Desiring blackness: sexuality, race, and feminine will in the 1623 Folio Othello
Mendoza, Kirsten Noelle
Othello by William Shakespeare exists in two early printed versions, as a 1622 Quarto and a 1623 Folio. Despite their differences, they have only recently been regarded as two distinct plays worthy of their own interpretations. While critics have discussed the intertwining ideologies of morality and color, Leah Marcus expands upon the existing scholarship by arguing that the Folio includes textual variations which far more explicitly racialize Othello as a black Moor. In this thesis, I argue that the Folio’s intensified racialization of Othello and increased voyeuristic descriptions of female sexuality specifically function to demonstrate not only the Venetian community darkening and victimizing Desdemona, as suggested by critic Laura Bovilsky, but Desdemona’s active desire to be blackened. This text depicts Desdemona claiming a paradoxical virtuous blackness that balances her rebellion against her father with acts of submission and underscores her transition from a virginal daughter to a sexually mature and rhetorically persuasive woman. The polarizing syllogisms that differentiate white virginity from black promiscuity cannot reconcile Desdemona’s transgressive assertions. When Othello accuses her of adultery, the Folio intimates her momentary loss of faith in the erotic and liberating potential of blackness. However, in her utmost state of abjection, Desdemona realigns herself with the dark other by representing her inner state through the rhetoric of the Barbary maid. In the rejection of her native hue, Desdemona manifests the complexities of a womanhood that is inherently othering and necessarily darkening, a complexity that asserts her feminine will through her desire for blackness.