interpretation of the text. (Morality becomes, from this point of view, part of the Ideological State Apparatus to keep state violence 'legitimate,' and other forms of violence 'illegal.' Can all moral values be as arbitrary as this seems to imply? Is Othello's violence to himself simply an ideological act of political conformity, robbing him of all nobility and tragic self-knowledge? Does his death not confirm something positive, his recovered belief in his wife, even as it condemns his betrayal of Desdemona? Helen Gardner, in ''Othello: A Retrospect, 1900-67," Shakespeare Survey, 21 (1968), 1-11, describes Othello's suicide as an "act of justice"  now that he sees the truth at last. ) Yet Othello becomes, in this ideological reading, merely the dupe of racial state prejudice against blacks. The full meaning of the tragedy seems in this approach, to some readers at least, flattened and trivialised. But in fact all the racist comments in the play come from Iago to begin with, even if Brabantio and Othello, encouraged by Iago, consider them at times. Gratiano, Lodovico and Cassio betray no such prejudices. Iago's animosity to others relies notably on the visual for its Ramistic invention of argument, and this may be the immediate rhetorical reason for his references to Othello's appearance. (For the emphasis on visual ordering of argument in Ramistic 'logic' or rhetoric, [Ramus confuses both], see W. J. Ong, Ramus, method, and the decay of dialogue: From the Art of Discourse to the Art of Reason, Cambridge, Mass., and London, 1958. This is an austere work of massive formal scholarship; we have to imagine Shakespeare's intuitive response to Ramistic 'logic' as a popular and accessible way of thinking in a pseudo-intellectual way, favoured by tradesmen as well as university students and professors, particularly at Cambridge in England in the 1580s. Ramism was the most popular form of Protestant rhetoric, as opposed to more formal Aristotelian forms favoured by catholic writers. Shakespeare must have known this. He would also have known that Ramism never developed in Italy at all, mainly because Ramus was known as a protestant martyr throughout Europe.) Iago, in his social outlook, and use of this protestant 'rhetoric,' is probably a calvinist figure in the play, as I hope to show below, but Calvin himself displays no racial 'prejudice' in his writings, apart from the traditional Augustinian reference to Africans and Asiatics being more quick-witted than westerners; see John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, vol. 2, (ed.) J. T. McNeill, trans. F. L. Battles, Philadelphia, 1960, repr. 1975, IV. vi. 16. (Perhaps this idea of quick-witted superiority lies behind Iago's strategy to persuade Othello in the temptation scene, for Othello has to follow up the implications of Iago's remarks. Iago avoids the direct statement that Cassio and Desdemona are having an affair that probably started before her marriage, when Cassio was a go-between for Othello. Mainly because, as we know, this is untrue, and so Iago wants it to be something Othello infers for himself; Iago does not want to risk making an explicit allegation that he knows could then be directly challenged. So Iago's view of Othello may be a calvinist one, in his direct dealings with him. To Brabantio and Roderigo, Iago can afford, he may think, to be contemptuously racist in his references to Othello.) See further, for possible Italian influence on the social aspects of language in the play, Note 24 below.
However, racism remains only part of the play's meaning, and cannot explain the 'martyrdom' of Othello as an affirmation of a sacred truth, his love for Desdemona. Corneille remarked that the theme of a fine tragedy should always be "au delà du vraisemblable" (cited in L. L. Schücking, '"The Baroque Character of the Elizabethan Tragic Hero," Proceedings of the British Academy, XXIV (1938), 85-111, 103. The 'martyrdom' of Othello is tragic, almost impossible to accept, unless on banal racist or legal grounds (he's guilty anyway), for modern readers. But we should resist this reductive response. Othello's death has an emotional truth: this is the way such a man would go. It is a strangely dis/honourable death, beyond all reason and likelihood, highly theatrical and contrived, yet with a powerful rationale of its own; it transfixes the audience by its horror, by its moral truth, and by its transgression of conventional categories of meaning and morality. There is a final affirmation here of loyalty, love, and belief in another human being; "Whatever cries in man beyond the last sea." Othello seeks to gain no merit by his action; he merely affirms his belief in Desdemona, and his knowledge of his own guilt. He also appears to seek no religious salvation by merit here, for the tone of his last speech is entirely secular. (The religious motive is suggested by I. Ribner, Patterns in Shakespearean Tragedy, London, 1960, 113.) (The theatricality of Othello's last speech has been famously criticised by Eliot, but isn't the idea that Othello is 'cheering himself up' a misreading of baroque taste and ostentation?) The dramatic moment is, I suggest, secular, a soldier's end, but an honourable death in paradoxically dishonourable circumstances. Ideology translates this paradox into 'bourgeois individualism,' if not racism, and destroys the transcendental moment by denying human identity, except as the product of an almost impersonal socio-political process. The study of ideology in literary texts tends to destroy their affects, and simplify the complexity of meaning in the dramatic moment.
