Manny's Reviews > Othello

Othello by William Shakespeare
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's review
Dec 10, 2008

it was amazing
bookshelves: why-not-call-it-poetry, older-men-younger-women, life-is-shakespeare
Read in January, 1974

She that was ever fair and never proud,
Had tongue at will and yet was never loud,
Never lack'd gold and yet went never gay,
Fled from her wish and yet said 'Now I may,'
She that being anger'd, her revenge being nigh,
Bade her wrong stay and her displeasure fly,
She that in wisdom never was so frail
To change the cod's head for the salmon's tail;
She that could think and ne'er disclose her mind,
See suitors following and not look behind,
She was a wight, if ever such wight were -

To do what?

To suckle fools and chronicle small beer.

O most lame and impotent conclusion!
I have always felt that Iago's speech was pretty filthy, but, the only time I looked it up, was disappointed to read that the meaning of the cod's head/salmon's tail line was "obscure". That was ages ago. Now, with Google at my disposal, I see that I'm far from alone. As Michael Neill writes here:
Honigmann cites Pliny on fish tails as a delicacy to suggest that the first meaning is 'to exchange something worthless for something of greater value'; although Blaz Engler suggests that the proper contrast is between the worthy head and the ignoble tail, the general meaning remains the same ('Othello, II.i.155: "To Change the Cod's Head for the Salmon's Tail"', SQ 35 (1984) 202-3). But, as critics since Partridge have recognized, the familiar bawdy senses of cod (testicles), head penis), tail (female, or, sometimes, male sex organs), together with the sexual associations of fish, make an obscene construction inevitable. Despite the heavy weather made of this, the meaning seems clear enough: Iago (habitually thinking of all women as whores) imagines sexual congress between the male and female members as a form of commercial exchange.
God bless those diligent literary researchers, and don't you dare criticize them. You're just jealous that you don't have a job where you can spend all day analyzing obscure dirty jokes.
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07/29/2016 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-6 of 6) (6 new)

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message 1: by [deleted user] (new)

A collaborative effort. Ghostwritten by Francis Bacon and Judge Lance Ito.

Manny Ito did the sex and violence, Bacon added the poetry, and Shakespeare just signed his name to it? Sounds plausible to me. I assume you've done the due diligence to make sure the dates match up?

message 3: by [deleted user] (new)

Diligence, schmiligence.

Manny You're right. Not really worth bothering. No other explanation makes sense.

message 5: by Robert (new)

Robert Hang on, surely Kit Marlowe dictated it to them, despite being dead at the time?

Paul Bryant Christopher Marlowe didn't die, that was a cover story.

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