Voice Potential: Language and Symbolic Capital in Othello

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

'Voice Potential': Language and Symbolic Capital in Othello

Lynne Magnusson, University of Waterloo, Ontario

Before Brabanzio complains to the Venetian senators of Othello's marriage, Iago warns Othello that 'the magnifico is much beloved, / And hath in his effect a voice potential / As double as the Duke's'. Brabanzio's words will exert power—the power to 'divorce you, / Or put upon you . . . restraint or grievance' (1.2. 12--5). Their power, however, will depend not upon Brabanzio's rhetorical skill but instead upon his social position—that is, both on his aristocratic status ('magnifico') and on the accumulated credit he has with his auditors ('much beloved'). How his speech is received will depend less on what he says than on the social site from which it is uttered. Othello rebuts Iago's position, but he does not dispute Iago's pre-supposition that linguistic competence counts for less than rank or otherwise attributed status in this matter of 'voice potential': 'My services which I have done the signory', he responds, 'Shall out-tongue his complaints' (1.2.18-19). In the event, Othello's voice does outweigh Brabanzio's, with an unanticipated element affecting the reception of their discourse and the outcome of the scene: that is, the exigency of the military threat to Cyprus.

In 'The Economics of Linguistic Exchanges', the French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu develops a market analogy to explain how utterances receive their values in particular contexts and how, in turn, the conditions of reception affect discourse production. Giving discourse pragmatics a sociological turn, he asks questions critical to the Senate scene and to other situations in Othello: whose speech is it that gets recognized? whose speech is listened to and obeyed? who remains silent? and whose speech fails to gain attention or credit? In Bourdieu's account, language in any situation will be worth what those who speak it are deemed to be worth: its price will depend on the symbolic power relation between the speakers, on their respective levels of 'symbolic capital'.1 The price a speaker receives for his or her discourse will not, however, be an invariable function of class position or relative status, even in a rigidly hierarchical society. Instead, as Othello's positive reception in the context of the Turkish threat suggests, the price will vary with varying market conditions.

Focusing on a reading of the Senate scene (1.3) and other public situations, in this paper I will sketch out the complex and variable linguistic market that shapes and refigures 'voice potential' in Othello. Gender, class, race, necessity, linguistic ingenuity and a number of other competing measures enter into the moment-by-moment relations of symbolic power that affect discourse value—that affect, for example, how Brabanzio's charges against Othello or Desdemona's request to accompany Othello to Cyprus are heard. This paper will explore not only discourse reception in Othello, but also the force within Shakespeare's play of Bourdieu's hypothesis that a person's discourse production is conditioned by anticipatory adjustments to discourse reception. Finally, I will focus on Iago as a rhetorician and argue for a new perspective on Iago's rhetorical performance in terms of his efforts to manipulate the linguistic market in Othello.

In enunciating a sociology of speech in opposition to formal linguistics, Bourdieu argues that 'Language is not only an instrument of communication or even of knowledge, but also an instrument of power. A person speaks not only to be understood but also to be believed, obeyed, respected, distinguished.'2 One main event in Act I of Othello is the contest of voices between Brabanzio and Othello. What is at issue between them is whose voice will be given credit, whose voice will have power to shape the ensuing course of events. This criterion for evaluating a particular discourse is foregrounded even before Brabanzio and Othello enter the Senate chamber, as the Senators endeavour to digest the news of the Turkish fleets: the Duke observes that 'There is no composition in these news / That gives them credit' (1.3.1-2; emphasis added). As the discursive contest between Brabanzio and Othello proceeds, the verbal performance of each speaker receives a summary evaluation from the Duke. Whereas Brabanzio's accusation draws the caution that 'To vouch this is no proof (106), the Duke responds with approval to Othello's colourful account of wooing Desdemona: 'I think this tale would win my daughter, too' (170). Although the Duke apparently evaluates intrinsic features of the linguistic performance of each speaker, it is situational context, as I have already suggested, more than verbal competence that accounts for Othello's profit and Brabanzio's loss.