8. For example, Skrine, op. cit., 15: "But it was only with the return of king and nobility in 1660 that England suddenly and with an upsurge of dramatic activity established a type of theatre that does indeed reflect continental Europe's baroque obsession with the underlying theatricality of life." It is always tidier to have clear divisions, and historically precise moments of development, in literary taste, (and perhaps in all intellectual discussion), but the theatricality of Othello can be recognised in such scenes as Othello's observation of Cassio talking to Iago, borrowed from Cinthio (4.1.75-143), or Iago's interpretation of Cassio's embarrassed departure as Othello approaches Desdemona (3.3.29-244). Othello's defence of himself before the Venetian senate, and his last speech, are highly theatrical, ostentatious, and self-conscious forms of utterance. He is deeply aware of the need to construct, and perform, a public identity which others can recognise. Skrine himself refers to Othello in terms that argue for some baroque elements in the work (see above, n. 7). But in general, the notion of the baroque in Shakespeare has been approached with the greatest caution. I suspect that this is because the term is thought to be more related to art history than to literary genre; it was first proposed by the art historian Heinrich Wölfflin in the nineteenth century: see Warnke's discussion, op. cit., Chap. 1, "Terms and Concepts," 1-20. Precision is not always possible with terms for literary genre, but that does not mean they have no useful value in interpretation.
9. P. Cruttwell, "Shakespeare and the Baroque," Shakespeare Jahrbuch, XCVII (1961), 100-08, refers to A Midsummer's Night's Dream, Hamlet, Antony and Cleopatra, and The Tempest as plays that have elements of the baroque, but he arrives at a cautious conclusion that the Shakespearean baroque was limited by the isolation of England as an island from the continent, by the 'puritanical' English resistance to the blending of the fleshly and the spiritual, the sexual and the devotional, and by the fact that Shakespeare appealed to popular audiences more than the court. All these points, I suggest, seem to be challenged by Othello. Shakespeare based his play on a source text set in Venice, so encouraging a European baroque interpretation of the play; the fleshly and the spiritual are clear centres of tension in the drama, between Iago's allegations about Cassio, and Othello's love for Desdemona; the play focuses on the subjective, and the conflict between appearance and reality, which are unlikely to appeal to a popular audience. There is an intellectual analysis at work here, which would appeal to the tastes of the court of James. The opening remarks in this article are more persuasive: the writer refers to the characteristics of baroque as the cult of unreality and fantasy, changeableness, inconstancy of mind and character, shifting boundaries between the real and unreal; confusion of emotional states, blendings of tragic and comic; 'ostentation,' a liking for extravagance in expression and themes; elaboration of detail; surprising juxtapositions. All these typical themes can be found in Othello. Even the elaboration of detail in Othello's account of the handkerchief may be regarded as a baroque extravagance.
The account of the "Othello music" with its "enamelled" and "theatrical" imagery in Othello's speech, beside the ugly evasiveness of Iago's language, remains a marvellous insight by Wilson Knight; in his remarkable essay, he also refers to "[t]he pervading religious tonal significance relating to infidelity" and "the necessity of an intellectual interpretation" in the play, as well as the ostentation of Othello's language. ("The Othello Music," Chap. V, 97-119, [115, 119], in The Wheel of Fire, G. Wilson Knight, London, 1930, repr. London, 1970.) E. A. J. Honigmann, "Shakespeare's 'bombast,'" in Shakespeare's Styles: Essays in honour of Kenneth Muir, (eds.), P. Edwards, I-S. Ewbank, G. K. Hunter, Cambridge, 1980, 151-62, (159), remarks that "Othello's language is, in my opinion, more dangerously inflated than that of any other Shakespearian tragic hero." This comment draws attention, I think, to the radical, innovative fashionableness of Othello's speech, its ostentation as early English Baroque, and the dangerous insecurity of this new style, which Shakespeare exploits in the play. But this is early baroque and does not have the rigidity and preciosity of later European forms. The conceited, imagistic forms of baroque in later Spanish literature have not yet appeared; see J. Robbins, The Challenges of Uncertainty : An Introduction to Seventeenth-Century Spanish Literature, London, 1998, 98-115 for examples of that style of poetry.
M. Mincoff, "Shakespeare, Fletcher and Baroque Tragedy," Shakespeare Survey, 20 (1967), 1-15 (2) notes that a dominant baroque theme shortly after Shakespeare's death, was the love-and-honour conflict of European theatre. This theme is clearly central to Othello's own understanding of his predicament. Othello is humiliated by the assumed loss of honour that he thinks has followed from Desdemona's betrayal (3.3.348-60). Shakespeare touches on the theme for a moment only. For this reason, perhaps, Mincoff argues that the major theme is love and jealousy (1). Recently, Barbara Everett, Young Hamlet: Essays on Shakespeare's Tragedies, Oxford, 1989, repr. 1990, 37, has questioned the importance of jealousy: "[I]f the plot of Othello really centres on jealousy, then Shakespeare wrote it badly; for a fiercely faithful wife can do nothing but distract from the seriousness, the authenticity of her husband's condition" (my italics). Othello is, nevertheless, seriously confused as the play shows, and deceived in the most tragic way. His confusion is both authentic to him and false to the audience, at the same time. He suffers a false, and obviously false, loss of belief in Desdemona, that he eventually recovers. This is the major theme of the play, I would like to suggest.
