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Fatal FictionsCrime and Investigation in Law and Literature$
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Alison L. LaCroix, Richard H. McAdams, and Martha C. Nussbaum

Print publication date: 2017

Print ISBN-13: 9780190610784

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: December 2016

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780190610784.001.0001

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Cold-Blooded and High-Minded Murder

Cold-Blooded and High-Minded Murder

The “Case” of Othello

(p.111) 6 Cold-Blooded and High-Minded Murder
Fatal Fictions

Richard Strier

Richard H. McAdams

Oxford University Press

Chapter 6 explores the period English law that bears on the crime that Othello commits when he kills Desdemona, a matter made complex by his honor motivation and his strange state of mind. Pointing in one direction, the justice motivation seems to invoke the law that permitted husbands to slay their adulterous wives and lovers. The audience is made to wonder how the killing would likely appear to a subsequent jury as hot-blooded and therefore manslaughter rather than murder under the period law. Pointing in the other direction, the English courts at the time Shakespeare wrote Othello struggled to contain the juries’ desire to allow honor killings, and the audience would know that, despite subsequent appearances, Othello’s actions were eerily calm at the beginning of the final scene, not obviously hot-blooded manslaughter but murder. Strier and McAdams argue that, beneath the surface, Othello is one of Shakespeare’s most legal plays.

Keywords:   Shakespeare, Othello, Desdemona, murder, adultery, jury, honor killing

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