The carefully staged entrance of senator and general provides a vivid theatrical emblem for the dynamic variation in relative power. First, the significance of the entrance is prepared by the Duke's order to write 'post-post-haste' (46) to Marcus Luccicos, a character not otherwise identified except by his unavailability at this time of crisis. The verification of his absence heightens the importance of 'the man', in Brabanzio's words, 'this Moor, whom now' the Duke's 'special mandate for the state affairs / Hath hither brought' (71-3). A stage direction signals the arrival of a large group of characters, including 'Brabanzio, Othello, Roderigo, Iago, Cassio, and officers'. The First Senator announces the arrival selectively, singling out 'Brabanzio and the valiant Moor' (47) and relegating to lesser importance those left unnamed. The structure of the Duke's greeting encapsulates the power dynamic of the situation, articulating the priorities of the moment:

Valiant Othello, we must straight employ you
Against the general enemy Ottoman.
(To Brabanzio) I did not see you. Welcome, gentle signor.
We lacked your counsel and your help tonight.


Othello is greeted first; the need for his military skills accounts for his precedence. Brabanzio is greeted in second place, with the conversational repair work nonetheless signalling a recognition of his claim, based on rank, to first place.

This account of how Othello's voice gains ascendancy within the immediate situation in no way exhausts the complexity of the linguistic market depicted in the Senate scene. Another principal speaker whose voice power is at issue in the scene is Desdemona. Answering the Duke's summons, she speaks first to confirm Othello's account of their courtship and later to make a request of her own, to accompany Othello to the war zone. In both cases her speech wins credit, in the first instance solidifying the Duke's acceptance of the marriage and silencing Brabanzio's complaint and in the second instance gaining her permission to go with Othello. In making the request to accompany Othello, Desdemona does show her devotion to Othello, but she also asserts her separate and independent voice, her own claim to have her wish heard even after he has already publicly requested accommodation for her in Venice. Desdemona shows herself by Renaissance standards a bold and self-confident speaker in a setting whose formality and importance would silence most speakers, especially—one might expect—a woman. Her verbal behaviour in the scene and in the play as a whole is not consistent with any simple stereotype of feminine speech, especially not with the Renaissance commonplace concerning silence as woman's eloquence. In her initial appearances in the play, Desdemona is an assured and self-confident speaker. This is not to say that stereotyped gender roles do not come into play here. Consider, for example, Othello's embedded narrative of the courtship as 'mutual' recognition: 'She loved me for the dangers I had passed, / And I loved her that she did pity them' (166-7). What could better exemplify the standard clichés about male and female roles in cross-sex conversation prevalent even today than Othello's account of how he talked and she responded?3 When Othello told over 'the story of my life' (128), Desdemona 'gave me for my pains a world of sighs'4 and 'swore in faith 'twas strange, 'twas passing strange, / 'Twas pitiful, 'twas wondrous pitiful' (158-60). And yet, whatever we are to make of the accuracy of Othello's report, such self-effacing speech behaviour is not Desdemona's predominant manner in the play.

Traditional readings of Othello have often focused, as I am doing now, on the complex speech patterns of the characters. In such readings, the raison d'être for an utterance is the speaker's character, or essential nature. Dramatic language is said to construct character: whereas in life language expresses character, in his plays Shakespeare shapes language to make it seem that language expresses pre-existing character.5 In this view, the divergence from received stereotypes of female speech evident in Desdemona's self-assured and eloquent public speaking is to be explained as a particularizing and richly complicating mark of her essential character. But in a play so insistently dialogic as Othello—a play so intently focused on how one character's conversational contributions shape and direct the words, thoughts, and actions of another—it seems particularly pertinent to argue a different case, to take up Bourdieu's thesis that '[t]he raison d'être of a discourse .. . is to be found in the socially defined site from which it is uttered'.6 Bourdieu's account of the social production of discourse emphasizes anticipatory adjustment, and offers a fruitful way to account for the speech patterns of Desdemona and other characters in Othello.

