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DEREK COHEN Othello's Suicide Othello's suicide engages a knottY complex of social, political and cultural issues. Far from resolving the political and cultural dilemmas of the drama, it exacerbates them and raises more questions than it answers. In that extended moment, his dagger poised to strike himself, Othello drags into the playa memory buried deep in his pre-play past that is of such brutality and hate-filled violence as to link this so-called 'restored' Othello with the crude, tortured brute who struck his wife in act IV, scene i rather than with the noble Roman he exhorts his audience to remember. The malignant and turbanned Turk exists as a remembered victim of the Moor. The words 'smote him thus' bring Othello into a definitive identification with his former victim, murdered for beating a Venetian and traducing, we presume, the Venetian state in his (the Turk's) own city of Aleppo. Othello, the black Moor, once murdered a black Turk for 'traducing' the white Venetian state in the black city of Aleppo. (I use the racial tenns black and white in their current sense, which I take to be little different from their 'seventeenth-century sense.) This Turk has a history; he is, in short, more than merely an enabling figure of the suicide. He possessed an identity separate and different from Othello. He was circumcised; he wore a turban; he was violent; he was stronger than the Venetian he beat and less strong than Othello; he hated the Venetian state; he was stabbed to death by Othello. As a Moor, Othello was circumcised, once wore a turban, and once, perhaps, 'traduced' the Venetian state before becoming its servant. In Othello's suicide an intense drama of self-hatred is played out. Instead of restoring his morally and emotionally battered self, the suicide is a culmination of the assault made on him by the contending political and psychological stresses that have been brought into play. Othello and Othello can be seen as the complete triumph of, the white world's ethos of individualism. The black manlcharacter, separated by nature from the white hegemonic civilization, is whirled and buffeted by confusion and contradiction. He is loved and feared for his warriorship, but hated and feared for his colour. The dichotomies suggested by the black-and-white facts and images of the play establish a dramatic world and political structure whose vocabulary tends to sustain literality and monologic interpretation. No UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO QUARTERLY, VOLUME 62, NUMBER 3, SPRING 1993 324 DEREK COHEN one in the play is more this mode of thought than Othello himself. It is and has been a means of evasion necessary for his survival as a participant in the white world who has betrayed the people he was brought up with. Othello is presented as a willing instrument of white domination and a credulous, enabling tool of white civilization. He is used by the Venetian state to sustain that domination against its black enemies. Othello uses Othello to support another of the pillars of white domination, that of the dangers of miscegenation. The final and total success of white culture is contained in the single abusive phrase 'the circumcised dog/ which reaffirms a white construction of the remembered event. No doubt or hesitation informs Othello's recollection. On the contrary, the relish with which he recovers his own ambiguous blackness through the agency of suicide only serves to reify and intensify the colour divisions of the drama. It is no accident that Othello is referred to as 'the Moor far more often than as Othello. For whatever the situation, Othello's colour and foreignness are the immediate means of situating him in relation to the play's other characters. He is always different. Martin Orkin, in line with a majority of critics of the play, argues that the racist sentiment in the play is confined to Iago, Roderigo, and Brabantio (168). This kind of analysis, however, depends entirely upon verbal construction. Simply, the racial sentiments of other characters are not tested. Polite racism, a speciality of Western industrial societies, precisely forbids the verbal expression of racist sentiment during the practice of racial...


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