ADVANTAGES

Nowhere in is Othello given any orientation towards the East. Nowhere is he associated with Arab ethnicity, or with Islamic religion. Yet the novel’s framing context, with which it opens and closes, is the violent founding and more violent defence of modern Israel. Phillips depicts a world in which the Venetian prison, the British refugee camp for European Jews, and the Nazi extermination camp together symbolise a longue duree of persecution for the Jews. By insisting on repeated parallelisms between blacks and Jews he implicitly claims this narrative of suffering as his own. He does not seem to see any trace of refugee camps containing Palestinians. By the same token, his Othello, despite the Shakespearean character’s marked associations with the Arab and Muslim East, is never accorded any potential connection with those dispossessed by the forced expropriation of Jewish settlement. Suffering is quarantined, confined to racial type, the black and the Jew. Othello the Moor, the Arab, is written out of the story altogether. Phillips’s novel presents a Jewish Shakespeare, and a black Shakespeare, but “Arab Shakespeare” is nowhere to be seen.

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