Why Othello Is Black in Shakespeare's Othello - Essay Sample

Paper Type:  Essay
Pages:  6
Wordcount:  1471 Words
Date:  2021-03-29

Racism and Jealousy: Exploring the Dark Places in Othello

Othello is a story by Shakespeare showing how Jealousy can take a person to dark places. Othello was a successful general in the army of Venice. Othello was the moor of Venice, who fell in love with Desdemona and married her. Desdemona was a daughter of a nobleman in Venice. Iago, was passed over for a promotion which would have made him second in command. He did not take it well, and he was furious and his rage which drove him to undertake vengeful tactics hurting everyone he knew. His vengeful schemes drove Othello into a jealous insanity of his own.

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The question as to Othello's race is open to debate. He is described as a Moor, and Moors are the inhabitants of Islamic Arab who conquered Spain around the eighth century. Moor is broadly used and sometimes was used to refer to Africans from other regions. It is not clear whether Othello is of any black race, Arabic. What is clearly projected about him is that his blackness makes him be viewed as an outsider by the people of Venice. In the play, the blackness of Othello alludes quite a number of times, but he is likened to being darker than the average Europeans or brunette. Othello is given a heroic role, and he is a noble character with immense authority. The Duke of the Senate respects and admires him, and even those who serve him. Iago, Othello's enemy, is the only one who seems to have a stereotypical view of Othello, depicting him as a foolish outsider, animalistic and barbaric.

Thematically, Shakespeare must have had a reason to break the tradition of making black characters villain, and in this case making him a noble hero. His choice of a black noble character must have been deliberate. The color is perhaps used to show the opposition, difference and dissociation of the society in Venice, that is Othello’s setting. At first, we get the perception that the people of Venice, the court and the young ladies, respect men for who they are despite their color. However, society does not seem to ignore the differences in race. The Duke cannot wait to tell Brabantio that he has a Son-in-law who is whiter in his virtues than he is black in his skin. People in the society like Iago and Brabantio are shocked to see Othello marrying a white girl. Iago even has terms to describe this union; such as an old black ram and sooty bosom. Brabantio describes the union as treason of the blood as if whites and black people should not marry each other. He feels that Venetian Statesmen will be reduced to bond slaves if the union is accepted. Despite these disgusting comments, Othello does not keep up with the negative comments but insists that Iago is fair in his virtue and feelings.

The back color is used as one of Othello’s literary devices to show that there is a dispute in ethnicity. The play opens with the isolation of Othello's blackness, and the reader certainly will take note of the separation from the beginning of the play. He is set apart from the race which we see as predominantly white. Othello's color plays an integral role in helping the readers understand his character. The attention of the reader is continuously driven to appreciate Othello's color consciously. The speeches made by Brabantio and Iago at the beginning of the play are full of racial antipathy. The language depicts an image of someone who is less human, and the language is very offensive. Iago uses animal imagery to imply that a black person is more animal-like than human. Brabantio presents a more liberal attitude than Iago, he entertains Othello and Desdemona in his home, and makes their meeting possible. However, when Othello and Desdemona escape, Brabantio is outraged and wonders how his daughter would fall in love with someone she feared to look at. He believes that Othello must have used witchcraft because the match is impossible. In these scenarios we see Othello being vulnerable because of his color despite having a noble bearing.

The Significance of Race in Shakespeare's Othello

Othello's color in the play influences Desdemona's stature. She resists the societal expectations to make the right marriage, and we see her independence. Desdemona was aware of the seriousness involved in marrying Othello and made an effort to overcome the stereotype of associating Othello with evil. When Othello asks Desdemona to go with him to Cyprus, his speeches relate to his color. He tells her not to comply with the heats of young effects, and that his sooty bosom does not prevent him from desiring her. Blackness is also associated with sexual lust, and Othello has to defend himself from the perceptions of everyone around him to Desdemona.

The black color in Shakespeare's tragedy, seems to be used to signify negative. Iago attempts to associate black with impurities and staining, by insinuating that Othello pollutes Desdemona. Speaking about Othello and Desdemona's relationship, the love of Desdemona and Othello is strong until we see Iago interfering. Iago is associated with the black vengeance until we see Othello, seeking revenge on Desdemona's account. Iago's unbalanced views seem to have made him fail to recognize issues of racism. According to Othello's plot, he was jealous about Cassio being preferred over him. He was ignorant, and he was full of hate on the basis of racial grounds. The racial problem in the play causes a sense of hatred, revenge and thus leading to disasters. Speaking about how Othello changes throughout the play, Othello seems to lose his mind because of the inferiority complex, instead of using his head to resolve the issues. Othello was unable to overcome the feeling that he was an outsider. Iago majorly hates Othello because of prejudice, the racial difference. Othello's revenge becomes terrifying because of how he is associated with nobleness at first. At first, his qualities include self-control and pride; his anger is not easily aroused by Iago's and Brabantio's words. When he breaks down, we are reminded of his good control and strengths by Ludovico. The author explores rhetoric blackness with irony from a distance. Ludovico's view brings to our attention how passion can easily sway a black man. He compares the previous Othello, and who he has eventually become, overtaken by passion and anger. Therefore, ultimately the tragedies that occur are caused by the racial differences and mainly associating black with evil.

In Shakespeare's time, complexion was a measure of virtue and beauty. According to Paul Spiro, Shakespeare's scholar, to be noble in those days, one had to be both pale and virtuous at the same time. As we see in other Shakespeare's works, like poetry in the sonnets, he keeps pointing out that the dark lady is not supposed to be attractive because she is black. In other plays, we see Shakespeare insinuating black is ugly. Othello uses black to describe himself, and even when his wife strays he says it is because he is black. We see Othello changing the conception of who he is paving the way for the murder of Desdemona. Given the above, other scholars believe that Shakespeare's writing was an interpretation of the Transatlantic trade and the modern obsession with classification according to biological backgrounds. These biological classifications eventually led to the contemporary ideas of race.

Racial Stereotypes and Their Destructive Impact in Othello

We also see Shakespeare's play attempting to use black to question the validity of stereotypes. He raises questions regarding the whites and the blacks but does not fully resolve them. Elizabethan audiences were left with the deliberation on racial complacency. He portrays how the racist is not as inhuman as others. A black person with nobility and in a place of power was something unheard of in Elizabethan England. Those who did not come from the English race were considered lesser beings. The author invests deeply in skepticism in how people knew the world and how they knew themselves. Othello was a mystery to the people around him and himself. The mystery as we see continues to deepen when intimacy comes into play.


To conclude, speaking about Othello and race, it is obvious that race is powerful in Shakespeare's Othello play. It is used to show how social constructs can play havoc in a person's life. Othello's predicament in the essay occurs as seen due to racial stereotypes. Othello is in a position of power, and we eventually see him self-destruct because of his insecurities, lack of confidence and deeply rooted doubts regarding himself. Racism makes him question his relationships with everyone, and he is always fighting because of his wifes doubts. Racism is prevalent throughout Shakespeare's play and it is majorly directed to Othello's character. In the play Shakespeare's racism exposes how the Elizabethan era of people viewed black people who were mostly slaves.

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Why Othello Is Black in Shakespeare's Othello - Essay Sample. (2021, Mar 29). Retrieved from https://proessays.net/essays/why-othello-is-black-in-shakespeares-othello

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