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  • Racism, Misogyny, and the “Othello” Myth: Inter-Racial Couples from Shakespeare to Spike Lee
  • Ayanna Thompson (bio)
Racism, Misogyny, and the “Othello” Myth: Inter-Racial Couples from Shakespeare to Spike Lee. By Celia R. Daileader . Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005 Illus. Pp. x + 256. $70.00 cloth, $25.99 paper.

Although it has long been argued that discussions of race and racism are incomplete without discussions of gender and misogyny (and vice versa), until Racism, Misogyny, and the "Othello" Myth, no one has demonstrated so convincingly just how interrelated these discourses are. In her fascinating book, Daileader argues that a "fear of female sexual autonomy regularly shades into fear of miscegenation" (46). Proving her point, Daileader asks, "Is the man who beats his daughter for sleeping with a black man (as in Jungle Fever) a sexist or a racist?" (218). At the heart of this paradox, Daileader locates the continued popularity and cultural capital of Shakespeare's Othello, arguing that "Shakespeare's audiences" find in the play aesthetic aspects to support their ideological views (44). The book is ambitious not only in argumentation but also in scope, devoting chapters to early modern constructions of blackness, Restoration rewritings, Gothic novels, abolitionist texts, romance novels, and modern American fiction. Racism, Misogyny, and the "Othello" Myth is an energizing and challenging read through five hundred years of literature.

The six chapters of Daileader's book are organized chronologically in order to establish how Othello's narrative supremacy has held sway even when authors have attempted to subvert the "masculinist-racist discourse" or the "racist-masculinist hegemony" (22, 53). In the first chapter, Daileader provides readings of Titus Andronicus, Othello, Antony and Cleopatra, The White Devil, The Knight of Malta, and All's Lost by Lust to argue that (1) not all Renaissance narratives of interracial relationships were the same and (2) many of these texts suppress narratives of black women seduced or raped by white men. Othello, she argues, endures because it reproduces a conservative ideology that suggests, both implicitly and explicitly, that the white woman who engages in interracial sex is not really white. The horrifying adage to which Daileader returns throughout the book is "All cows are black at night" (13). She goes on to argue that Othello endures because it neatly narrativizes the "tragedy of inter-racial marriage to the exclusion of broader definitions, and more positive visions, of inter-racial eroticism," an exclusion for which Daileader has coined "Othellophilia" (6). As might be clear from the sheer volume and complexity of the texts analyzed in this chapter, this material could be a book in and of itself. I could not help but wonder what Daileader would have produced if she had only focused on interracial constructions from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. [End Page 361] While Daileader's close readings are intriguing, they seem rushed because she is eager to move onto the "critical history of Shakespeare's Othello" (9). This sense of haste continued to be a point of tension throughout the book: while the scope and breadth Daileader's analysis are impressive, one is left with the uneasy sense that the chapters ultimately serve to bring the reader to the present moment.

The second and fourth chapters are closely related in their focus on the attempted transformation of the "barbarous Moor" to a less threatening and more sympathetic figure. In the second chapter, Daileader compares Aphra Behn's Oroonoko, Olaudah Equiano's autobiography, Susanna Haswell Rowson's play The Slaves in Algiers, and Washington Irving's Salmagundi to demonstrate how the construction of the "Heathen with the Heart of Gold" still "served racist-masculinist hegemony in . . . his role as castigator of white women" (53). Likewise, in the fourth chapter, Daileader addresses abolitionist novels such as Lydia Maria Child's Hobomok and A Romance of the Republic, Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin, and William Wells Brown's Clotel in order to argue that "when a racially liberal message gains air-time, it only does so by playing to its audience's sexual conservatism, and when a liberal message about gender roles makes itself heard, it does so by playing to the audience's...


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pp. 361-363
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