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In the book, Othello, by William Shakespeare, we see a big impact of racism and racial prejudice. Othello shows a lot of this and how it gets in the way by restraining love in society. He is a black man who is also a great and successful war soldier. He dedicates himself to serve society’s goals by fighting for his country. Even though, Othello is a Moor, he is the most hardworking and the most respected. When it comes to his love life with Desdemona, he is very different. This truly affects Othello’s life and the structure of the course throughout the plot.

  • 1 Prejudice in Othello
  • 2 Racism in Othello

Prejudice in Othello

Racism in othello.

Throughout the book, racism just keeps getting worse for Othello. Iago doesn’t seem to stand him at all because of the fact that he’s a Moor and that he’s black. Iago believes that an African American person person cannot be successful or good in any way. He also believed that Othello couldn’t marry a beautiful woman who was white. Iago is angered when he finds out that they get married. He bugs out and uses racist language. Iago uses a term to abuse Othello as a “black ram. This shows his true hatred for Othello and black people in general.

As Othello’s awareness of others in society and what the people actually think of him gets to him, he isn’t surprised at all. He begins to realize that everyone in his society actually does think less of him because of who is as a Moor. He sees that Iago was a bad and racist person. The insecurity about his race and the realization that he is different than every person in his society leads to his hatred and anger to really come out. This anger really gets to Othello in which he kills Desdemona. He felt less upon himself and started to lose his self-confidence as a person. He comes to conclusion that Cassio would’ve been a better husband towards Desdemona because he was white and that he was considered a “ladies man. Othello thinks that he was never meant to marry Desdemona.

Throughout Othello’s life, he was greatly affected by race and racial prejudice. He changed as a person because of this and many bad actions took place while realizing it. Othello shows a great role of a strong and loyal soldier until he realizes what society really thinks about him. His non acceptance in society leads to the killing of his wife.

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Racism in Play “Othello” by William Shakespeare Essay

This essay discusses the play Othello by William Shakespeare. Characters such as Desdemona, Brabantio, and Othello are analyzed in terms of racism and ignorance. Besides, the paper expounds on racism, discrimination, and attitude towards black skin in Europe during the era of this play. In addition, the treatise discusses the irony of Othello’s greatness as a general but being deceived by Iago.

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Across the play, it is clear that the character Othello is often called by other characters funny names depicting racism and discrimination based on his dark skin. For instance, the father of Desdemona; Brabantio cannot stand the imagination of Othello being an item with his daughter. He is seriously enraged on finding out that Othello had been dating his daughter behind his back. Different from the other characters who call Othello racist names behind his back, Brabantio frequently refer to him as a “moor” (Shakespeare 1.2.88) on his face.

This is a racist reference to Othello’s dark skin link to North African Arabs. Often, Brabantio uses terms such as” sooty bosom” (Shakespeare 1.2.89) when talking to Othello who is his subject as the Senator of Venice city. Such comments are meant to make Othello understand the hierarchy ladder of control and authority. In my opinion, despite the visible dislike Brabantio has for Othello, these racist onslaughts are influenced by Iago.

Constantly, Iago dwells on Othello’s race when discussing his relationship with Desdemonia to Brabantio. Iago asserts, “Even now, very now, an old black ram is tupping your white ewe” (Shakespeare 1.1.97).

Skin color being a serious issue in this society, Brabantio cannot believe that his daughter could fall for such a sooty dark-skinned man. He thinks that Othello must have charmed her with a magic spell and witchcraft to have her in his arms. Without Iago’s influence on his views, Brabantio would not be so mean to Othello. Instead, he would practice racism on the fine solder only because of race difference.

In the early 17 th century, in England, race dictated the role allocation in the society. The term moor was symbolically used by the whites to show disapproval for a character of undesirable traits (Julius 20). Despite the spirited writings depicting black people as equal to white people, Shakespeare’s writings were criticized.

It would be unimaginable for a Negro to claim royal birth. Blacks were considered outcast blood that is not worthy to stand in the courts of Venetian. They represented the opposite of ego, pride, cynicism, and amorality. Racist slurs were hurled at them in every slightest opportunity irrespective of the class (Julius 23). Despite Othello’s vast experience in military and holding a coveted post of a general, Brabantio refer to him as a moor (Shakespeare 1.2.88).

Reflectively, this gives an impression of a lesser human being who cannot be granted the same privileges and freedom of choice. Iago incites rejection in Othello’s love life. Since Othello is dark-skinned, the society is against his marriage to the daughter of the senator of Venice. Iago says, “Even now, very now, an old black ram is tupping your white ewe” (Shakespeare 1.1.97).

