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Magic in the Web

Magic in the Web: Action and Language in Othello

Copyright Date: 1956
Pages: 312
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  • Book Info
    Magic in the Web
    Book Description:

    In his earlier work onKing Lear, Mr. Heilman combined a number of critical procedures to form a new and important approach to Shakespearian criticism. His study ofOthellodisplays the maturity of insight and skill in analysis the years have brought him in developing his critical method. Mr. Heilman takes account of stage effects; he traces out literal and symbolic meanings; he analyzes plot relationships; he examines characters in terms of both their psychological and their moral situations, and style in relation to both character and meaning. He traces some effects due to historical meanings which have now been lost by certain words, and he tries to measure the impact of the drama upon, and its significance for, the modern consciousness.

    Mr. Heilman argues thatOthellois at once "a play about love" and "a poem about love," and endeavors to find out how the poetry modifies and even helps determine the nature of the whole. He looks at numerous aspects of "action" (physical activity, psychological movement, intellectual operations) and "language" (speech habits, image types, recurrency in both literal and figurative language), and examines the essentially "dramatic" function of all of these. He finds the dramatis personae interwoven in relationships which may be seen, from one point of view, as "plot" and, from another, as the embodiment of complex themes. He treats Othello and Iago as figures that are not only fitted to a given stage but also represent permanent aspects of humanity-Iago with his "strategies against the spiritual order" and Othello with his "readiness in the victim."

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-6304-8
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[vi])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [vii]-[viii])
  3. CHAPTER 1 Approach
    (pp. 1-24)

    This is one man’s reading ofOthello.I hope it will appear to illuminate some of the parts, and to speculate persuasively about the sum of the parts. IfOthellois not the most complex of the tragedies, the problem of its over-all form is still a large one, and he who would account for the creative relationship of a large number of parts must be content if he seems generally to be moving in the right direction. There have been many analyses of parts and some studies of the whole. Here we endeavor to trace out the parts rather...

    (pp. 25-44)

    In tracing the interconnections of the parts that should permit us eventually to see the design of the whole, I am starting with Iago because important elements of the verbal and actional drama represent a “flow,” so to speak, from Iago into the rest of the community. We need, then, to see what kind of general estimate of him is demanded by the evidence. But before we can examine his full character and “meaning,” we must obviously try to assess his “case.”

    Some of the points below have been made a number of times, but not all of them have...

    (pp. 45-98)

    To look at the “flow” from Iago into the community—the many-channeled influence revealed in the verbal and actional dramais—is to study a relationship in which we may observe both certain powers and methods on one side and certain susceptibilities on the other, both what Iago is and what kinds of psychic and moral breaches he picks out in the community. In the present chapter we deal mainly with Iago’s techniques of infiltration, that aspect of his maneuvering which reveals him to us through his modes of concealment from others: his multiple perfecting of what Fielding was long after...

    (pp. 99-136)

    Shakespeare has indirectly characterizer by a series of figurative part-portraits which are analogically related, almost in the fashion of those diverse accounts of the elephant given by a number of blind men each of whom felt a different part of the beast-side, trunk, ear, and so on. But inOthellothe “part-portraits” are not the products of different minds and none of them purports to be complete; instead of existing separately, they coexist, interwoven in a single complex interpretative artwork which simultaneously uses various perspectives and thus gives us, not simply a full front or a profile, but something like...

    (pp. 137-168)

    The problem of character presented by Othello’s collapse before Iago’s machinations in 3.3 is handled in three main ways According to one view, the problem is insoluble: Othello believes Iago only “by virtue of the convention of the calumniator credited.”¹ Among the analysts of character, the older tradition is that Othello is the victim of Iago and remains pretty much the “noble Moor” throughout; he is guilty only of being too innocent or foolish or simple or trusting or of losing his usual self-control.² According to the other main approach through character, Othello is not the “noble Moor” at all...

  8. CHAPTER 6 Thematic Form: VERSIONS OF LOVE
    (pp. 169-218)

    Shakespeare presents love in almost innumerable poetic and dramatic forms. In one interpretation that recurs in a number of major dramas, love is a force that binds human beings despite differences that seem prohibitive; it is a means of surmounting great barriers and obstacles, of counter imperatives, even of human limitations. It transcends the family feud of Montagues and Capulets; it rises above the imperial rivalries of Rome and Egypt; and inOthelloit unites the Venetian and the Moor despite formidable disparities of age, nation, and color, these to be felt perhaps as “after all only the dramatic heightenings...

    (pp. 219-230)

    When Iago with unperceived scoffing reminds Roderigo that lone effects an unwonted nobility in men, he states a doctrine which he “knows” is true but in which he does not “believe.” Ennoblement is a real possibility; but it is to be viewed with bitterness and to be undermined. With his spontaneous antipathy to spiritual achievement, Iago must in principle deny the mysterious transformation of personality; instinctively he is the shrewd observer of all the habits that suggest infinite corruptibility as the comprehensive human truth. A believer in shrewd observation and in corruption, he holds the credo, which is not altogether...

    (pp. 231-234)
    (pp. 234-236)
  12. Notes
    (pp. 237-288)
  13. Index
    (pp. 289-300)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 301-303)