Abstract

The dynamic of early versus late twentieth-century perspectives on Othello is a signal instance of what anthropologists call ethnocentrism, defined by Berry and his colleagues (1992) as follows: “us better—them worse” (8). For the early twentieth-century scholars, Europe was self-evidently better, and clearly the non-European was worse; for the late twentieth century, the European was worse, and clearly the non-European, absent the imposition of European hegemony, was infinitely better. In practice, the earlier critics assume that Iago is right in denigrating Othello, while the later critics assert that Shakespeare himself, with or without volition, in effect takes Iago's perspective as well. In the cross chatter between those two poles, critical discourse ceases to be about the play and instead turns to arguing for an ethnocentric point of view. In this paper, then, I pay attention to Othello himself and to his insertion into Venice. To frame him and his activities, I deploy ideas derived from the field of cross-cultural psychology. My thesis is that Othello is undone, not by some grand hegemonic discourse of early European colonialism, but by the dynamic of immigrant acculturation.

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