‘Black but Beautiful’: Othello and the Cult of the Black Madonna
It has often been observed that the language of Othello crucially intersects with that of early modern theological and eschatological debate. Othello is able to use the story of the virgin to talk about its hero in this way because the play taps into a complicated representational nexus in which femininity and blackness are parallel concepts. To have remembered the cult of the Black Madonnas might therefore have afforded Othello a means to develop a more positive self-image. Another significant pair of oppositions in the play, also echoing the paradoxes encapsulated in the image of the Black Virgin, is made up of virginity and motherhood. This chapter proposes that Othello's interest in theology and spiritual destinies should be read in the light of early modern Mariology. It also argues that Othello reproduces the concerns and emotions generated by Black Virgins by similarly bringing together and exploring images of blackness, virginity, identity and salvation.