The Moor as Stranger

Leslie Fiedler, “The Moor as Stranger,” in The Stranger in Shakespeare, 13998


Othello is one of the oddest of Shakespeare’s plays and, therefore, one of the most difficult to interpret, not only because of its equivocal tone but also because of its anomalous structure, which, in fact, determines and explains that tone. In the theater, we are carried along from beginning to end of the action by what seems a single unbroken rhythm; but in reading the play, we can scarcely fail to notice that it is actually two plays, intricately linked together yet finally quite separable. Critics, however, seldom trouble to call this to our attention, finding it perhaps too obvious and somehow irrelevant. But it is hard to begin talking about Othello at all without taking into account that face that it consists of a one-act comedy followed by a tragedy in four acts, owing little or nothing to Shakespeare’s Italian source, the Hecathomithi of Giraldi Cinthio; the second derived largely form Cinthio, though also continuing and reflecting ironically upon the first.

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