Paper Example on Racism in William Shakespeare's Othello

Paper Type:  Literature review
Pages:  8
Wordcount:  2064 Words
Date:  2022-05-16


William Shakespeare, in the year 1603, came up with a tragedy play called Othello, The tragedy of Othello, the Moor of Venice. This tragedy has a basis on Un Capitano Moro story, which means A Captain of Moor. Which was written by a disciple of Boccaccio called Cinthio, with its first publication in the year 1565. This story has two major characters called Othello who is a Moor general in the Venetian army and another one called Iago, who is his unfaithful trusted and jealous ensign. The story tackles various themes such as racism, betrayal, jealousy, love, repentance, and revenge. Othello play has been of use in different performances in professional and communal theatres, acting as a base for many films, operas and other adaptations that are literary. Othello is the most popular of all the works by Shakespeare due to the universality of these themes. The play also has been able to hold a firm grip of the audience with significant psychological complexities being exerted by Shakespeare in addition to the powerful feelings (Shakespeare 5).

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One of the major themes highlighted in this play is racism. The theme is also intertwined with others like love, hatred, jealousy, and revenge. An example is where the black soldier enters into a relationship with a white nobleman's daughter (Neill 361). This theme of racism is also depicted in the play strongly by bringing out how the European society portrayed an attitude towards those people of different color, language, and race. In the Europe at the time, since the dominant color was white, all the other races that were present were depicted as being inferior to the whites and therefore being of less importance. Many characters also have brought this theme and the mentality forward. These include Brabantio, Emilia, and Roderigo. The theme of race plays a crucial role in the setting of this play. This paper seeks to discuss on the theme of racism in Othello, William Shakespeare's play.

To start, Shakespeare creates a hero, who is Othello, in the play who does not show any case of racial discrimination nor stereotyping. It is, in the afterward, a tragedy since the author allows Othello to suffer racial discrimination, with the issue surrounding him all over. Othello, despite being of the black origin by his ethnic background, does not mind choosing a partner who is of different background as himself. He marries Desdemona, who is a daughter of Brabantio, a senator (Neill 362). This act is enough to depict a character that is not choosy nor does not discriminate others according to their racial origin and identity. According to Othello, love has had to come above race and thus does not think twice to marry her (Neill 362). Brabantio rushes to his daughter's room and finds her missing and thus knows that it was Othello who will have taken her away using tricks. Since the senator is very influential, he, therefore, tries all that he can do to separate the two couple but Othello is not perturbed to let his love go despite challenges facing the two of them due to their racial differences (Neill 362). This act, therefore, depicts Othello as being a person who would go to defy all the odds like racism and ethnical differences to be with his love of his life.

Despite all these struggles and hardships, the author still allows Othello to fall to racism and its effects. His wife's father, Brabantio holds a belief that the interracial marriage with Othello is merely but due to trickery. It is for this reason that Othello is held with a negative attitude by the father-in-law, that by him being black, there was no way he could have convinced his daughter with love and eventually to marry him. It could only have been through tricks that were used against his daughter to agree to marry a black man. Brabantio has been holding the same notion that a black man could not have convinced a white girl into marriage as they were being considered as being of the weaker race and people who were less important in the society (Neill 362).

Othello's race also brings an effect on his self-identity as a person. He comes to have a view of his own racial identity as one that is not desirable and thus this self-reflection in that perspective lowers his self-esteem and confidence. He, therefore, stops trusting and believing in himself, a state that contributes to Iago persuading him that Desdemona is not honest and faithful to him in their union because he is black (Neill 362). Due to the hatred of Iago over Othello, the "friend is keen on defaming a friend." Iago goes forward to tell against his closest friend, Othello, against his racial background and identity. Othello was a man who had held himself in high esteem, having even taken a seat at one of the most coveted levels of power in the society. Othello had grown believing that black race is not a matter of weakness and neither is being black inferiority over the white race. Words from his closest friend, Iago came to him as a thorn in a wound which meant to pin him down against his own belief and confidence. These words of Iago were the basis of an emotional breakdown as well as ones that serves to discriminate closest friend by race.

Iago also further accelerates the theme of racism by using animal expressions and imagery to diatribe Othello. The imagery used by Iago has a ground in the notion that the black men and their accolades have an inhuman nature. Iago goes to Brabantio and acclaims to him, "Even at this time, now, absolutely now, there is an old black ram that is in the process of tupping over your dearly beloved white ewe. You have to arise, and again I say, Arise!" (Shakespeare 98). Iago further goes ahead to defame Othello to his father-in-law, "You have to make the citizens to wake up, all who are snorting with the sound of the loudest bell. If you fail to do so, the devil will have to make a grandsire of you. Again I tell you, Arise!" (Shakespeare 100). According to Iago, Othello is nothing but a black man who can only be compared to a black ram, an animal for that matter. It is a statement that seeks to defame his best friend against his father-in-law. How can a human being, a highly rated and respected man in the community be regarded to as a ram for that matter? This statement lacks any manner and sense of humanity for whatever reason, and one that seeks to devalue a human being, merely because they are of a different race, and being black to be specific.