Most commentators have tended to take as an absolute starting point the earlier readings of the play, (perhaps out of a confused respect for Rymer and his views; see C. A. Zimansky, (ed.), The Critical Works of Thomas Rymer, New Haven, 1956, 134, "His Love and his Jealousie are no part of a Souldiers Character, unless for Comedy," and 153, "As if for the first year or two, Othello had not been jealous?" [text italics]), and in an almost unthinking deference to many other critics, have paraphrased the action of the play in these terms. Some earlier critics, however, such as Schücking, (art. cit., above note 7), refer to the passion of Othello as a baroque theme (98), as does R. Soellner, "Baroque Passion in Shakespeare and his Contemporaries," Shakespeare Studies, I (1965), 294-302 (297, 299-300, 301). Again, F. J. Warnke, "Baroque Poetry and the Experience of Contradiction," Colloquia Germanica, I (1967), 38-48 (43-44) refers to the experience of the "validity of contradictory truths," which in Othello have so much deeply ironic force, clearly expressed in 3.3.387-8. In effect, the variety, and innovative nature of Shakespeare's work has been underestimated by the widely accepted view that he is not an early baroque playwright. There are too many different styles and modalities in the plays for us to doubt his extraordinary powers of assimilation, and his profound intuitions about emergent ways of writing dramatic texts.
10. See further J. Robbins, op. cit above. The topics Robbins deals with in his elegant account of Spanish baroque are: appearance and reality, the impact of scepticism, challenging the mind, forming and performing identity, in the theatre and court, and in general the performative contexts of baroque culture. I suggest these are clearly developed themes in Othello. Barbara Everett, op. cit., above, notes that "Othello is the only tragedy set entirely in the present," (40), and that Venice is "an interior place, a kind of psychic geography" (ibid), drawing attention implicitly to the baroque tendencies in the work. The subjectivity of the narrative is noticed again in her remark that "Othello transforms what would be merely trivial cynicism in Iago into what is, in his own experience of it, morally horrifying. The experience is actual and is Othello's" (51). Othello lives the anguish and disenchantment of the baroque experience. These effects may well arise from the choice of the novella form of Cinthio's narrative, instead of a history (so Everett, ibid.,), but they may also reflect the proto-baroque tendencies of Cinthio's narrative.
11. S. Greenblatt, Shakespearean Negotiations: The Circulation of Social Energy in Renaissance England, Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1988, 11, 119.
12. For example, D. Farley-Hills, Shakespeare and the Rival Playwrights 1600-1606, London, 1990, 107-121, explores what he calls the "divinity" of Desdemona in the play. But he restricts "symbolic characterisation" (which he rejects in general for the play, but returns to in his discussion of Desdemona and "morality drama" traditions, 109 ff), to conventional notions of essentialist 'good' and 'evil,' without reference to the contemporary popular religious context. This tendency to seize on a word or phrase in the text and develop wider-ranging connotations for it, however distorting this may seem, is also illustrated by the work of other commentators in R. H. West's sceptical account of Christian approaches to the play, "The Christianness of Othello," Shakespeare Quarterly XV (1964), 333-43.
Again, R. W. Battenhouse, Shakespearean Tragedy: Its Art and Christian Premises, Bloomington, 1969, repr. 1971, 95-102, uses the variant reading of "Judas" for "Indian" to develop a strenuous set of analogues between Othello's final hours and the account of Christ's own death in the New Testament. Here Desdemona is claimed to have Christlike qualities. However, the most recent editor of the play (E. A. J. Honigmann, op. cit., "Longer notes," 342-3), rejects the Folio reading Iudean, citing R. Levin, "The Indian/Iudean crux in Othello," Shakespeare Quarterly XXXIII (1982), 60-7, who suggests that it is appropriate for Othello to compare himself with the Indian, whose action results from ignorance, and "very inappropriate for him to compare himself to Judas, whose action was regarded as a conscious choice of evil" (cited from Levin by Honigmann, ibid., 342-3).
More recently, R. N. Watson, "Othello as Protestant propaganda," in Religion and Culture in Renaissance England, eds C. McEachern and D. Shuger, Cambridge, 1997, 234-57, argues for a view of the play as a reformation attack on catholicism. Iago is seen as a Jesuitical devil, Desdemona as a Christ-like heroine, and Othello as an imperfectly reformed infidel (250). But would a Jesuit use Ramistic rhetoric, as Iago does, which is the very sign of a calvinist/protestant mentality? It seems very unlikely, unless Shakespeare didn't know what he was doing! There is also the continual problem in Watson's argument that he has to refer to rather extreme forms of allegory: for example, "Othello and Desdemona represent the precious but unstable marriage between the sinner's soul and its Savior" (ibid., 235). But Othello has not sinned before he comes to believe in Desdemona's adultery. And Desdemona does not save him, but her servant Emilia reveals the truth. Desdemona is an unconventional young woman who is not afraid to speak up, and rebuke Othello when she sees fit. Her love for Othello is vividly presented in the most natural way. Watson also relies on the "Judean" reading, which seems inappropriate in context; see above. There is a general sense of strained interpretation in Watson's arguments as well. When he says (ibid., 249), "The foreigner Othello reclaims his place in Desdemona's Christian world by re-enacting the violence against the 'circumcised', the believer in works, that first won him that place," we are asked to accept a whole host of assumptions. That Othello is a half-reformed catholic, which may be true; that his death, which removes him from the world altogether, is somehow an act of reclamation; that a circumcised Mohammedan is a recusant catholic; that killing himself is a "self-referential act of [religious] pride" (ibid.). I find no sinful pride or improper self-regard in Othello's final speech, but instead a terrible clarity of moral knowledge which he sees necessitates his death. His baroque sense of secular honour requires it. Again, is not Watson misreading the baroque hero's discovery of uncertainty and error as a sinful religious confusion? Does this not render absurd the honest self-appraisal of these last words? Allegory, in any case, at a stylistic and narrative level, is constantly under attack in the play, as A. B. Dauber has shown in a subtle analysis of allegorical language, "Allegory and irony in Othello," Shakespeare Survey 40 (1988), 123-33. All the allegorical and theological approaches to the play, ingenious and erudite as they are, demand a belief in an audience more interested in (rather subtle) Christian doctrine than in a secular dramatic narrative. For the baroque is primarily a secular narrative, with religious undertones that have no allegorical effects at a general level. The catholic Othello, the calvinist Iago, and the protestant wife are easily recognisable stereotypes from contemporary England. It is their religious mentalities that construct the tragedy, but in a derived, secularised, and indirect form. I think all these writers on Christian themes in Othello are trapped by their insistence on specific doctrines which seem to contradict the force and sense of particular moments in the play. An audience of amateur theologians might be fairly unusual, even in Elizabethan times.
