ABSTRACT

The meanings of blackness in Othello are multiple, muddled, and contradictory. It represents, as critics have demonstrated persuasively, not just skin color, but also religion, ethnicity, and geography. 1 Blackness is made to mean through a particular process by which it may come to be associated across all its connotations, with the absence of trust, comfort, and familiarity—a stigmatized mark of difference. My argument, in brief, is that this mark emerges as the product of marking, a form of scrutiny or social judgment within a system that advocates universal access to strategies of self-improvement while denying certain groups access to these strategies. In Othello, the language of “marking”—observing, interpreting, remarking, labeling—succeeds in branding, permanently marking its objects. Blackness, like any stigmatized somatic mark, thus comes to mean what it means within a highly regulated system of conduct.