IS OTHELLO STUPID?
After hearing a preposterous story about a dream and a handkerchief,
he screams for blood, falls to his knees and vows to murder his wife, declaring
with utmost emphasis that he will "never" change his mind, using
the word three times, and that he will act with "violent pace."
Yet this emphasis on the firmness of his resolution and the speed with which he is determined to act is followed by three whole scenes in which he wanders on and off stage bewilderedly, ineffectually and almost pointlessly searching for additional evidence. He finds none, but goes ahead with the murder anyway.
There is something wrong with Othello's motivation, and what it is is revealed by a 26-stanza ballad based on a lost earlier version of the play. This ballad, hitherto ignored by critics in the mistaken belief that it is a Collier forgery, is the most important Shakespearean document extant apart from the works themselves. It permits a reconstruction of two lost earlier versions of the play.
The original play (Othello-I) did not contain the character of Roderigo. His intrusion into the first revision (Othello-II) took away Iago's original motivation (love of Desdemona) and gave it to Roderigo. Shakespeare then sought to re-motivate Iago by replacing sexual jealousy with professional jealousy, resentment over non-promotion.
In the second revision (Othello-III) Shakespeare sought to re-supply a sexual basis for Iago's motivation by giving him a wife, Emilia, to be jealous of, this wife having been in the earlier two versions married to Cassio, "a fellow almost damned in a fair wife."
In the earlier versions, the unmarried Iago steals the handkerchief himself and shows it to Othello in the Temptation Scene. It is then planted in Cassio's lodging with Othello's knowledge, returned by Bianca to Desdemona and produced by her on Othello's demand. Othello thus has strong circumstantial evidence for believing in Desdemona's guilt, since he knows the handkerchief can only have come into her hands by passing through Cassio's.
In Othello-I and -II there was no "Double Time." Othello did not believe his wife had committed adultery "a thousand times" in the thirty-six hours between the landing in Cyprus and the murder.
The reconstruction of the earlier versions is worked out in Daniel Amneus's The Three Othellos, Primrose Press, 2131 S. Primrose Ave. Alhambra, CA 91803.
$15 hard cover, $10 paperback, plus $2 p/h.