"Fluster’d with flowing cups": Alcoholism, Humoralism, and the Prosthetic Narrative in Othello

David Houston Wood


This essay examines William Shakespeare’s Othello as an example of early modern narrative prosthesis. Rather than look to visual markers of difference and abnormality upon which claims of narrative prosthesis frequently rely, the essay examines the way Othello presents such difference and abnormality as an inward aspect of the psychosomatic construction of the humoral self. Drawing upon classical, medieval, and early modern views that correlate a medical relationship between wine and the black bile of humoral melancholy, the essay engages Shakespeare’s numerous representations of drunkenness, especially Hamlet’s formulation (in the context of his uncle, Claudius) of the disease-model of drunkenness we today term alcoholism. The essay then turns to Othello to explore how Shakespeare’s representation of Michael Cassio’s alcoholic “infirmity” serves as both a characterological and narrative prosthetic model for Othello’s propensity to jealous rage that Iago both manipulates and confounds.   


Keywords: Shakespeare, Othello, disability, Michael Cassio, adustion, alcoholism, drunkenness, melancholy


Shakespeare; Othello; disability; Michael Cassio; adustion; alcoholism; drunkenness; melancholy

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.18061/dsq.v29i4.998

Copyright (c) 2009 David Houston Wood

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ISSN: 2159-8371