Race in Othello

Topics: Othello, Race and Ethnicity, Elizabethan era Pages: 5 (1678 words) Published: August 22, 2013
3 paragraphs of Act 1 in Othello ----Sally Fu RACE
William Shakespeare’s Othello explores the issue of race in his portrayal of the protagonist as a Moor which represents his tending marginal role in a Venetian society. In the play, characters are judged again and again based on appearances and outward characteristics. The protagonist's different ethnic background provides a platform for probing ideas of racial conflict. This is exposed initially through the title of this play, “Othello, the Moor of Venice”, where the juxtaposition of “Moor” and “Venice” imbued within, reveals Othello’s loss of identity and the outsider nature in Venetian society. The dramatic opening of Act 1 Scene1 captures the audience’s attention and gives us a first impression of Othello as an obnoxious “Moor” and hateful “black creature.” This mocking tone is heightened through Roderigo’s description of Othello as “thick-lips owe” and reduces him to mere racial stereotype by referring him as his physical feature. The discriminatory language is amplified further when Iago later portrays Othello and Desdemona's relationships as "an old black ram…tupping your white ewe" and "making the beast with two backs". The use of animal imagery of “ram” and “ewe” disparaged Othello to a simple beast and is stereotyped as sexually overactive as well as bestial force, to foil white people’s nobleness. The antithesis of “black” and “white” instilled within emphasizes the racial discrimination and gap between different ethnic groups at the Elizabethan time, when white people don’t admit black (African) people as part of their Christian society. This antithesis of contrasting colour is widely used throughout the entire play to create character’s hatred toward the Moor, and it is also frequently placed next to biblical justification such as “black devil” and white “noble angel”, as people in the Elizabethan period like to cite examples from Christian theology to support the view that whiteness was the sign of purity while blackness indicated sinister or evil, which highlights Othello as an outsider even though he is a hero to the country and has joined Christianity. The idea of marginalization and isolation has been brought to a higher extent when it comes to the marriage between Othello and Desdemona. This is evident as Brabantio shouted out “O treason of the blood!” when he acknowledged her daughter’s affair with the black man, he considers her interracial marriage as a betrayal to her white and thus honourable descent, which indirectly put Othello down to a wicked foreigner. Brabantio’s fear of miscegenation together with their likely child as a racial contamination strongly vilified Othello’s ethnic identity and expressed his racist point of view. He cannot believe that his daughter could be happy with this outsider, and he thinks that the only way Othello could have wooed Desdemona is with charms, as Elizabethan people “naturally” think black-skinned foreigners of evil enchanters. He accuses Othello, calling out, "O thou foul thief, where hast thou stowed my daughter?” and claims that now Desdemona is "abused, stol'n…and corrupted By spells and medicines", which pungently conveys his distrust and repulsion toward black people, the audience can realize how deeply racist stereotypes and prejudice of Africans and others of different ethnic identity are perpetuated into Elizabethans minds. Therefore, William Shakespeare’s Othello explores the issue of race in his play and how this makes his protagonist more susceptible to marginalization in a Venetian state.

In William Shakespeare’s Othello, both gender conflict and feminist views are developed by the portrayal of Desdemona’s distinct characteristics and dialogues, which not only reveal but also challenges women’s expected submissive and docile nature in Elizabethan society. As the heroine of this play, Desdemona is presented as a paradoxical character, who is both an ideal, compliant...
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