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Unpinning Desdemona


The expansive First Folio version of 4.3 Othello differs substantially from the leaner Quarto version. This essay analyzes original staging practices in order to argue that Othello 4.3 was edited when the company moved into the Blackfriars and that removing the play from its original theatrical conventions had disastrous consequences for the scene and for Desdemona’s character. At the Globe, with its practice of continuous staging, the slow, intimate action of Emilia undressing Desdemona provided an essential release from the mounting dramatic tension late in Act 4. The dramatic purpose of 4.3 diminished in the Jacobean private theater, where an entr’acte paused the action, which necessitated the original textual elision. Further performative and textual disruptions to the scene eliminated the sense of pathos the scene provided within the structure of the play, which caused greater textual interference. Considered maudlin and ridiculous, the scene eventually disappeared from performance in the nineteenth century for nearly fifty years. Changing performance practices and textual deletions created confusion about Desdemona’s role within the play by presenting a character in performance wholly at odds with the extant Folio version.

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