A Post-Colonial Critique of Othello
A Mismanagement of Mirroring
Gregory Schneider, Yahoo! Contributor Network
Nov 26, 2005 "Share your voice on Yahoo! websites. Start Here." More:
FlagPost a comment
Time passes, class texts are read, dissected, deconstructed. Suddenly in the epochs of literary criticism, a new theory emerges. Schools of thought form and take shape and eventually find themselves in the subconscious of the reader, who now has the option of understanding his literature with a new interpretive strategy. One of the new schools of though, one that is slowly developing in the academic ichor, is post-colonial theory. The post-colonial method does not wade in the shallow-end. It is a discourse of marginalization; an examination of point-zero between the colonizer-colonized relationship; an upheaval of the delimited; a discovery, or unearthing, of the displaced. Time enough has passed: Shakespeare's Othello must face the possibly now of drowning in the deep end of this method, the possibility of post-colonial death above western eyes. This paper will explore the ways in which Othello represents the displaced Other - what Spivak calls the "subaltern" - the gyroscopic nature of his character, and the machinations of Venice that eventually destroy him. The tragic in Othello echoes the Aristotelian caveat: "An imitation of an action that is serious and also, as having magnitude, complete in itself." Yet, for the subaltern Othello, Anouilh's Chorus in Antigone is more appropriate: "The machine is in perfect order; it has been oiled ever since time began, and it runs without friction." Othello's fall from grace goes unpurged, it is uncathartic, despite the dramatic finale: Soft you; a word or two before you go.
I have done the state some service, and they know't
No more of that. I pray you, in your letters,
When you shall these unlucky deeds relate,
Speak of me as I am; nothing extenuate,
Not set down aught in malice.
Since the voice he speaks is not his own, the voice he employs remains unheard - regardless of its poetic achievement. The voice, close to its death, one that has granted its colonizer dominance, is an example of Gayatri Spivak's influential essay, "Can the Subaltern Speak?" Here, she asks, "With what voice-consciousness can the subaltern speak? Their project, after all is to rewrite the development of the consciousness of the nation… The notion of what [the subaltern] cannot say becomes important. The post-colonial intellectuals learn that their privilege is their loss. In this they are a paradigm of intellectuals" (Spivak, 27-28). Time reverses itself, flips, and we find Desdemona's father, laboring Othello to explain his backstory: Her father lov'd me, oft invited me;
Still question'd me the story of my life
From year to year - the battles, sieges, fortunes
That I have passed.
And though Othello reveals his past, the caves and deserts and rugged hills...