Hallucination/rumor in Othello

Kenneth Gross’s article left me thinking about the convergence of rumor and hallucination in Othello. I looked up both  words just to be sure I had a decent handle on some of their connotations. (In very short, rumor is a circulating report of something unverified; hallucination is an experience of a perception of something not present).

Gross talks about Othello “as if this character were primarily the theatrical animation of a blackened name,” which brought to mind the personified Rumor as presented by both Virgil and Shakespeare. Othello comes as the embodiment of Rumor’s formerly faceless, nameless victims. (Virgil does point out that Rumor gossips about certain prominent mythical heros, but there is also mention of the ambiguous “great cities… countrysides” that fall victim.) Just as Rumor gets painted in demonic colors and forms by both writers, Othello is given a visual trademark too, his blackness. Perhaps his vulnerability in falling prey to Iago’s rumors is hinted at by his distinctive coloring.

I found Gross’s discussion of fantasy (page 113) really interesting also. He seems to suggest a chain effect: desires cohere in one’s mind creating fantasy, a realm where wish fulfillment can take place since reality does not correspond with one’s will. This in turn creates fertile ground for hallucinations- perversions or reality and perceptions of that which isn’t. Hallucinations themselves, then, become the source of rumor.

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