Magic in the Web

Magic in the Web

Action and Language in Othello

Robert B. Heilman


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In his earlier work on King Lear, Mr. Heilman combined a number of critical procedures to form a new and important approach to Shakespearian criticism. His study of Othello displays the maturity of insight and skill in analysis the years have brought him in developing his critical method. Mr. Heilman takes account of stage effects; he traces out literal and symbolic meanings; he analyzes plot relationships; he examines characters in terms of both their psychological and their moral situations, and style in relation to both character and meaning. He traces some effects due to historical meanings which have now been lost by certain words, and he tries to measure the impact of the drama upon, and its significance for, the modern consciousness.

Mr. Heilman argues that Othello is at once "a play about love" and "a poem about love," and endeavors to find out how the poetry modifies and even helps determine the nature of the whole. He looks at numerous aspects of "action" (physical activity, psychological movement, intellectual operations) and "language" (speech habits, image types, recurrency in both literal and figurative language), and examines the essentially "dramatic" function of all of these. He finds the dramatis personae interwoven in relationships which may be seen, from one point of view, as "plot" and, from another, as the embodiment of complex themes. He treats Othello and Iago as figures that are not only fitted to a given stage but also represent permanent aspects of humanity-Iago with his "strategies against the spiritual order" and Othello with his "readiness in the victim."


Robert B. Heilman:
A native of Philadelphia, Robert B. Heilman is a graduate of Lafayette College and holds the Ph.D. degree from Harvard University. He has taught at Tufts College, Ohio University, the University of Maine, and Louisiana State University. Since 1948 he has been professor of English and executive officer of the department of English at the University of Washington. He is the author of two volumes of literary criticism, the author of several textbooks, and a contributor to various anthologies and scholarly journals.