In this study, I employ Francis Bacon's concept of simulation, or 'false profession,' to discuss Othello the traveller and the significance of his penchant for telling wondrous tales. Defined by Bacon as 'when a man industriously and expressly feigns and pretends to be that he is not' (Essays VI.19-20), simulation is a kind of affirmative untruth in which perpetrators invent false materials, embellish their achievements or exaggerate their talents in order to achieve self-promotional goals - actions akin to padding one's resumé today. Bacon terms this calculated mis-representation of the self a 'vice' that reveals to discerning auditors that which it would conceal, namely, faults or weaknesses in the teller (VI.20). Contradictions in Othello's marvellous truth-claims (e.g., about his past, his sword, his 'magical' handkerchief) expose a myth-making process by which, paradoxically, he overstates his foreign-ness in order to gain European admirers. In short, Othello does not fear being other; he fears not being other enough. Using travellers' tales and moving accounts of the 'battles, sieges, fortunes' that he has passed (1.3.131-32), Othello markets himself to Venice as culturally exotic and militarily indispensable, qualities which are ultimately revealed to have been overstated. This article contextualizes Othello using contemporary plays featuring that emerging figure of ridicule, the stock comic traveller, as well as within increasing early modern skepticism about travellers' tales, in order to propose that early audiences may have been prompted to interpret Othello's stories as narrative simulations forming a pseudo-exotic persona which secures him unwarranted prominence in Venetian society.
Philip D. Collington is an assistant professor in the Department of English at Niagara University in New York State. He has published articles on Shakespeare and his contemporaries in ELR, Comparative Drama, Shakespeare Quarterly and Medieval and Renaissance Drama in England; a study of Much Ado About Nothing and The Book of the Courtier is forthcoming in Studies in Philology. He is currently co-editing (with Kenneth Graham) a book-collection of essays entitled Shakespeare and Religious Change.
Collington, Philip D..
'Othello the Traveller'.
8.2 (2005): 73-100 (paper). Article 5.
Available at: http://digitalcommons.mcmaster.ca/earlytheatre/vol8/iss2/5