Article Title

False Fidelity: Othello, Otello, and Their Critics


In lieu of an abstract, the first paragraph of the essay follows:

Was this fair paper, this most goodly book,

Made to write "whore" upon? - Othello IV.ii.70-71 1

Asking questions, or, playing Iago. Fidelity obsesses Othello; from his first appearance before the Venetian senate in which he proclaims his political fidelity, "Most humbly . . . bending to your state" (I.iii.232), to his murder of Desdemona for her supposed infidelity, his actions and words betray his overriding preoccupation. Similarly, the notion of fidelity has obsessed commentators on the two nineteenth-century operatic treatments of the Othello story, by Rossini (in 1816) and by Verdi (in 1887).2 The comparison of the opera with Shakespeare's play in the writings of these critics rhetorically mirrors Iago's manipulation of the relationship between Desdemona and Othello. Thus the operas (like Desdemona) are caught between either praise for their "faithful adherence" to Shakespeare (Othello) or condemnation as "debased" goods.

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