'[O]ne of the most important factors bearing on linguistic production', Bourdieu argues, is 'the anticipation of profit which is durably inscribed in the language habitus, in the form of an anticipatory adjustment (without conscious anticipation) to the objective value of one's discourse.'7 What one says, how one says it, and whether one speaks at all in any given situation is strongly influenced, in this view, by the 'practical expectation .. . of receiving a high or low price for one's discourse'.8 An utterance, then, inscribes an expectation of profit, an estimate of the likelihood that the speaker will be believed, recognized, obeyed. This expectation will not, in most instances, derive solely or even in the main part from an assessment of the immediate social situation; it cannot be entirely accounted for by the immediate relation of speaker to listener. The context of reception which shapes a speaker's linguistic production has a history, and it is that history Bourdieu tries to account for by positing the 'language habitus' of the speaker. That language habitus is a practical memory, built up through the accumulated history of speech contexts in which a speaker has functioned and received recognition or censure. The language habitus is shaped by the history of a person's most sustained social connections, by a person's cumulative dialogue with others.

But let us begin with Desdemona and class. Desdemona does not enter the play as the stereotypical silent and modest woman, but rather as an aristocratic speaker whose discourse is full of the assurance and self-confidence of her class habitus. This can be seen not only in the remarkable ease with which she speaks before the Duke and Senators, but also in the basic facts that she speaks at all and that she initiates speech topics. If we consider how it could be that speech patterns inscribe a speaker's expectation of profit, we need to look not only at the internal constitution of the speeches but also at turn-taking and access to the floor. '[T]he linguist', Bourdieu remarks, 'regards the conditions for the establishment of communication as already secured, whereas, in real situations, that is the essential question.'9 To read the power relations of the scene one needs to observe the access to speech in this formal Senate setting of those who speak. Furthermore, one needs to consider what shapes the silence or non-participation of Roderigo, Cassio, the soldiers—and, most important for the developing action, the silence of Iago. Of course, in a play, considerations apart from those of real life will affect the access of speakers to the floor. The distinction, for example, between major and minor characters within any plot structure will help account for who speaks at length and whose speech is sparing. Nonetheless, one can still reasonably argue that the configuration of speakers Shakespeare represents in the Senate scene primarily reflects the power dynamics of the urgent situation as played out in a formal setting of the kind that regulates speaker access to a very high degree. Desdemona's confidence in her access to the floor, borne out by the Duke's solicitous question—'What would you, Desdemona?' (247)—suggests a history of access, the history of her class habitus.

This discourse history is also emphatically suggested by Desdemona's conversation with Cassio in 3.3 regarding her commitment to mediate on his behalf with Othello. 'Be thou assured' is the opening phrase and repeated motif of her talk:

Be thou assured, good Cassio, I will do
All my abilities in thy behalf.


. . . Do not doubt, Cassio,
But I will have my lord and you again
As friendly as you were.


. . . and be you well assured
He shall in strangeness stand no farther off
Than in a politic distance.


Do not doubt that. Before Emilia here
I give thee warrant of thy place. Assure thee . . .

(19-20; emphasis added)

When she moves Cassio's suit to Othello, her whole manner bespeaks this assurance of a ready acquiescence to her request—her repeated insistence that he set a time to see Cassio, her understated persuasion tactics, her assumption that she has a role to play in Othello's public affairs, her low assessment of the speech act risk involved in making the request, and finally her minimizing of her suit:

Why, this is not a boon.
'Tis as I should entreat you wear your gloves,
Or feed on nourishing dishes, or keep you warm . . .
. . . Nay, when I have a suit
Wherein I mean to touch your love indeed,
It shall be full of poise and difficult weight,
And fearful to be granted.


This assurance is not simply the naïvety of a new wife about her power to sway a husband she scarcely knows. Desdemona's assurance inscribes the history of her prior speech reception, the ease that marks the dominant classes and exempts them from speech tension, linguistic insecurity, and self censoring. The crisis for Desdemona in this play comes as a surprising alteration in how her speech is received, specifically by Othello. The change in speech reception, it is possible to argue, also makes for a change in Desdemona.

