Othello (935 words) Essay

During the Elizabethan times it was uncommon for black people to act out roles
in plays. Shakespeare introduces this to his audience in two plays, the first
Titus Andromicus and the second Othello. The first black character, Aaron, is
portrayed as a secondary villain. Othello on the other hand is of higher status
than many of his peers in the play. This was different for Shakespeare to
present a minority person with such authority as a main character. Even with
such, many different racial slurs were used by supporters to degrade him. In Act
I, Scene I, Iago, the villain in this play and at the same time the right hand
man of Othello, is screaming to Desdemona’s father from the outside of his
house “even now, now, very now, an old black ram is tupping your white ewe”
(Shakespeare 1051). The “thick-lips” (Shakespeare 1050) is mentioned in this
play towards Othello but is not the first time Shakespeare uses it. He uses the
phrase in Titus Andronicus to describe the biracial child of the Moor, Aaron.

Moor is another term frequently used to identify those darker skinned people.

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(Shakespeare 1052). Brabantio goes as far as accusing Othello of witchcraft. He
says that Othello must have used “drugs and minerals” to get Desdemona to
marry his “sooty bosom”. Iago instigates the characters in this play that do
speak foul of Othello. It is quite obvious from the beginning of the story that
Iago is betraying Othello. Iago mentions to Roderigo “I am not what I am”.

The choice of words he used towards Othello does not necessarily mean that he is
a racist yet at the same time I do not feel that Othello’s Quintana -2-
background effects the events in this play. With or without Othello being a Moor
the outcome of the play would have worked as well. Name-calling, which is how I
describe what Iago was doing throughout the play, is a common way of trying to
degrade someone even in today’s society. You try to find something in your
opponent that distinguishes him from yourself and the people who defend you and
you use this to break down their esteem. Iago, out of jealousy, calls Othello
names behind his back and still with all this. Iago is very clever in making
Othello vulnerable to his word. Iago’s manipulation to Othello is never
specified to be race related although racial slurs are what he constantly
repeats. He simply uses these remarks to mock Othello. This is evidence that
leads me to believe that if Shakespeare would not have made Othello of the same
race as the rest of the characters the plot of this story would have remained
the same and it would have flowed just as well. Shakespeare would just have had
to use other non-racial yet discriminating words against Othello. Love and
jealousy are the central feelings portrayed in this story, not racism. All Iago
wants is to take over the leadership power that Othello has. He enjoys creating
chaos as all villains do and will stop at nothing to get what he wants. This
demonstrates the evil he has within himself. Iago persuades Roderigo to sell all
of his belongings so that there may be a chance between him and Desdemona.

(Shakespeare 1065) Two-faced Iago also flourishes Desdemona with his praises.

(Shakespeare 1068) is making himself out to be a loyal friend in her eyes
everyone is easily influenced by Iago. He has his way with everyone. Neither
Roderigo nor Desdemona are different in color Quintana -3- complexion for Iago
to deceive them but he does anyway. They are all part of his betrayal. Iago is
all for himself. He even goes to the extent of convincing his wife to steal a
handkerchief from Desdemona and then made it part of his scheme. There were no
limits for him. He took down whomever he had to. Even though Othello was black
he was integrated into the Venetian society and was also the states military
champion against the Turks, which made his status equal to that of Desdemona’s
father, Brabantio. Prior to Othello having eloped with Desdemona Brabantio had
invited this Moor to his house and held this black man as one of his peers. But
even having all of this authority Othello is nonetheless an outsider and he is
very much aware of this. Othello tells us this in Act I, Scene III when he
mentions his mercenary at a “rented field”. Othello’s black skin color is
less a racial issue than a cultural discriminator. Nevertheless racial
stereotyping rather tham simple division between Venetian and non-Venetian does
surface in Othello. In the minds of Shakespeare’s audience black people were
identified with witchcraft and other non-Christian superstitions. Brabantio
accuses Othello of witchcraft, saying that the Moor must have used “drugs and
minerals” to overcome Desdemona to his “sooty bosom”. In act III scene IV
Othello’s explanation of the missing handkerchief implies that his mother
engaged in charms that she acquired through other non-whites, in this case an
Egyptian. Race plays less a factor than what most critics makes it out to be.

Othello being a minority yet at the same time holding such high status in
society, even though Quintana -4- conditioned to his usefulness to Venice,
proves this. It was common for Skakepeare’s audience to stereotype and
associate his color complexion with witchcraft but by no means identical to what
occurs in present day society.

1. Meyer, Michael. “Othello The Moor of Venice”. The Compact Bedford
Introduction to Literature. New York: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2000 2. Moore,
Roger. “Hamlet Click-Guide”. All Shakespeare [online] “last updated 1 July
2000″ [cited 8 July 2000] Available from World Wide Web: URL: http://www.allshakespeare.com
3. Ogude, S. E. “Literature and Racism: The Example of Othello” Othello: New
Essays by Black Writers. Ed. Mythili Kaul Washington, D. C.: Howard University
Press, 1997, pp. 151-166


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