Otello: Black Handkerchiefs Matter
Giuseppe Verdi's Otello rose from enslavement to the ranks of army general and marries an aristocratic Venetian woman. It’s difficult to imagine the rich cultural heritage of Otello’s African past; that history is only hinted at.
Through the whitewashing of his character, some may forget that Otello is of African descent. But for Iago, the identity of his enemy, Otello, was never far from mind. To him and Verdi’s high-society audience, that assimilation signaled all the dangers of the free Black man.
This week in Every Voice with Terrance McKnight: how a handkerchief, a memento, a gift from one to his love, was used to forge a wedge between Otello and Desdemona’s union, catalyzing the brutish, dangerous, parts of Otello deemed a threat to white womanhood. And that handkerchief: simple plot device? Was it white? Was it black?
This episode is hosted by Terrance McKnight and produced by David Norville. The Executive Producer is Tony Phillips. The Executive Producer for WQXR Podcasts is Elizabeth Nonemaker. Our research team includes Ariel Elizabeth Davis, Pranathi Diwakar, Ian George, and Jasmine Ogiste. Sound design and engineering by Alan Goffinski. Music provided by the Livermore Valley Opera. Original music composed by Jeromy Thomas and Ashley Jackson. Special thanks to The Met archives.
This project is supported in part by the National Endowment for the Arts. To find out more about how National Endowment for the Arts grants impact individuals and communities, visit www.arts.gov.