Abstract

The link between Shakespeare and Africa is consistently addressed through the play Othello, in its depiction of a black protagonist and its reflection of early modern travel literature. Building upon existing scholarship, this paper moves beyond generic readings of "Africa" to explore the specific parallels between Othello and Yoruba culture/myth and to establish the intertextuality of those respective traditions. Using Leo Africanus's A Geographical Historie of Africa as a key text, the paper examines the equivocal term "Moor" and its potential specificity to the inhabitants of West Africa and of Yorubaland in particular. The essay also revisits early modern travel literature and eyewitness accounts in order to clarify the perception of Africa(ns) in England, while also developing an historical sketch of Yorubaland through oral and archeological evidence. This exploration leads to a close reading of Othello in which intertextual tropes of Africa and specifically Yoruba myth are brought to light. These "points of axis" include the presence of magical objects/juju, the personification of the devil in a character/god, and the presence of a powerful militaristic figure that represents both hero and destroyer. Ultimately, these overlapping points disturb notions of authenticity and allow for the possibility that a specific African culture like the Yoruba is a (re)source for such elitist Western traditions as Shakespeare.

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Additional Information

ISSN
1527-2044
Print ISSN
0034-5210
Pages
pp. 46-61
Launched on MUSE
2004-07-15
Open Access
No
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