If Desdemona's 'voice potential' in the Senate scene and later bespeaks her class habitus, to what extent can be read a history of voice inscribed in Othello's speech? Othello's long speeches in Act 1 can be distinguished partly by their amplitude, by a high degree of elaboration and embellishment. Characteristic are the nominal and adjectival doublets, in some instances marked by syntactic strangenesses bearing some relation to hendiadys:10 Othello speaks of 'circumscription and confine' (1.2.27), 'the flinty and steel couch of war' (1.3.229), 'A natural and prompt alacrity' (231), 'such accommodation and besort' (237), being 'free and bounteous to her mind' (265), 'serious and great business' (267), 'speculative and officed instruments' (270), 'all indign and base adversities' (273). In what George Wilson Knight called the 'Othello music', there is, E.A.J. Honigmann has suggested, a complicating note of bombast.11 It is an eloquence that displays its eloquent performance, not—like Desdemona's—an eloquence that bespeaks its adequacy. Apparently at odds with this high performance speech is Othello's familiar disclaimer:

Rude am I in my speech,
And little blessed with the soft phrase of peace,

And little of this great world can I speak
More than pertains to feats of broils and battle.

And therefore little shall I grace my cause
In speaking for myself. Yet, by your gracious patience,
I will a round unvarnished tale deliver
Of my whole course of love . . .

(1.3.81-2; 86-91)

While I argued earlier that it is not primarily the distinction of Othello's verbal performance that accounts for his voice power in the scene, it is nonetheless untrue that he delivers 'a round', or plain, 'unvarnished tale' (90). Verbal virtuosity, and not plainness, marks his tale. Othello's discourse style, then, blends linguistic insecurity and linguistic effort. Not, as with Desdemona, ease and assurance, but instead some degree of tension characterizes Othello's discourse production. And, by the logic of Bourdieu's hypothesis that discourse production is shaped by anticipated discourse reception, it is not the aristocratic insider who will feel a performance compulsion, an impulse to linguistic overreaching, in the accustomed formality of the senate chamber. Hence we can see how Othello's distinctive speech patterns may have a social motive: a man of great talent without so consistent and homogeneous a history of speech-making and speech reception as the dominant speakers among the Venetians may well overreach in his speech, and a highly formalized, institutionalized setting will increase the likelihood of speech tension.12 As Bourdieu argues in his efforts to characterize the speech of aspiring groups, 'the greater the gap between recognition and mastery, the more imperative the need for the self-corrections aimed at ensuring the revaluing of the linguistic product by a particularly intensive mobilization of the linguistic resources, and the greater the tension and containment that they demand'.13 This helps to explain why Othello, as a person of colour and an exotic outsider, might—even without making conscious adjustments—tend to mobilize his verbal resources more fully than Venetian speakers of the dominant group. In language terms, what he does is to try harder.

