The Primitive in Othello

A Post-Jungian Reading
  • Matthew A. Fike


If the collective unconscious connects human beings to instinct (chapter 1), and if the trickster is part animal (chapter 3), it follows that the collective unconscious also bears some relation to the primitive, a concept to which we now turn. Previous psychological critics—both Jungian and non-Jungian—have glanced at the primitive in connection with Shakespeare’s Othello, but most consider it an obvious premise not worthy of deeper consideration. Only Jungian critic Barbara Rogers-Gardner, whose comments on the primitive deal mainly with Othello’s concept of time, begins to unfold the notion of the primitive, though she does not apply Jung’s theory1 There is no sustained reading of the primitive in Othello from a Jungian perspective despite various references that suggest its relevance: Othello’s travels in strange lands, his attitude toward the handkerchief, and his final speech about the “base Indian” and “turbaned Turk” (5.2.357, 363). On the one hand, the omission of such a reading is strange because the primitive lies at the heart of Jung’s theory of the collective unconscious. He notes that “it was the discovery of the collective unconscious, that is to say, of impersonal psychic processes, that aroused my interest in primitive and Oriental psychology” (CW 18, 1286/553). The collective unconscious, which transcends time and place, connects human beings with archaic elements in humans’ psychic history; and these elements, for Jung, were more evident in tribal cultures than in Western civilizations, though his articulation of these ideas sometimes includes troubling statements about race.


Psychic Distance Dark Skin Color Travel Book Final Speech Civilized Person 
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© Matthew A. Fike 2009

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