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Nuetzel, E.J. (1996). Primal scene imagery in the tragedy of Othello. Free Associations, 6(3):428-444.

(1996). Free Associations, 6(3):428-444

Primal scene imagery in the tragedy of Othello

Eric J. Nuetzel

Lod. Look on the tragic loading of this bed.

Othello (5.2.364)1

Introduction

Lodovico's line from the final moment of Shakespeare's Othello is manifestly referring to the bodies of Desdemona, Emilia, and Othello, all dead on Othello and Desdemona's wedding bed. Desdemona dies by her husband Othello's hand for Iago has falsely convinced him of her infidelity with Cassio. Emilia is killed by her husband, Iago, after exposing the web of deceit he has sewn. Othello, realizing he has killed his wife under the influence of Iago's lies, suicides. The play retains its appeal through nearly four centuries of religious, social, economic, and political change. My purpose is to probe the emotional power of the play, for in the theater of the mind, Othello strikes a deep emotional chord. There are riddles associated with the unfolding of the drama: What is the source of Iago's villainy? What is it that renders Othello vulnerable to it? What can explain Desdemona's passivity when facing her own death? What does Desdemona mean when, as she dies, she has the following exchange with Emilia?

Emil: O, who has done this deed?

Des: Nobody, I myself, farewell:

Commend me to my kind Lord, O, farewell!

(5.2.125-126)

The murder of Desdemona takes place on wedding sheets.

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