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The Double Time Scheme in Antigone

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  11 February 2009

James Morwood
Affiliation:
Harrow School

Extract

In three articles published in Blackwood's Magazine (November 1849, April and May 1850), one Wilson, under the nom de guerre of Christopher North, propounded the view that Shakespeare's Othello operates on a double time scheme. The represented time in Cyprus (Acts II to V) is some thirty-three hours, lasting from about 4 p.m. on Saturday till the early hours of Monday morning. If we take this time scheme at face value, there has been no opportunity for Desdemona and Cassio to commit adultery: Iago's insinuations and Othello's suspicions are manifestly absurd. However, another time scheme is in operation as well. By its clock, the protagonists have been in Cyprus for more than a week. For example, we find Bianca, a local courtesan, complaining that it has been ‘seven days and nights, / Eight score eight hours’ (III.iv.171–2) since she last saw Cassio, who by the first time scheme had arrived in Cyprus only the day before.

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Shorter Notes
Copyright
Copyright © The Classical Association 1993

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References

1 The scheme is magisterially expounded by Ridley, M. R. in his Arden, edition of Othello (Methuen, 1965), pp. lxvii–lxxGoogle Scholar.

2 The neo-classical rule limiting a play to twenty-four hours is, of course, not Aristotelian.

3 If the puzzling lines 1080–3 are authentic, the news of Creon's impious behaviour, according to Tiresias, has by now reached all the cities which had sent forces against Thebes.

4 This prophecy of Tiresias may, as my colleague R. D. Rees suggests, mislead Creon into believing that he can take his time over his actions. In burying the corpose of Poylneices first when there is Antigone to be considered, Creon, like Othello, becomes the tragic victim of ‘long time’.

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