In "Othello's White Sword," I historicize a stage property, Othello's sword, in light of its more-recent performance history. In doing so, I point out that many productions of Othello, attempting to highlight Othello's Otherness, actually do so against the grain of the original text. In a play that deals with questions of race and racism, our own performance history has had many missteps, including using blackface on white actors. Drawing on hundreds of years of racially-oriented performance history, productions have frequently armed Othello with a scimitar, a sword employed by the armies of Saladin during the Crusades. In reality, the sword Othello uses throughout the play is a rapier, a quintessentially European weapon, which spoke to early modern notions of interiority and civilization. By arming Othello with the Mediterranean scimitar, productions actually make Othello seem more alien to Venice than Shakespeare's text suggests. In this article, I examine what Shakespeare communicates about the racialized world by arming Othello with the rapier, and, by extension, what productions lose when they do not do the same. Rather than casting Othello as an outsider, I argue that Shakespeare represents him as a model Venetian. The drama of the play occurs when Iago weaponizes racial prejudice to push Othello out of the limelight. Performance practices that seek to set Othello apart from the other Italians may accidentally be replicating, rather than challenging, Iago's prejudices.


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pp. 241-258
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