My argument is that the religious mentalities of the play are partially secularised (as in Greenblatt's proposed analysis above) and transformed into historically plausible human motives (a view supported from a protestant position in Watson, and D. Stempel, "The Silence of Iago," PMLA 84 (1969), 252-63; but I cannot see Iago as an hypocritical jesuit, as they both suggest). The 'religious' dimensions of the play must be contemporary, as Watson argues, but show themselves for the most part indirectly in concrete material practices, and superstitious beliefs, rather than as theology or Christian doctrine (even implicitly). The secular dominates and partially absorbs the religious elements in the play; there is a suggestive ambiguous reference to sacred ideas subordinated to the humanistic secular drive of the narrative. Helen Gardner (art. cit., note 7, above) remarks that "It could hardly be expected that Othello could escape a 'Christian interpretation' which neither Johnson nor Coleridge, whose personal commitment to Christian beliefs cannot be doubted, thought it proper to read into it" (6). But could not Shakespeare exploit religious mentalities for dramatic effect without depending too much on specific points of Christian doctrine? Johnson and Coleridge would have looked for explicit Christian remarks in the text. I am dealing with social outlooks derived from a general religious position.
13. Cf. William Perkins' remark, A Golden Chaine, 1591, "Surely, if a man will but take a view of all Popery, he shall easily see that a great part of it is mere magic," in The Workes of …William Perkins (Cambridge, 1616-18), i, 40, cited in K. Thomas, Religion and the Decline of Magic, London, 1971, 25.
14. In Francis Bacon's Essay XVII, "Of Superstition," (practically a compendium of common prejudices against catholicism), he condemns "Pleasing and sensuall Rites and Ceremonies;…Over-great Reverence of Traditions, which cannot but load the Church;…The taking an Aime at divine Matters by Human, which cannot but breed mixture of Imaginations;…So the Similitude of Superstition to Religion, makes it the more deformed." In M. Kiernan, ed., Sir Francis Bacon: The Essayes or Counsels, Civill and Morall, Oxford, 1985, 55.
15. M. Matheson, "Venetian Culture and the Politics of Othello," Shakespeare Survey, 48 (1995), 123-33, 130, comments on Othello's "very un-Venetian" attitude here, which indicates his remoteness from the tolerant religious outlook of Venice. Does this suggest that he is meant to represent a traditional catholic figure in the play? I rather think so. Venice may have been a lax republic as far as Rome was concerned, and there were many foreign traders and mercenaries in its territories, which contributed to religious pluralism. See further for foreign traders, Ugo Tucci, "The Psychology of the Venetian Merchant in the Sixteenth Century," in Renaissance Venice, ed. J. R. Hale, London, 1973, 346-78, 364-6, 373, and W. H. McNeill, Venice; The Hinge of Europe, 1081-1797, Chicago and London, 1974, 174-5; ibid., note 43 on 175, McNeill remarks interestingly that "between the 1540s and the 1560s both Calvinism and Anabaptism excited some attention" in Venice. For foreign mercenaries see M. E. Mallett and J. R. Hale, eds, The Military Organization of a Renaissance State: Venice c.1400 to 1617, Cambridge, 1984, 313-30. The Venetian fleet that sailed to the battle of Lepanto had 2-3000 Spaniards from Don John of Austria on board (ibid., 323). But is it likely, it might be asked, that Iago, probably a Spanish mercenary, would be a protestant? Surely, he too would be catholic, as Watson, art. cit., p. 237, argues from his name, but there were in fact quite a group of Spanish protestants in London in the 1570s and 80s, as P. Collinson records in Godly People: Essays on English Protestantism and Puritanism, London, 1983, 234-43. This might be just the kind of 'local knowledge' that would allow a Spanish calvinist to be plausible to a London audience. The population of London was after all very small then. We can never know enough about the contemporary knowledge Shakespeare may have exploited for a play written to a deadline. All his plays have contemporary associations in them at one level or another.
