The Primitive in Othello:

A Post-Jungian Reading


  • Matthew Fike Winthrop University



Previous Jungian criticism of Othello overlooks the primitive, treats it as an obvious premise, or does not consider it in the context of Jung’s extensive and widely varied statements on the subject. This essay deepens the archetypal approach by discussing the play in terms of the primitive mentality that ultimately thwarts Othello’s individuation. When Jung’s racist rhetoric is subjected to postcolonial critique, what emerges is the helpful concept of the psychologically archaic—areas of the psyche that are less conscious and less differentiated. A post-Jungian emphasis on the archaic then illuminates Desdemona’s attraction to the Moor; war, fetishism, and the supernatural; and the signifying process surrounding the handkerchief. In addition, Jung’s “four stages of eroticism” (feminine archetypes) enhance the significance of the sibyl, an archaic figure with civilizing influence. Shakespeare’s use of the primitive culminates in Othello’s final comparison of himself to two primitives (Indian and Turk), and he dies a broken man—aware that projection has caused his downfall.