Erotic Politics Reconsidered

Desdemona's Challenge to Othello


  • Elizabeth Gruber Lock Haven University


Adaptations frequently revamp their source-texts by reversing the disposition of margins and center. This principle is epitomized in Paula Vogel's Desdemona: A Play About a Handkerchief, which retells Othello, but focuses on the formerly marginalized female characters from Shakespeare's play. My essay examines Desdemona as feminist protest, showing how Vogel's adaptation responds to the elegiac politics of Shakespeare's play. Of particular significance is Vogel's transformation of the necrophilic impulse in Othello: in Shakespeare's play, of course, Othello vows to love Desdemona after killing her. Fittingly — given that adaptations employ repetition itself as a vehicle for transformation — Desdemona both reprises and critiques the death æsthetic of Othello.

Author Biography

Elizabeth Gruber, Lock Haven University

Since 2003, Elizabeth Gruber has been an assistant professor in English at Lock Haven University in Lock Haven, Pennsylvania. She has published articles on Shakespeare and Shakespearean adaptation and is particularly interested in feminist appropriations of Shakespeare.