16. See further, Scarisbrick, op. cit., and P. N. Skrine, op.cit.; see above Note 7.
17. A critic who seems to have been lost sight of in contemporary discussions of Othello has taken to pieces Leavis's violent dislike of Othello, in his analysis of that famous essay, "Diabolic Intellect and the Noble Hero: or the Sentimentalist's Othello," in The Common Pursuit, London, 1952: John Holloway, in The Story of the Night: Studies in Shakespeare's Major Tragedies, London, 1961, Appendix A, "Dr. Leavis and 'Diabolic Intellect,'" 155-65, argues for a close pragmatic reading of the text, defending Othello against sudden and irrational decisions. There is no "extraordinary promptness" in Othello's response to Iago, as Leavis suggests. Holloway rejects the sentimental view of Othello advanced by Bradley, as does Leavis, but I suspect both Leavis and Holloway may have failed to understand the early baroque 'ostentation' of the hero, which they appear to regard as provoking, or eliciting, a sentimental response about Othello's nobility on the part of critics. They dislike, I suspect, the "pretentious" effect of Othello's language, and this conditions their response. If Othello's language is "egotistical," "self-regarding" and "theatrical," then so is he. Yet the baroque always appears pretentious to anglo-saxon minds. (And especially to provincial puritans like Leavis.) Although Othello is genuinely a noble figure in the play, he must display uncertainty and perplexity, and a fierce sense of honour, for that is the very centre of the baroque dilemma. Indeed, the challenge of uncertainty is the pivotal focus of Othello's discussion with Iago in Act III. But Othello is not a modern figure of heroism; he is a baroque hero with a courtier's sense of honour and prestige. Bradley held the a priori view, from his 'theoretical' position, that all of Shakespeare's heroes had a fundamental flaw of character, which subverted their heroic status. Yet they retained, in his account, an absolute heroic quality to the end (which was not historicised in Elizabethan contexts by Bradley in any way). I happen to believe in the heroic part of this argument, (Shakespeare's major figures suffer more, and understand more than others, and that is heroic), but I do not believe there is any fundamental flaw in any of them. In a sense, does not Leavis still hold unconsciously to the notion of a Bradlean 'fatal flaw' in his reliance on Othello's 'brutal egotism'? 'Men are as the times are,' and this applies to critics as well as characters in a play. Bradley failed to historicise sufficiently, I think, and was limited by an absolute Edwardian notion of the heroic 'sublime' in his view of Shakespeare.
Othello is a noble, heroic, generous figure nevertheless, but a baroque hero of his time, and not the victim of a "brutal egotism," as Leavis asserts; on the contrary, he is a rational, sophisticated thinker who understands implication, as I hope to have shown in an earlier analysis of his discussion with Iago in Act III: A. J. Gilbert, "Techniques of Persuasion in Julius Caesar and Othello," Neophilologus 81 (1997), 309-23, 316-21. (See also my remarks in note 7 above.) My analysis in this article will not appeal to those who want to see Iago's racism, and the racism of Venice, or the 'brutal egotism' of the hero, as the dominant themes of the play. But I should be glad to think I had rescued Othello from a near racist contempt for his intelligence, at the least. Othello understands, and is impaled by, the Ramistic disjunctive syllogism that Iago constructs about Cassio, as Othello's intermediary, when Othello was wooing Desdemona. The pair of enthymemic syllogisms are: "If Cassio is honourable, then I must suppose he didn't know of your love for Desdemona when you were wooing her, because he was courting her too. If Cassio is dishonourable, which I'm not sure about, then his conduct gives rise to suspicion, both before and after your marriage." (see my article, art. cit., 317). But Cassio did know Othello was wooing Desdemona, and Othello knows this; that is the point of Iago's remarks, even though he pretends not to share Othello's knowledge of Cassio, which he must, and shows he does. Othello remains unpersuaded by some of Iago's more ambitious generalisations: Holloway, op. cit., 158-9 notes that Othello does no more than take in with surprise Iago's suggestion that because most Venetian wives are generally unfaithful, therefore Desdemona, being Venetian too, must also be disloyal. It is not clear that Othello even agrees with the first generalisation. This Ramistic syllogism, designed to persuade rather than convince rationally, is one of Iago's failures. (Stempel, art cit., 260, thinks Othello is convinced by this 'valid'[?] syllogism; but its validity depends on whether Iago is understood to mean 'all Venetian wives' or 'most Venetian wives,' which would make it invalid; he typically leaves this unclear. There is evidence in Othello's neutral reply that he is not persuaded by this loose 'syllogism,' as Holloway notes. Othello's reply suggests that he treats the argument as reported opinion, mere testimony, not irrefutable deduction from universally accepted premisses, which would not be a Ramistic syllogism anyway, but Aristotelian. Ramus sees syllogisms as persuasive rather than demonstrative, as part of rhetoric rather than logic, which he fuses together. Later in the same scene, Iago's testimony about Cassio's dream carries conviction, because Othello trusts honest Iago. The audience knows it is a lie, for Cassio is innocent.) Othello has a keen and cautious intelligence, and there seems no reason to think it is typically 'black,' whatever that might be thought to mean. (It may represent the wiliness of the typical non-European, as Calvin thought. See Note 7 above.) A baroque hero, in any case, cannot be presented as simple minded or inferior, for the sophisticated audience of a baroque play would only despise him for his stupidity. Othello is the equal of all those he meets in the play; his death is neither contemptible, nor meaningless to those who witness it. It is a tragic affirmation of a recovered loyalty, honour, and truth. The baroque hero is driven by the absolute need for honour, which Othello achieves finally in this 'honourable' death. Would not 'brutal egotism' also be unacceptable, to courtiers and a distinguished general, as obvious bad manners? Would Othello as an uncouth barbarian command the respect of his troops, or that of a sophisticated court audience of the play? Iago's remark about him as an "erring Barbarian" ("a wandering stranger") is clearly designed to encourage Roderigo, and cannot be thought anything but malicious. It is all part of his racist attack on Othello in the first two acts, which inspires Roderigo to refer to Othello as "the thicklips."
