Date of Award
Master of Arts (MA)
Justine Van Meter
Is Bianca a sex worker? What meanings change if she is or isn’t? Not enough artistic or critical attention has been paid the character. It seems likely that the initial lack of attention stemmed from Bianca’s status as a purported sex worker, as though this makes her somehow categorically different from the other women in the play, or inherently less interesting. There has in the past decade or so been a marked increase in scholarship on sex work, but this too largely skims over Bianca, likely because of the ambiguity surrounding her profession.
In my introduction I go over some theory and context. Section one, “Who Says? Editorial Intervention,” is a discussion of editorial bias concerning Bianca’s character listing and interpretation of dialogue. I move on in “What Does That Word Mean Anyway?” to an examination of slippage in terminology surrounding sex work and misogyny in early modern England and today, in an effort to demonstrate some lost nuance in our readings of the play. In “Historicizing Bianca,” I speculate on authorial intent and compare Othello to its contemporaries, demonstrating the differences between Bianca’s depiction and that more typical of sex workers in the period. “Unhistorical Bianca” explicates a misogynistic ritual of male homosocial bonding in Othello through a lens informed by postmodern examples of the phenomenon. “Performing Bianca” delves into recent adaptations of the play and discusses issues of race. I conclude with a few ideas about areas of further research.
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Merten, Phoebe. “Strumpet,” “Huswife,” “Whore”: Centering Othello’s Bianca. 2022. Chapman University, MA Thesis. Chapman University Digital Commons, https://doi.org/10.36837/chapman.000374