Maybe it’s just me, but I can’t stand reading literature analysis without having read the literature first. I’ve never read Othello, but reading analyses about it just isn’t the same. It’s boring. I want to form my own opinions about something instead of just hearing other people’s thoughts. There’s not much I can learn from it without forming my own thoughts first.
Shaw’s essay was an interesting walkthrough of his thoughts on the text. However, I have a major complaint that carries over to really any essay discussing disability in text, and that is the need to diagnose what the character’s disability is if it isn’t stated:
In five short lines, Iago provides three different diagnoses for Othello’s condition — epilepsy, lethargy, and the potential for
madness — and Cassio suggests that Iago ‘rub him about the temples’ (4.1.50–5,
So often I see this conflicting argument: people are not defined by their disabilities, but we MUST label characters (and real people too!) to further understand their condition. The portrayal of disability in Othello is important to what Shakespeare wants to say, but why do we need to pick apart a disabled character in order to “really understand” what the message is supposed to be? Just because we don’t have a name for what Othello suffers doesn’t mean that he isn’t disabled, so why do we feel that desire to label and dissect?
This is something that people do in real life to real people, too. Everyone turns into a doctor the second a person displays any behavior that isn’t normal, and for both physical and mental disability. Disability doesn’t define people, but labels certainly do.