Othello. The play was written at a time when blacks were consideredto be slaves. Hence, by using Othello, a black man as the maincharacter, the author arouses racial issues. Shakespeare demonstrateshow, despite Othello’s military position and competence, thecharacter is constantly likened to an animal because he is black. Hisrace seems to separate him from other members of society. In thefollowing discussion, the essay examines the role of race in Othello.
Race in Othello
Race is an important factor in Othello, as it makes it possible tounderstand the racial prejudice that was perpetrated towards blacks.The play features a society that refers to black people as animals,slaves and servants. As such, members of the community, specificallywhites had low regard towards people of color. It was impossible forblacks to rise above their positions as slaves and insignificantindividuals. Those that manage to, succumbed to their own selfidentity, and regardless of their ranks in society, they continued toface criticism owing to their skin color. Shakespeare uses Othello,as a significant factor in the play, to make it possible for thereader to understand the extent of racial hatred towards blacks.
As the play begins, it becomes obvious that Othello is treated as anoutsider by the other characters. As a result, he is constantlyisolated because he is black. The remarks made by Iago and Roderigoillustrate their level of racial hatred towards Othello. He isdescribed as “the thick lips, an old black ram, a moor and aBarbary horse” (Shakespeare 7). The use of such language towardsthe character is important in bringing out some of the racialstereotypes used by whites towards blacks. It becomes obvious thatmost of the individuals from the Venetian society likened blacks toanimals. Hence, being black resonated to being less of a human being.As such, it was impossible for a non-white person to get the respecthe or she deserved.
Othello is portrayed as a noble man, whose military prowess cannotbe refuted. He holds the position of a military general, which placeshim at a better social standing than other white men. Nevertheless,he is incapable of enjoying the same comfort as other men in Venice,owing to the fact that he is African American. The other character’sracial hatred towards Othello becomes more evident when he manages towoo and marry Desdemona. The marriage is referred to “as an actagainst all rules of nature” (Shakespeare 27). There is no basis,or valid reason as to why the society rejects the marriage, apartfrom the fact that Othello is an African American.
In fact, the character exceeds and matches the social status of thedifferent men that endeavored to marry Desdemona. The play notes thatnothing set Othello apart from “the wealthy, curled darlings of ournation” (Shakespeare 19). Shakespeare used the fact that Othellowas black and Desdemona was white, to illustrate the goodnessassociated with being white, while evil was linked to being black.More so, most of the characters in the play believed that themarriage would not work, since Desdemona had a made a wrong choice.By choosing to marry a black man, the union was already declareddoomed. It brings to light the evilness that was associated withbeing African American in the Venetian society.
As a result, of the racial prejudice that Othello encounters, iteventually results in his downfall. The constant reference to Othelloas a moor has a negative impact on his self-consciousness. Hecontinuously perceived himself as an outsider and was not able tofully fit into the racially biased society. Regardless of the successhe had achieved, it was still possible for Iago to manipulate himinto believing that he was not desirable. Iago, who was angered byOthello’s decision of failing to promote him, and was also enviousof the fact that Othello, regardless of being black, had managed torise in rank and marry a white woman. As a result, he used treacheryto convince Othello that Desdemona was cheating on him.
Due to the fact that Othello felt alienated from the rest of society,it was easier for him to believe in the lies passed by Iago. Thus, hewas convinced of his incapability in loving Desdemona as persociety’s standards. The outcome was a tragic end to theirmarriage, as Othello’s insecurities caused him to murder his wife.By killing Desdemona, he behaves in the same manner as the moor hehas been likened to all through the play. His inability to controlhis anger and violent reaction towards his wife are in line with theportrayal of blacks at the period thus, resulting in his downfall.
Race in Othello is used to bring to light the racial hatred that wasevident towards African Americans during Shakespeare’s era. Othellois a significant aspect in the play, because he is black. The othercharacters treat him with disregard and use abusive comments towardshim, owing to his race. The racism eventually leads to his downfall,as he succumbs to the racist phrases used to describe his character.
Shakespeare, William. Othello: The Moor of Venice. Minnesota:EMC/Paradigm Publishing, 2005.https://www.emcp.com/previews/AccessEditions/ACCESS%20EDITIONS/Othello.pdf