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Q:

In 5.2, Othello says that he, "like the base Indian threw a pearl away/Richer than all his tribe" (347). What does he mean?

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The meaning behind Othello's comparison has been much debated, primarily because in the First Folio "Indian" is spelled "Iudean" or "Judean" (modernized). Now, if Shakespeare intended the word to be "Indian" then Othello would be referring to the Indians of the New World, commonly known as "savages" in Renaissance England. The famous Shakespeare editor George Lyman Kittredge wrote that "the supposed ignorance of savages with regard to the value of precious stones had become proverbial." Thus Othello, in his treatment of Desdemona, would be comparing himself to the savage who throws away a precious stone because he cannot realize its worth. However, if Shakespeare intended the word to be "Judean", then Othello is likely comparing himself to Judas Iscariot, the betrayer of Jesus. It was common in Shakespeare's day to refer to one's soul as his "eternal jewell" (see Macbeth III.i.64), and "pearl" in this case could mean Othello's soul. Thus Othello, like Judas, not only murdered his ... more
shakespeare-online.com
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