Othello vs. Otello: filosofia, retorica, poesia

Stefano Velotti


This paper has three main interconnected foci: (a) the relationship between philosophy and fiction; (b) the distinction between Othello (the work) and Othello (the character); (c) the difference between poetry and rhetoric (or a certain manipulative use of rhetoric). As for (a), it considers as inadequate any philosophical approach to the play that looks at it as an illustration of a (pre-established) philosophical position and/or (b) does not distinguish between illocutionary and perlocutionary speech acts. As for (c), it goes back to the distinction proposed by Kant (he himself an admirer of Shakespeare) between a manipulative use of rhetoric and poetry: while these two linguistic functions are materially indistinguishable (they are instantiated by the same words), they should be distinguished on a formal level, depending on the presence/absence of “spectators [that] are always in their senses” (S. Johnson). Only on this condition can the aesthetic dimension of the play (the difference between Othello and Othello) emerge.


Philosophy and fiction; Rhetoric and poetry; Kant and Shakespeare

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