Thursday, July 14, 2011

Shakespeare at Large

Apparently I've been living under a rock for the past few months, because I missed the news that San Francisco is putting an anti-circumcision ban to vote on their ballot this November. One of my students alerted me to the anti-Semitic cartoons that have been circulated by some of the ban's proponents: Aryan Foreskin Man battles Monster Moyel. Delightful.

We've been talking a lot this week about Othello's racial/religious otherness (and reading some 17th-century anti-circumcision propaganda), and it's shocking how similar it all seems to this cartoon.

For Shakespeare's audience, Jews and Muslims were clumped together as enemies of Christ—indelibly marked by circumcision (thank God, just in case one of them tried to trick you into inviting him into your home where he might steal your Christian son and mutilate him). I swear I don't make this stuff up.

When Othello kills himself, he imagines the act as an elimination of his "malignant," circumcised Moslem self, a purging of the enemy who has "traduced the state":
nAnd say besides, that in Aleppo once,
Where a malignant and a turban'd Turk
Beat a Venetian and traduced the state,
I took by the throat the circumcised dog,
And smote him, thus.

While much of the critique of the circumcision ban has focused on its anti-Semitism, it's important to remember that—in post-9/11 America— the circumcising monster has two faces. As if one weren't bad enough.

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