To trace the course of critical thinking about Shakespeare in the late twentieth century, one could scarcely do better than to take Othello as a case study. The play registers all the concerns of the newly politicized readings of the last decades: gender, power, sexuality, race. It was a key text in the works that introduced poststructuralist theory to the interpretation of English literature of the Renaissance. As a play that survives in multiple versions, including a quarto printing of 1622 and the Folio printing of 1623, it participates in debates about authorial revision, scribal corruption and textual transmission. It has as lively a record on stage and screen as in criticism, and this performance history intersects urgently with the continuing legacies of empire and enslavement. The play’s broadest plot outlines remain sufficiently recognizable that it informs popular understandings of sensational current events. These, too, are matters of interpretation for the Shakespearean scholars of recent years, who in all these various ways have looked beyond formalist criticism to write about the kinds of work literature does in culture.
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Lena Cowen Orlin
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