Othello, War, Religion & The Crusades

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This must be my heaviest blog title ever!

Since the play raises issues of race, religion, politics, war (and just about everything else) my students have often raised the question of the Crusades. I’m Christian so a natural target for them on this – French colleagues won’t let me forget what happened to Joan of Arc either because I’m British, cheekily ignoring the fact that I’m also a French-speaking Christian woman 🙂 . The Crusades were quite a long way before my research area (!) but they are of course relevant as an example of political violence operating under a veneer of religion. They have become a powerful reference point in our cultural consciousness as part of a shared history we may know little about but which we somehow become aware of from a young age.

I don’t think we see this inter-relation between politics and religion strongly in Othello but the Crusades inevitably cast a dark and depressing shadow over British history and Othello certainly deals with ‘otherness’ in various cultural forms. I think the most helpful comment I’ve come across recently is Albert Mohler (as a point of interest Christian) summarising Professor Herbert Kane’s (Christian) study simply: ‘the atrocities committed by Christians were uniquely a repudiation of central Christian teachings.’

While Othello has war in the background it doesn’t problematise violence per se; it problematises representations of evil, notably in Iago. This is in some respects a rather private play about one man, his wife and their downfall – war, as part of the political realm, occurs off stage. Nonetheless there are clear political implications because Othello is in a position of power and it is power which motivates Iago in part at least. Political power and Iago naturally lead us to Machiavelli but that’s a whole other story :-). To be continued…

For more see Othello lecture notes here.

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