"Othello/me": Racial Drag and the Pleasures of Boundary-Crossing with Othello


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

In Othello, the boundary between Self and Other is famously, and perilously, permeable. Othello's assimilationist efforts to claim a selfhood within the Venetian community leads, for him, to a fatal hybridity: he ends, as Ania Loomba and others have discussed, as the Venetian instrument for slaying the foreign infidel within himself.1 What I want to examine here is how, in Othello's performance history, the self/other boundary has long been felt to be permeable in the other direction as well. For centuries, firsthand reports from both actors and audiences have centered on a common theme: the profound emotional intensity of watching or performing the role of Othello, an intensity very frequently (and perhaps surprisingly, given Othello's status as an "extravagant ... stranger") attributed to a profound identification with the character's emotional experience.


1 Ania Loomba, Gender, Race, Renaissance Drama (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1989), 48; also see Patricia Parker, "Fantasies of 'Race' and 'Gender': Africa, Othello and Bringing to Light" in Women, 'Race' and Writing in the Early Modern Period, eds. Margo Hendricks and Patricia Parker (London and New York: Routledge, 1994), 84-110; 95-100; Jonathan Burton,"'A most wily bird': Leo African us, Othello, and the trafficking in difference" in Post-Colonial Shakespeares, eds. Ania Loomba and Martin Orkin (London and New York: Routledge, 1998), 43-63; 57-58.

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