The presence of disabled characters like blind Gobbo in The Merchant of Venice and epileptic Othello are handy physical metaphors for the failures of epistemology that occur in both plays. Disability is often construed as a sort of saboteur of knowledgeâ€”disability of all kinds inhibiting the ability to perceive the world as an abled person would. But disability also produces a new, necessary sort of knowledge in order to survive and thrive in an unaccommodating world. A disabled epistemology suggests that knowing is contingent on individual, specific experience of the world. Tied to this issue of disabled epistemology is the issue of careâ€”the field's emphasis on issues of relationality and reciprocity gels with disability's concerns about autonomy, self-determination, and accommodation. The ways in which care succeeds or fails informs us of the ways that disability intersects with class, race, and embodied knowledge. Gobbo is operating within a system that cares about him. Disabled beggars are subject to suspicion but expected to receive charity, and the embodied knowledge required to perform disability to an audience grants him access to that charity. On the other hand, because epilepsy and Otherness are compounded in Othello's society, to embrace embodied knowledge of his epilepsy is to become too foreign. To openly acknowledge and work with his disability would make him more socially vulnerable than he already is, but in ignoring it, Othello makes himself physically vulnerable. The dominant ideology cannot allow Othello to understand himself as disabled.
College and Department
BYU ScholarsArchive Citation
Wambach, Amie Elisabeth, "Disabled Epistemologies: Failures of Knowledge and Care in Shakespeares's Merchant of Venice and Othello" (2021). Theses and Dissertations. 8969.
Othello, Merchant of Venice, care, disability, epilepsy, blindness, epistemology