As we have seen, trying harder to produce well-crafted discourse may not always pay off, since a discourse's value depends on the power relations obtaining in a particular market. Not all the characters in the play respond in the same way to a felt gap between the recognition they commonly receive and their verbal mastery. Consider Iago, who early on in the play registers his perception of a gap between recognition and mastery in the assertion: 'I know my price, I am worth no worse a place' (1.1.11). Iago is keenly aware of a gap between his own considerable skills—including his verbal skills—and the limited advantages that readily come his way through their deployment. This shows in the extreme contempt he expresses for the linguistic accents of other characters—a contempt bound up in his recognition that the limited verbal repertoires of some others nonetheless garner them easy profits that his own greater rhetorical expertise cannot attain. At the start of the play, Iago derides the 'bombast circumstance' (1.1.13) of Othello's talk, but the intensity of his resentment against the speech of others is most strongly illustrated in his reaction to Cassio's conversation with Desdemona upon their arrival in Cyprus. Shakespeare takes great care to draw his audience's attention to the courtier-like politeness of Cassio's speech here and elsewhere. When Iago derogates Cassio's style, delivering sarcastic asides about his gestural and verbal courtesies, he is not, I think, voicing resentment that his lower-class position excludes him from the verbal finesse of a gentlemanly discourse. Iago is a verbal chameleon; he knows how to speak like Cassio. What Iago resents is how easily Cassio's speech gains credit with his auditors, a credit Iago could not earn by employing the same speech patterns. Iago devalues the products of civil conversation not because he cannot replicate them but because he is not socially positioned to receive advantage from them. Cassio, Iago remarks to Roderigo, has 'an eye can stamp and counterfeit advantages' (2.1.243-4). What Iago expresses is a keen awareness that different people can draw different profits from the same discourse—that Cassio's gentlemanly status and good looks make even the very motion of his eyes able to garner an advantage his own finest verbal performance could not attain in situations like the conversation with the aristocratic Desdemona. In Othello, Iago is—as many scholars have previously noted—a consummate rhetorician. But he is a rhetorician keenly aware that the prize for best speaker cannot be won with polished verbal skills.

The significant fact about Iago's discourse in the senate scene is that he does not speak. His silence signals his slight chance of profit in that formal public setting. Whether with full consciousness or not, Iago as rhetorician assesses the conditions of the linguistic market in which he operates and chooses tools and timing that will work to gain him profit. Adapting Bourdieu's suggestions, we can generalize that rhetorical mastery consists not merely in the capacity for discourse production but also in 'the capacity for appropriation and appreciation; it depends, in other words, on the capacity .. . to impose the criteria of appreciation most favourable to [one's] own products'.14 This helps to explain Iago's preference for private conversational settings, for in the less restricted discourse conditions of talk between friends he can more readily capture the floor and win an appreciation for his speech products.

In the concluding movement of this paper, however, I will concentrate on Iago's rhetorical expertise as exercised within the constraints of public occasions, where he exhibits rhetorical strategies substantially different than in conversation. One of his key strategies for public situations is voice mediation. Where his own voice has little chance of success, Iago appropriates other voices to his use. The play opens with Iago commenting on how he (like a typical Elizabethan suitor) negotiated through mediators for the place, lost to Cassio, as Othello's lieutenant: 'Three great ones of the city, / In personal suit to make me his lieutenant, / Off-capped to him; . . . / But he . . . / Nonsuits my mediators' (1.1.8-15). But Iago by no means restricts his tactics of voice mediation to this institutionalized form. Act 1, scene 1 also provides, in the role Iago constructs for Roderigo, a characteristic example of how Iago appropriates the credit of an intermediate voice. In the effort to fire Brabanzio up against Othello, Iago uses his own voice in chorus with Roderigo's. To arouse Brabanzio's emotions, Iago—keeping his personal identity obscure—takes on the voice of a 'ruffian[ ]' (1.1.112), a voice from the gutter, whose lewd conceits prompt Brabanzio to ask, 'What profane wretch art thou?' (116). A ruffian's voice has power in public to stir up trouble, but little chance within the verbal economy of the polite Venetian society to elicit belief. Iago therefore deploys the different accent of Roderigo's voice to the end of shaping Brabanzio's belief. Roderigo speaks as a gentleman, and calls upon Brabanzio to 'recognize' his voice ('Most reverend signor, do you know my voice?' [93]). He calls upon Brabanzio not merely to recognize that it is Roderigo who speaks but also to recognize that the speaker's social status guarantees his credit: 'Do not believe / That, from the sense of all civility, / I thus would play and trifle with your reverence' (132-4). Shrewdly calculating his slight chances of gaining such credit through his own voice in making this public disturbance, Iago appropriates to his own purposes the Cassio-like politeness and the matching status of Roderigo's voice. Iago tells the audience of how he makes 'my fool my purse' (1.3.375), but we never actually see Iago spending Roderigo's money. What we see instead is how he deploys the symbolic capital of Roderigo's voice.

