Othello’s Soule

Since January, I’ve been taking Shakespeare classes with the mercurial Susan Hart & Jeffrey Carlson (AKA “The Blondes”). We’re currently working Othello in one-play scene study, which means that everyone in the class is assigned various monologues and scenes to learn, and we gradually work through most of the play. It’s a fantastic way to learn a play (and it’s likely the only chance I’d have of playing the Moor).

The other day, while another class member was working through one of Othello’s monologues, I realized how often he refers to his soul throughout the play. When I got home, I did a little dorking: turns out the word is used 40 times in the play. I knew Othello used it a lot, but I was surprised at how often Iago uses it (though only once in reference to his own soul, and mostly in the first half of the play). Desdemona always says My Soule, except for the one instance in the Willow song. The numbers:

Soule(s):
14 Othello
10 Iago
5 Desdemona
5 Emilia
2 Cassio
2 Senator
1 Roderigo
1 Brabantio

Of those above, here are the uses of My Soule (or similar variant):
10 Othello
4 Desdemona
3 Emilia
1 Iago

Othello also seems to maintain Soul and Body as two separate things, which is hardly novel, but it’s important in how he approaches the murder/sacrifice of Desdemona. His personal defense is that he’s killing her lustful Body and thus sacrificing her Soul. This is why forcing her to pray is so important.

Towards the end (in fact, the last use of Soule in the play) Othello demands to know why Iago “hath thus ensnar’d my Soule and Body.” Very interesting that inclusion of Body.

I also really like that spelling of Soule. The extra ‘e’ makes you want to linger on the ‘l’ for awhile.

Submit a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *