“Preposterous Conclusions”: Eros, <i>Enargeia</i>, and Composition in <i>Othello</i>

Joel B. Altman

in The Improbability of Othello

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print March 2010 | ISBN: 9780226016108
Published online February 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780226016122 | DOI:
“Preposterous Conclusions”: Eros, Enargeia, and Composition in Othello

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Two rhetorics of composition inform Othello. One is dominated by a rhetorical figure that instantiates a way of speaking, thinking, acting, and composing which puts last things first—thus disordering reality—and that entails the relationships of the dramatis personae, of Shakespeare to his play, and of the play to its audience. As in the Augustinian tradition, this rhetoric induces a cathexis of the will to objects and ideas presented to it. It engages the worst fears of that tradition insofar as it foregrounds the “thingness” of speech and entraps listeners in the discourse of res, making them believe that things have happened that did not happen or could not possibly have happened. Operating alongside this Christian antirhetoric is a more ancient rhetoric of enchantment, also grounded in the acknowledgment that words are not things; that while they produce powerful effects on the psyche, they are inessential appearances which possess a merely theatrical efficacy.

Keywords: rhetorics; eros; Othello; Christian antirhetoric; res; theatrical efficacy; psyche

Chapter.  9323 words. 

Subjects: Shakespeare Studies and Criticism

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