Iago's many occasions of using racist slurs when he went to awaken Brabantio, carrying the news about his daughter that she had eloped with an older, black man, who is Othello are meant to stir negative feelings. By referring to Othello as an old man, he makes a play with Elizabethan notions, postulating that it is usual and ordinary for all the elderly black men to possess a hyper-sexuality that is animal-like (Adenstedt 200). It is, therefore, a racial discrimination and an act of disrespect for a friend who is of another race. The fact that Othello is in a relationship with Brabantio's daughter, to Iago, a black man has sexuality like that as an animal. Therefore, he does not see anything good in his friend, who has laid much trust in him. He, therefore, sees his 'black friend' as not human enough, thus bringing the animal character to Othello.

Iago further, by his negative attitude towards Othello, and inspired by racism, labels Othello, a devil despite him being a Christian. Religiously, Othello is a staunch Christian, but his close friend bedevils him. He does not see him as an upright man in the society but instead views him the 'evil one who has been sent' to destroy the society. He does not acknowledge Othello's status in the community, as well as the relationship that is between him and Desdemona. He, therefore, accelerates the idea that has been held since the 16th Century that all the black men had an evil aspect in them (Tung 300). There was also a notion that has been in the mind of many people since the olden days that the devil always comes to people physically, taking the shape of a black man. It is a belief that was supported by Reginald Scott in his book that was the most famous, written in 1584, The Discovery of Witchcraft. In the book, he denotes, "Bodin has allowed the devil inside, who is in the shape of a black Moore," (Neill 369). It is also for this reason that Brabantio made accusations of using black magic to lure Desdemona to have a relationship with him.

Brabantino is also another character that brings out the theme of racism in many instances. All the utterances by Iago seem to be geared towards the manipulation of his miscegenation fears. Desdemona's father has for long been having the fears of any racial mixing by any instance in life. All these fears have been hyped up by the love bond between his daughter and Othello. He, for long, has never tolerated any mixing of races between two people, a man, and a woman, by either through marriage or sexual relations. He has been holding the belief that no two people of different races should ever be united by any links whatsoever. It is a false belief and one that seems to be belittling the black race from having an encounter with the white people that could lead to serious commitments (Tung 310).

Brabantio is also involved in racial discrimination against Othello by using metaphoric expressions and imagery to describe Othello in a racially directed argument. "Desdemona is in the process of having sexual intercourse with a 'Barbary horse' which will yield relatives that will be neighing to me," (Shakespeare 108). According to Brabantio, Othello is suitable to be described a horse, and not a human being, due to his extra-sexuality and desire to marry his daughter. Brabantio also joins Iago in making up metaphoric descriptions and creating images of animals to name Othello and describe him as not being able to fit the caliber of a human being like them; a state that is caused by him being black (Adenstedt 212).

One of the characters, to the support of Othello, does not see him as an outsider. The character is Desdemona. She is a woman who is entirely in love with her husband, to the extent of defying the odds and marrying Othello. She is, at one point, defending her marriage where she quotes, "I saw Othello's visage in my mind," (Shakespeare 253). This statement indicates how Desdemona takes a look at Othello beyond his color and his racial background. The author thus brings Desdemona forward as an example of the few characters that are not in support for racial discrimination and segregation, to the extent of losing the parental love due to the engagement in miscegenation relationship. Shakespeare, therefore, brings an ease to Othello, by bringing his wife to support him at many times the society was all against him. Desdemona, on her side, does not show any anxiety in the miscegenation marriage, opposite to her father, who is brought down to his demise by the news that his daughter has gotten married to a black man.


In the text, there is also the inclusion of the word 'Moor' which is derogatory. This word is mainly used entirely in the text as a title being given to Othello. To many people, the title is only being used to describe the place where a person originates. To many people's understanding, the use of the word 'Moor' is only to give the title of the place of origin of a person, that is, to differentiate people from their origin (Adenstedt 216). It does not seem to create any negative thoughts or discrimination of any person. This name, however, is being used in the text and by many for another reason that is the opposite. This derogatory word is used throughout the text about Othello's origin. In the text, Othello is the only character who is being addressed by this title and thus according to his racial background. This title is, therefore, being us...

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