Shakespeare Quotes

Passing strange

My story being done,
She gave me for my pains a world of sighs;
She swore, in faith 'twas strange, 'twas passing strange;
'Twas pitiful. 'twas wondrous pitiful,
She wish'd she had not heard it, yet she wish'd
That heaven had made her such a man,

Othello Act 1, scene 3, 158–163

"Passing strange," a phrase currently enjoying a comeback, means "surpassingly strange"—stranger than strange. "Passing" was often used adverbially in the Renaissance, which had a keen sense of the superlative in human achievement. The passing strangeness of Othello's tales of "hair-breadth scapes i' th' imminent deadly breach" (line 136) conjures up, like tragedy, pity and fear, and also desire.

Othello, who has been accused of seducing Desdemona with drugs and charms, is explaining how he wooed her, not with narcotics, but with anecdotes [see A ROUND UNVARNISHED TALE]. Othello's romantic, exploit-filled life—especially as he poetically enhances it—does act like a sort of charm on Desdemona, who can't get enough of Othello's varnished tales. Hearing of what he calls the "dangers I had pass'd" (line 167), Desdemona utters the response Othello quotes here.

Desdemona's wish that- "heaven had made her such a man" is, though Othello doesn't notice, strangely ambiguous. Desdemona may be wishing heaven had sent her a husband just like Othello—this is Othello's reading; or perhaps she wishes that heaven had made her a swashbuckling man rather than a cloistered woman. In either case, marriage to the Moor becomes an escape from the confined, unromantic life of a senator's daughter.

Themes: romance

Speakers: Othello