19. See further, Stuart Clark, "King James's Daemonologie: Witchcraft and Kingship," in S. Anglo, ed., The Damned Art: Essays in the Literature of Witchcraft, London, 1977, 156-81, and Stuart Clark, "Inversion, Misrule and the Meaning of Witchcraft," Past and Present, 87 (1980), 98-127. See, for anti-popery prejudice, Peter Lake, "Anti-popery: the Structure of a Prejudice," in Conflict in Early Stuart England : Studies in Religion and Politics, 1603-1642, eds R. Cust and A. Hughes, London and New York, 1989, Chap. 3, 72-106.
20. Mary Beth Rose, The Expense of Spirit: Love and Sexuality in English Renaissance Drama, Ithaca and London, 1988, 116-55, 126-29, shows the conflictual relations in contemporary puritan thought between marriage as equality of partnership, and marriage as a subordination of women. Out of this confused and contradictory perspective, Shakespeare develops the character of a fiercely loyal and confrontational wife. The social implications of religious thought are exploited for dramatic purposes. Here again we have a vivid secular characterisation based on a general, and widely held, if badly thought out, religious/social theory.
21. Patrick Collinson, "Ecclesiastical vitriol: religious satire in the 1590s and the invention of puritanism," in The Reign of Elizabeth I: Court and culture in the last decade, ed. J. Guy, Cambridge, 1995, 150-70, 159-60, notes Martin Marprelate's rhetorical affinity to a popular tradition of Elizabethan culture, the composing of mocking and libellous rhymes and libels, which was familiar on the London stage at the time. In The Birthpangs of Protestant England: Religious and Cultural Change in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries, London, 1988, 108-12, Professor Collinson outlines the moralisation of secular ballads by protestant writers in the 1560s and1570s, but by 1580 such appropriation of secular ballads had almost ceased. Does Iago's ballad, 'King Stephen,' 2.3.85 ff., represent an earlier tradition of protestant moralising? Honigmann, Othello, ed. cit., "Longer Notes," 336-7, notes that the ballad pre-dated the play, and was referred to in Robert Green's Quip for an Upstart Courtier (1592). It may have been composed much earlier.
22. See Lake, art. cit., 75, for the popular views on catholic attitudes towards sexual laxity.
23. See also my comments above, Note 7.
24. Are there wider contemporary Italian influences on the choice of language in the play? Othello's distinctive style of speech may be a conscious imitation of the favella toscana, the Tuscan standard of upper-class speech favoured by Venetians who did not like their own local dialect. This artificial style was modelled on literary language from the trecento, especially the poetic language of Petrarch and Boccacio: it was an archaic style of speech, and very different from that of sixteenth-century Tuscany; see O. Logan, Culture and Society in Venice 1470-1790: the Renaissance and its Heritage, London, 1972, Chap. 6. Shakespeare's exploitation of a baroque style to imitate this emerging Italian standard may have been a compromise to make Othello seem more fashionable as a speaker, and yet authentic as an Italian upper-class Venetian by adoption. By contrast, Iago's speech is set in variable registers, some polite and formal, (and even fashionably technical in its use of Ramistic rhetorical terms, which give him authority in his persuasion of Othello), but he also uses another register when he thinks it useful: the language of the fama commune, "the voice of public opinion" (see P. Burke, "Insult and Blasphemy in early modern Italy," in The Historical Anthropology of Early Modern Italy: Essays on Perception and Communication, Cambridge, 1987, repr. 1989, 95-109, 107), which often descends to the lingua mordace, "the biting tongue," the language of insult and offensive comment used in colloquial registers of Venetian. (Burke, ibid., 97). Iago uses this register when talking to Roderigo, and encourages him to use the same offensive language.
25. Here we have to face up to the possibility that the play was written in two parts, as N. B. Allen, "The Two Parts of Othello," Shakespeare Survey 21 (1968), 13-29, argues. I happen to agree with the argument in this article that Shakespeare first wrote Acts III, IV and V, and then turned to Acts I and II. This would account for the discrepancies about racism in the two 'halves,' and the absence of racist comments in the first piece of writing, as opposed to the second, earlier part of the play. There can be no coherence in this play, in my opinion, in the matter of racism. The non-textual 'psychological' critics, who argue for a 'racist' unconscious in Othello, are simply, I suggest, reading in 'racism' in Othello's final speech from a first part that was written later. There is too much solid textual evidence in Allen's article about significant discontinuities in the play to dismiss his argument.
26. It is relevant here to note that Henry Parker, a staunch supporter of puritans, and related to important puritans, in A Discourse concerning Puritans, 1641, identifies four categories of puritans which had been employed during the period 1560-1640. These were ecclesiastical puritans, anxious about popish ritual in the church; puritans in religion, noted for their hatred of popery; political puritans who opposed the policies of Charles I during the 1620s and 1630s; and the most important group, in his opinion, "ethical puritans." These were distinguished by their "honest strict demeanor," and were denigrated as hypocrites by anti-puritans: "the religious honest man has the vizard of an hypocrite and dissembler put upon him to make him odious." See C. Durston and J. Eales, eds, The Culture of English Puritanism, 1560-1700, London, 1996, 14, and for the last quotation, L. A. Sasek, ed., Images of English Puritanism: a Collection of Contemporary Sources, Baton Rouge, 1989, 164. W. Empson, The Structure of Complex Words, London and New York, 1951, 218-49, suggests that when the word "honest" is used patronisingly in the play it "carried an obscure social insult" (219); perhaps these contemporary remarks of Henry Parker clarify the nature of this insult. Hypocrisy might be implied at a narrative level to the audience, as well as social inferiority in Othello's remark to Iago. Certainly, the play endorses the anti-puritan view of Iago, if he is a hypocritical puritan/calvinist.
