Jessie Kuei-yi Chu
Dr. Kate Liu
Outline of term paper
Seeing is Believing!? Spectatorship in Shakespeare's Othello
Shakespeare's Othello presents Iago's conspiracy of making optical illusions leading to the tragic ending. From Othello's insisting to see "ocular proof"(III, iii, 360), Iago becomes Othello's visual apparatus to make up a series of occasions to satisfy Othello's obsession for seeing 'the truth.' According to Lacanian psychoanalysis, gazing is vital in the mirror stage because it relates to the baby's recognition of self and other and initiates its constitution of symbolic order. The first gaze of mother and self represented as a gestalt roots in a child's psyche and becomes the child's life-long goal to search for the reunion with mother and to achieve the state of unity and totality. In Shakespeare's Othello, by giving Desdemona his mother's handkerchief, Othello claims his possession through the vision of Desdemona with the handkerchief. It also constitutes a pseudo reunion image with his mother who is displaced by Desdemona. However, the gestalt is merely an illusionary image of symbiotic subjectivity. The futile quest of gestalt intertwining with the fake visual truth encompassed Othello bring to the death of Othello, Desdemona and Emilia. In this way, I would like to analyze the deceptive spectacles in Othello's vision and argue the possible women's resistance in male voyeuristic manipulation through Desdemona and Emilia.
I. Significance of "gazing" in Lacanian psychoanalysis: "The child's identification with its specular image impels it nostalgically to seek out a past symbiotic completeness, even if such a state never existed and is retrospectively imposed on the pre-mirror phase; and to seek an anticipatory or desired (ideal or future) identity in the coherence of the totalized specular image" (Grosz 39).
II. Visual authority: Seeing is believing!?
A. "Give me the ocular proof" (III, iii, 360)
1. Iago entices Cassio into talking about his affair with Bianca. (III, iii, 100-45)
B. After Iago wins Othello's trust, Othello asks him to observe Desdemona, to be his eyes. Losing his own eyes refers to Othello's blindness and symbolic castration of losing power to perceive the truth.
C. The duke's proof of reason and wisdom
1. In the council, the duke perceives the Turks' strategy.
2. The duke requests the confrontation of people directly involved in the case while dealing with Brabantio's accusation.
3. Desdemona asks for the confrontation before her death but is rejected by Othello. e power relations
III. The significance of handkerchief to Othello (III, iii, 58-63)
A. Charm of love: There is magic power in the handkerchief. It is Othello's self hallucination.
B. Symbol of mother: Fetishistic attachment of gazing Desdemona with the handkerchief means displacement mother of Desdemona and returns to the state of gestalt.
C. Symbol of chastity:
1. strawberries in the white silk
2. Othello gives the handkerchief from his mother to Desdemona that is a label of Othello's ownership.
3. The loss of handkerchief = the loss of chastity. The handkerchief at last is in Bianca's hand and she is a prostitute. Without seeing the handkerchief, Othello thus associates it with Desdemona's infidelity.
IV. Women's Resistance
1. Emilia's assertion of female power of revenge: "Then let them use us well; else let them know,/ The ills we do, their ills instruct us so." (IV, iii, 102-3)
2. Emilia speaks out the truth about Iago's malignant scheme. (V, ii, 219-22, 224-28)
1. Desdemona's elopement challenges trafficking woman in patriarchal discourse. She chooses her own marriage and decides her husband.
2. Desdemona asks to go to Cyprus with Othello instead of staying in Venice with her father.
3. Desdemona incessantly asks Othello to reinstate Cassio.
4. Desdemona denies her husband.
a. "My lord is not my lord." (III, iv, 125)
b. "I have none." (IV, ii, 103)
5. Death justifies Desdemona's guiltlessness.
V. Conclusion: The marriage of Othello and Desdemona suggests a state of unity in pre-Oedipal stage, a gestalt with mother, who is transferred by Desdemona owning the handkerchief. But the specular reflection of totality in the mirror is actually an illusion-the impossible symbiotic subjectivity. On the other hand, Othello challenges the convention of "seeing is believing" by showing the protagonist, Othello, being deceived by specular illusions/ artificial truth that are manipulated by Iago out of jealous and ambition. In Iago's scheme of false spectatorship, the play demonstrates the communication gaps in visual and verbal forms. Othello, as a whole, presents in an unstable state of chaos, violence and domineering male authority. However, there are some episodes revealing women's resistances against male voyeuristic hegemony by Desdemona and Emilia as female empowerment in this play.
Grosz, Elizabeth. Jacque Lacan: A Feminist Introduction. New York: Routledge, 1990.
Hall, Johnathan. "From Double Words to Single Vision: patriarchal Desire in Much Ado About Nothing and Othello." Anxious Pleasures: Shakespearean Comedy and the Nation-State. London: Associated University Presses, 1995. 170-93.
Murry, John Middleton. "Desdemona's Handkerchief." Othello: Critical Essays. 91-100.
Shakespeare, William. "Othello." The Riverside Shakespeare. Eds. Herschel Baker et al. 2nd ed. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1997. 1246-96.