(Un)Doing Desdemona : gender, fetish, and erotic materiality in Othello
Guevara, Perry Daniel.
Thesis (M.A.)--Georgetown University, 2009.; Includes bibliographical references. For critics, readers and audience members alike, Desdemona, from William Shakespeare's Othello, has been a problematic character, vacillating between virtue and vice, morality and transgression, purity and prurience. I argue that Desdemona is queer, gendered by both feminine and masculine qualities. Working from the the theory that gender is fetish, I historically corroborate Desdemona's queerness with early modern notions of fetish as articulated by William Pietz and Peter Stallybrass,with modern psychoanalytic conceptions of sexual fetish. At the center of my argument is Desdemona's fetish object, her handkerchief. Working against the vast amount of scholarship claiming the handkerchief's undeniable femininity, I re-imagine the handkerchief as a dildo, a fetish object harnessing the masculine signifying power of the phallus. Connecting Foucault to Freud to Lacan to Butler to Halberstam, I argue that Desdemona, with her phallic handkerchief in hand, is empowered through the signifier to perform masculinity. I am intrigued by the notion of a stage prop enabling the transgressive performance. In this case, the transgression is committed by a character performing a gender contrary to her biological sex on the Shakespearean stage, a space already riddled with transvestism - male actors dressed in drag and acting like women. Vacillating between the domestic and patriarchal spheres, Desdemona subverts early modern civilizing codes designed to confine and enclose women's bodies. Yet, in the end, her disobedience and refusal of enclosure results in her discipline - her murder - which I compare to a hate crime citing Butlerian notions of collective vulnerability to violence.