Fundamental, then, to Iago's rhetorical mastery is his manipulation of what Bourdieu claims linguists long ignored: social context, understood here as the conditions for speech profit. While many public occasions tend to restrict his own access to speech and his opportunities for speech profit, Iago is what he ironically calls Cassio—'a finder of occasion' (2.1.242-3). The riotous street scene is his public occasion of choice, the scene in which he most profitably draws speech credit away from others and toward himself. As I have suggested, Bourdieu distinguishes sharply between the communication conditions obtaining in situations of high formality and in situations of lesser formality. In situations of high formality the reproductive role of politeness is most pronounced, scripting in the language of the participants a mutual recognition and acknowledgement of their relative social stations: 'Politeness', as Bourdieu explains it, 'contains a politics, a practical, immediate recognition of social classifications and of hierarchies, between the sexes, the generations, the classes, etc.'15 In our analysis of the Senate scene, we have seen how the combination of formal scene and disruptive urgency made for a kind of re-ranking: the urgency of the moment meant that forms of symbolic capital apart from static social rank could more readily take on importance. But the adjustment in power relations was still strictly contained by the formal setting, keeping lesser ranking characters like Iago in their silent—and inferior—places. Lessen the formality and intensify the disruptive urgency of a scene, and Iago can make occasions in which even his speech can prevail over those of higher rank. Provide an outdoor setting, street fighting, darkness—as Iago does both when Cassio is discredited (2.3) and when Roderigo is murdered and Cassio badly hurt (5.1)—and restrictions on speech roles are relaxed or overturned.16 As the murder scene in 5.1 draws towards its conclusion, Iago himself articulates this principle which has released his speech, at least for a short space of time, from the perpetual obligation to 'recognize' his subordinate relation to others: 'Signor Graziano', he exclaims, pretending only then to make out who his interlocutor is and adjust his language to their prescribed relation: 'I cry your gentle pardon. / These bloody accidents must excuse my manners / That so neglected you' (5.1.95-7). Hence we see that Iago's instruction to Roderigo—'do you find some occasion to anger Cassio' (2.1.266-7)—is as supreme a rhetorical act as any virtuoso speech of persuasion he makes in the play. It is through this construction of a favourable context that Iago can set up a contest of voices in which he is able to secure the floor ('Honest Iago, that looks dead with grieving, / Speak.' (2.3.170-1)) and to disable the voices of his superiors Cassio and Montano ('I pray you pardon me. I cannot speak.' (182); 'Your officer Iago can inform you, / While I spare speech—which something now offends me' (191-2)). Iago has full scope to elaborate his version of reality at extended length before important people. What he seeks and what he gains is not the hearers' simple belief in the facts as he represents them. What he is after is an enhancement of his 'voice potential', or—in Bourdieu's terms—an accumulation of his symbolic capital, which is registered in the personal approbation of Othello's response: 'I know, Iago, / Thy honesty and love doth mince this matter, / Making it light to Cassio' (2.3.239-41). Furthermore, Iago has engineered the loss of Cassio's lieutenancy with—perhaps more important—the loss of his annoying expectation that he can easily profit from the 'show of courtesy' (2.1.102) characteristic of his discourse: ''I will ask him for my place again. He shall tell me I am a drunkard. Had I as many mouths as Hydra, such an answer would stop them all.' (2.3.296-8). A rhetorician able to understand the mechanisms by which the polite Venetian social order, instantiated in its typical speech situations, stops talented voices and gives credit to the incompetent, Iago manages, if only for a short time,17 his own correction of the gap between linguistic capital and credit.

