"Nothing" in "Othello".

Essay by sophia_lispectatorUniversity, Bachelor's December 2005

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There are some indications as to the fact that the word "nothing" could mean female genitals in Elizabethan English. A woman seems to have nothing between her legs, and this nothing both reassures and threatens men. If the nothing is in a man's exclusive possession, it is only his to fill. However, if a woman is to become an individual owner of her own nothing, then god knows who's going to fill the gaping hole. The nothing becomes an abyss that swallows a man's virility, and then as Othello puts it: "chaos is come again" (III.ii.92-3).

The chaos of paranoid jealousy is the specific chaos of Othello: a self-inflatable doubt in compulsive search of its confirmation; it is an idea, without the minutest rooting in reality, in a constant pursuit of an object to link itself to. Paranoid jealousy thus tends to fill the world with hidden meanings. Iago is well aware of this as he cunningly replies "Nothing" when Othello asks what ails him.

He knows that Othello is going to over-read the word as well as he is going to over-read the stolen handkerchief. To know only something is to know that there is something else that you do not know. This chain of knowledge stretches out to infinity. To a paranoiac, each piece of evidence suggests another; until it becomes a pathological obsession with hunting down hidden knowledge i.e. epistemophilia as Freud terms it. The idea of epistemophilia is to pluck out the heart of a mystery so as to master and possess it. However, since in Othello there is no mystery, this idea is constantly foiled and creates endless frustration: no further knowledge can be obtained, and a man who knows he knows only little betrays a pathetic capacity to believe anything. Nothing can bring...