27. See Honigmann, op.cit., Appendix 1, 344-50, and Note 4 above.
28. See note 6 above, and further, the suggestive remarks of Patrick Collinson, "Ecclesiastical vitriol," 155, "a certain nastiness was inherent in the idea of puritanism, since the word was a broad and sticky brush with which to tar those who usually denied that they were puritans and insisted that they were nothing but orthodox and loyal protestant Christians." The calvinist nastiness of Iago is evident from the start of the play, and naturally he never calls himself a "puritan," given the social and religious animosity the term implied. Even Richard Bancroft, the most venomous opponent of puritans, only used the word once in all his vitriolic writings: see Collinson, ibid., 164-5. Perhaps "puritan" was a slang term inappropriate for serious writers to use, when Bancroft was writing. Professor Collinson argues persuasively that it was the Martin Marprelate and Anti-Martin tracts of the 1590s that created the Stage Puritan, "a character implicit in Shakespeare's Malvolio," "and otherwise made the stock figure or caricature of the puritan a subject for more or less sophisticated literary treatment" (ibid., 154). Iago, I wish to suggest, is the most sophisticated form of this figure. See also, for an analogous argument, Patrick Collinson, "Ben Jonson's Bartholomew Fair: The Theatre constructs Puritanism," in The Theatrical City: Culture, Theatre and Politics in London, 1576-1649, eds D. L. Smith, R. Strier, and D. Bevington, Cambridge, 1995, 157-69. Harold Fisch, "Shakespeare and the Puritan Dynamic," Shakespeare Survey 27 (1974), 81-92, although he does not deal with Othello, remarks that "Shakespeare takes puritanism very seriously" (83). Angelo shares the insidiousness and deception of Iago, using his power to manipulate others.
29. Hugh Grady, Shakespeare's Universal Wolf : Studies in Early Modern Reification, Oxford, 1996, 98-109, describes Iago's Ramistic 'logic' (really a form of rhetoric), as "instrumental reason," a form of reason disassociated from any ethical base. Again, Shakespeare's prejudice against puritan/calvinist thinking is evident here.
30. See M. Heinemann, Puritanism and the Theatre, Cambridge, 1980, Appendix A, 258-83.
31. See Richmond Noble, Shakespeare's Biblical Knowledge, London, 1935, 216-221: he finds eight allusions to biblical passages, mostly New Testament or Psalms. I hardly need to repeat the fact that the Bible was of the greatest importance to puritans, and that the Geneva Bible of 1560, with extensive Calvinist notes in the margins, was the most popular version. See C. Durston and J. Eales, op. cit., 16-17: "for the puritan the Bible was elevated to the status of the sole and complete repository of doctrinal and moral truth" (16).
32. David Morse, England's Time of Crisis, Basingstoke, 1989, 161, makes a relevant comment: "Iago, it would seem, belongs to [a] bygone world of established hierarchy and unquestioning obedience, yet despite this he devotes himself wholeheartedly to its converse, an unscrupulous, self-serving opportunism." In my terms, a familiar social type of the time, a hypocrite 'ethical' puritan, who resents the new careerism of the Cassios of this world. Again, in John Morgan, Godly Learning: Puritan Attitudes towards Reason, Learning, and Education, 1560-1640, Cambridge, 1986, 146, we find the remark, "Almost universally, however, writers condemned those who attempted to rise through the ranks." For this argued a high opinion of themselves, and contradicted the notion of humility, and fear of pride that haunted the puritan mind. Othello's ostentatious language would be an intolerable sign of this to the puritan.
33. Cited from Alister E. McGrath, A Life of John Calvin: A Study in the Shaping of Western Culture, Oxford, 1990, repr. 1991, 241.
34. When, later in the play, Cassio refers to "election" (2.3.102-5), in a calvinist sense, in his drunken state he thinks social status may have something to do with it! "The lieutenant is to be saved before the ancient." Again, a revealing comment on the self-importance of careerists, who had no sense of the humility a good calvinist should display in their lives. But the court was full of persons from humble backgrounds who had risen to the highest ranks in the court by virtue of their abilities and skills. A new world, with new values and attitudes, was emergent, and Iago hates it.
35. Iago accuses Cassio of having only theoretical military knowledge, as out of date as that of the Romans, and little practical experience of real fighting. This emphasis on practical knowledge as the test of ability is also characteristic of puritanism. Arthur Dent, A pastime for Parents: or A recreation to passe away the time, London, 1606, sets out a catechism in which the elect and the reprobate are contrasted in terms of their knowledge: "The knowledge of the reprobates is onely literall; and historicall / The knowledge of the elect is spirituall, and experimentall." (Here "literall" means 'from books', "historicall" means 'past knowledge, so probably out-of-date knowledge,' while by contrast "spirituall" means 'of the spirit, inspired,' and "experimentall" means 'tested by actual application to practice.' Another contrast is between the reprobate's 'speculative' knowledge, all theory, and the elect's 'practive' knowledge, 'based on practical experience.' (Cited in Martha Tuck Rozett, The Doctrine of Election and the Emergence of Elizabethan Tragedy, Princeton, New Jersey, 1984, 62.)
