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‘The … monster, which doth mock/The meat it feeds on’: R.E.M.’s Monst(e)rous Othello

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Drawing on the distinction between a ‘text’ and a ‘work’ as defined by Joseph Grigely and revised by Thomas Cartelli and Katherine Rowe, this article argues that R.E.M.’s 1994 album, Monster appropriates some of the themes, situations and character-functions of the work Othello in order to illuminate and demystify the ways in which the mass media and mainstream rock and roll culture, in Iago-like fashion, attempt to seize and rewrite the identities of youths and inspire in them Othello-like effects of possessiveness and jealousy that can lead to male-on-female violence. Crucially, however, the album does not dramatize black male-on-white female violence; rather, it de-races the kind of possessiveness, jealousy and gendered violence that we find in Shakespeare’s play, usefully reminding us that such violence has no necessary connection to race.

Keywords: Iago-function; Othello; R.E.M; Shakespeare; adaptation; moral panic; popular culture

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: University of Southern Indiana

Publication date: May 8, 2012

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  • Adaptation, or the conversion of oral, historical or fictional narratives into stage drama has been common practice for centuries. In our own time the processes of cross-generic transformation continue to be extremely important in theatre as well as in the film and other media industries. Adaptation and the related areas of translation and intertextuality continue to have a central place in our culture with a profound resonance across our civilisation.
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