Conversational Perversion, Implicature and Sham Cancelling in Othello

Craig Bourne, Emily Caddick Bourne

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Othello demonstrates what we call ‘conversational perversions’. This is a technical term which we introduce to identify conversational behaviours which are designed to block the possibility of mutual understanding that characterises successful communication. We believe that our notion of a conversational perversion can be put to work to illuminate conversational encounters in general, but here we show, in particular, how Othello furnishes examples of conversational perversions and, in turn, how the notion of a conversational perversion can be used to articulate a major driver of the play’s narrative: Iago’s manipulation of Othello.

We explain the background, Gricean communicative framework, and how it relates to our framework for thinking about perversion. We illustrate our preferred account of perversion using the examples of sexual sadism and sexual coyness. We explain how to extend this account of perversion to cover conversational coyness and sadism. Finally, we identify how Iago’s (and Othello’s) ways of communicating exemplify these conversational perversions. In the course of this, we argue that Iago can be seen as making use of a perverted treatment of conversational implicatures, which we call ‘sham cancelling’.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationRoutledge Companion to Shakespeare and Philosophy
EditorsCraig Bourne, Emily Caddick Bourne
ISBN (Print)9781138936126
Publication statusPublished - 26 Oct 2018


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