‘But that I loue the gentle Desdemona’

  • Martin Elliott
Part of the Contemporary Interpretations of Shakespeare book series (CIS)

Abstract

In Shakespeare’s time, loue could have a long vowel as in Modem English ‘move’; and this pronunciation was especially common in verse for the purpose of rhyme. If this lengthy vowel is present here, in Othello’s unrhymed but high style, then loue can be made particularly to dominate the line by marking a definite caesura. With this emphasis on Othello’s emotional state — on what Spivack has called love’s ‘slow arrival, its high and permanent residence’ — the word gentle tends to take a lesser accent and to denote a conventional idea of the woman Othello has chosen for wife: she is ‘soft, tender’ (OED A adj., 5); and she is ‘amiable, lovely, full of endearing qualities’ (Schmidt adj., 2).1

Keywords

Bark Burial Bedding Defend Verse 

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Chapter 2. ‘But that I loue the gentle Desdemona’

  1. 1.
    Bernard Spivack, Shakespeare and the Allegory of Evil: The History of a Metaphor in Relation to his Major Villains (London and New York, 1958) p. 421.Google Scholar
  2. 1a.
    E. J. Dobson, English Pronunciation 1500–1700, 2nd edn (Oxford, 1968), reports the survival of unshortened [u:] before [v] as in ‘love’ (II, 510). See also Barber, Early Modern English, p. 331.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    J. C. Maxwell, ‘Shakespeare: The Middle Plays’, in Boris Ford (ed.), The New Pelican Guide to English Literature, II: The Age of Shakespeare rev. edn (Harmondsworth, 1982) p. 323.Google Scholar
  4. 8.
    Murray J. Levith, What’s in Shakespeare’s Names (London, 1978) p. 55, also sees Brabble (‘frivolous action at law’) and Ban (‘curse’).Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Martin Elliott 1988

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  • Martin Elliott

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