36. See Note 25 above.
37. Honigmann, op. cit., 335, in a longer note to 1.1.20, records the contrived and desperate attempts of earlier editors to make sense of the line on its own, or merely in the context of the play. The actual context of Iago's puritan thought here is not identified by any of them. Because Iago is not thought of in terms of his religious mentality. There is no sense of historical context outside the play.
38. Peter Lake, "Religious Identities in Shakespeare's England," in D. C. Kastan, ed., A Companion to Shakespeare Studies, Oxford, 1999, 64.
39. A point noted by Honigmann, op. cit., Footnote to l. 321.
40. See further, John Morgan, op. cit., 46-47, and in more technical detail, A. Dakin, Calvinism, London, 1940, repr. 1942, 35-43; T. F. Torrance, Calvin's Doctrine of Man, London, 1949, 83-125; John H. Leith, "The Doctrine of the Will in the Institutes of the Christian Religion," in Reformatio Perennis: Essays on Calvin and the Reformation in Honor of Ford Lewis Battles, eds B.A. Gerrish and R. Benedetto, Pittsburgh, 1981, 49-66.
41. Patrick Collinson, The Puritan Character : Polemics and Polarities in early Seventeenth-century English Culture, Los Angeles, 1989, 12.
42. C.T.Onions, A Shakespeare Glossary, Enlarged and Revised throughout by Robert D. Eagleson, Oxford, 1986, s.v.
43. W. Hunt, The Puritan Moment : The Coming of Revolution in an English County, Cambridge, MA, 1983, 146.
44. Patrick Collinson, "Ben Jonson's Bartholomew Fair," op. cit., 158.
45. See Patrick Collinson, The Religion of Protestants : The Church in English Society 1559-1625, The Ford Lectures 1979, Oxford, 1982, 103-107.
46. Honigmann, op. cit., 374. The attack on Montano is the only explanation for Cassio's disgrace in Cinthio's text.
47. For Ramistic logic, see W.J. Ong, Ramus : Method, and the Decay of Dialogue : from the Art of Discourse to the Art of Reason, Harvard, 1958; W.S. Howell, Logic and Rhetoric in England, 1500-1700, Princeton, 1956, Chap. 4 : "The English Ramists"; Donald K. McKim, Ramism in William Perkins' Theology, American University Studies, series VII, Theology and Religion, vol.15, New York and Bern, 1987; Michel Dassonville, (ed.), Pierre de la Ramee, Dialectique (1555), Geneve, 1964; John Morgan, op. cit., refers to Ramistic logic in various places, see index. Probably the best account of Iago's Ramism is by Kenneth Palmer, "Iago's Questionable Shapes," in "Fanned and Winnowed Opinions": Shakespearean Essays presented to Harold Jenkins, eds John W. Mahon and Thomas A. Pendleton, London, 1987, 184-201.
48. See further, Donald K. McKim, op.cit.
49. Rollandum Makylmenaeum, The Logike of the Moste Excellent Philosopher P. Ramus etc, London, 1574, 100.
50. Ramus remarks of the method of prudence or crypsis, "Si c'est homme cault et fin, il ne fault pas incontinent manifester noz pièces l'une après l'autre, mais changer, entremesler, frivoler, feindre le contraire, se reprendre, ne monstrer aucun semblant d'y penser, dire que c'est chose vulgaire et accoustumée, se haster, courroucer, débatre, procéder par grande hardiesse, et en fin finalle descouvrir et exécuter l'embusche tellement que l'adversaire estonné dye: 'A quelle fin tend cecy?,'" Michel Dassonville, op. cit., 150. Translation: 'If we are dealing with a man who is wily and shrewd, we should not straightaway reveal the arguments we intend to deploy one after the other, but we should vary our approach, mix things up, appear to be obtuse, pretend to the opposite of what we want to persuade him of, appear to correct ourselves as we go along, without appearing to give what we say any careful thought, say that this is the sort of thing that's always happening and is pretty common, hasten forward in the argument, provoke our listener to anger, dispute the issues, move on with great boldness and suddenness, and in the final moments show our hand and spring the trap in such a way that our astonished opponent cries out, 'What on earth is he getting at?' (This is a loose translation to bring out the full rhetorical, pragmatic insights of Ramus.) This is the exact rhetorical method used by Iago in his persuasion of Othello in Act III, and almost every tactic here can be found in Iago's response to Othello's enquiry. I have discussed Iago's tactics in some detail without reference to this source in my article; Gilbert, art. cit., see Note 17 above. It is quite possible that Shakespeare could have read this edition of Ramus (Paris, 1555), in the original French. There were also many other editions, but the English translation (see above Note 49), is much more concise in this part of the textbook.
51. Barbara J. Shapiro, Probability and Certainty in Seventeenth-Century England, Princeton, 1983, 230-31.
52. For a withering exposure of Ramistic logic and its absurdities, see Norman E. Nelson, "Peter Ramus and the Confusion of Logic, Rhetoric, and Poetry," in Contributions in Modern Philology, vol. 2, 1947.
53. See Note 20 above.
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