In this paper, I have used Bourdieu's economic model for linguistic exchange as a heuristic to explore speech reception and speech production in some public scenes of Othello. This enabled, first, an examination of how variable power relations affect discourse reception in a particular setting and, second, an account of how the history of a person's speech reception functions together with immediate context to shape speech production. This reading has allowed me to offer a different perspective on the interrelation Shakespeare represents between character and language than is usual in Othello criticism—a perspective that links linguistic performance not to essential character but instead to character as the locus of social and power relations. Bourdieu's economic model for linguistic exchange also provided the foundation for assessing Iago's rhetorical artistry, an artistry founded on manipulating speech context, or the conditions for 'voice potential'.


1 'The Economics of Linguistic Exchanges', Social Science Information, 16 (1977), 645-68; p. 648. Much of the material in this essay is recirculated as 'Price Formation and the Anticipation of Profit' in Language and Symbolic Power, ed. John B. Thompson (Cambridge, Mass., 1991), pp. 66-89.

2 Bourdieu, 'Economics', p. 648.

3 For overviews of research on cross-sex conversations, see Deborah James and Sandra Clarke, 'Women, Men, and Interruptions: A Critical Review' and Deborah James and Janice Drakich, 'Understanding Gender Differences in Amount of Talk: A Critical Review of Research', in Gender and Conversational Interaction, ed. Deborah Tannen (New York and Oxford, 1993), pp. 231-80 and 281-312.

4 Here I quote QI's 'world of sighs' instead of F's 'world of kisses'. While still a non-verbal response, the Folio's version gives a significantly different turn to Desdemona's portrayal here. If Desdemona is so forward here with her kisses, it is hard to reconcile with Othello's remark later in the speech that he spoke of his love upon a 'hint' (1.3.165) from her. I am grateful to Paul Werstine for drawing my attention to this variant.

5 Virginia Mason Vaughan notes critics' fascination with language in Othello and the general tendency to relate language patterns to essential character in the Introduction to 'Othello ': New Perspectives (London and Toronto, 1991), pp. 14-15.

6 Bourdieu, 'Economics', p. 657.

7Ibid., p. 653.

8Ibid., p. 655.

9Ibid., p. 648.

10 On hendiadys in Shakespeare, see George T. Wright, 'Hendiadys and Hamlet', PMLA, 96 (1981), 168-93.

11 G. Wilson Knight, 'The Othello Music', in The Wheel of Fire: Interpretations of Shakespearian Tragedy (Oxford, 1930), pp. 97-119; E. A. J. Honigmann, "Shakespeare's 'Bombast'", in Shakespeare's Styles: Essays in Honour of Kenneth Muir, ed. Philip Edwards, Inga-Stina Ewbank, and G. K. Hunter (Cambridge, 1980), 151-62; pp. 158-9.

12 Clearly, with Othello, this linguistic overreaching, with its exotic touches, has become a habit that has itself received a positive reception in various settings (e.g., in Brabanzio's household), thus adding a motive beyond linguistic insecurity for Othello to reproduce the style. Hence, this encoded discourse history may even be consistent with a proud and apparently selfassured delivery in 1.3, but it nonetheless anticipates Othello's susceptibility to Iago's persuasions.

13 Bourdieu, 'Economies', p. 658.

14 Bourdieu, Language and Symbolic Power, p. 67.

15 Bourdieu, 'Economies', p. 662.

16 Penelope Brown and Stephen C. Levinson, Politeness: Some Universals in Language Usage, 2nd edn (Cambridge, 1987), pp. 95-6 and p. 282, make the point that in situations of urgency and desperation, when maximum efficiency of communication is required, the face-redress work of politeness is unnecessary.

17 The rough and improvisatory nature of Iago's rhetoric of situation makes his a particularly high risk performance. In the end he loses control of the play's speech outcomes when he fails to anticipate that circumstances very much like those that gained him speech access and credit—a public disturbance coming as the aftermath of street violence—could contribute to Emilia's speaking out against him and being heard.

Source: Lynne Magnusson, '"Voice Potential': Language and Symbolic Captial in Othello" in Shakespeare Survey: An Annual Survey of Shakespeare Studies and Production, Vol. 50, 1997, pp. 91-9.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

Theatricality and Textuality: The Example of Othello