In role allocation, the white were the masters and blacks their servants. Some roles were reserved for the white supremacy. When in authority, whites were arrogant and insensitive when interacting with the blacks. With every slight opportunity, a white person would exercise authority and superiority. Openly, Brabantio calls Othello a sooty bosom (Shakespeare 1.2.89).

Being amoral being, Iago interestingly use this trait to manipulate his ways throughout the play. He is delighted in his own cunning. Besides, he is adoptive to every situation and can align himself to assume any form a situation might need. In company of any character, he is coarse, bluff, and genial. Moreover, the characters in the play prefer his easy solutions to every problem and he pretend to have best interest on Othello at heart. Though everyone is above him professionally and socially, he interacts without any ego.

For instance, in the fight between Roderigo and Cassio which he instigates, Iago tells Cassio, “I should rather have this tongue cut from my mouth than it should do offence to Michael Cassio. Yet I persuade myself, to speak the truth” (Shakespeare 2.1.80). He later convinces Othello to replace Cassio in the army for gross misconduct. This move is meant to win Othello’s trust and favor and facilitation of his scheme to replace Cassio as a lieutenant.

His goodness to Othello only serves his personal interests .Iago’s pride is of sly vindictiveness. In line 280, of scene 1 in act 2, Iago justify his hate and for Othello and is determined to cunningly revenge for a “twint my sheets…done my office” (Shakespeare 2.1.88). In pretence of loyalty, he vividly plots to break Othello’s marriage by vowing that, “till I am evened with him wife for wife” (Shakespeare 2.1.88).His vengeance insight is declared on Othello for what he presumes as a trodden pride.

In summary, the play Othello is captivating and presents racism as it was. The character Othello is gullible and easily manipulated by Iago who is below his class. Brabantio cannot approve Othello’s marriage to his daughter since he is dark-skinned. Generally, in the times of Shakespeare the blacks were despised as inferior being irrespective of their position in the society.

Works Cited

Shakespeare, W. Othello. Cambridge: Plain Label Books, 1968. Print.

Julius, L. Othello . New York: Turtleback Books, 1998. Print.

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IvyPanda. (2021, November 12). Racism in Play "Othello" by William Shakespeare. https://ivypanda.com/essays/othello-3/

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Racism in Othello

Racism is a major theme in most plays, with Blacks being treated as inferior while, on the other hand, the Whites are portrayed as superior. However, the major goal of artistic works is to represent the issues in society. Thus the major goal of bringing racism into play is due to its impact on society, as shown in Shakespeare’s  Othello . Although Othello shares the same religious practices and values as the other fighters, he is black and everyone refers to him as the ‘moor’ instead of calling him by his name. Despite the name being demeaning, it is disrespectful he is their leader and deserves respect and proper recognition. In Othello, Shakespeare brings the theme of racism best through Iago, who often criticizes Othello for being Black.

Iago presents Blacks as devilish while addressing Brabantio due to Othello’s intimate relationship with Desdemona. Iago says, “Even now, now, very now, an old black ram is tupping your white ewe. Arise, arise! Awake the snorting citizens with the bell, or else the devil will make a grandsire of you (Shakespeare 1.1.97-101)” Historically, especially in the sixteenth century, the devil was being presented as a Black while righteousness or godliness as White which is manifested well in this play. Iago here wants to show that Blacks are different from whites and are linked with devilish actions, and thus, Othello’s intentions for Desdemona are not good. Despite being a Christian, Iago calls Othello a devil to depict the evil in him. Since everyone believes that he is evil, Brabantio accuses him of wooing Desdemona through the use of witchcraft due to the information he gets from Iago.

Furthermore, Iago discourages inter-racial marriages regarding the intention of Desdemona to marry Othello. Iago says, “Foh! One may smell in such a will most rank, Foul disproportion thoughts unnatural— But pardon me” (Shakespeare 3.3.268-278). Iago perceives that it is unnatural for a white woman to marry a Black man. Historically, interracial marriages between whites and Blacks or other inferior races were discouraged because it was believed that they would give birth to children of lower status.

Another instance of racism occurs when Iago uses animal symbolism in his tirades against Othello. The utterances emanate from the notion that blacks are inhuman and cannot behave appropriately. During this episode, Brabantio opposes Iago’s accusations of Desdemona eloping in the middle of the night. Iago describes Othello’s house as Grange, a derogatory term for a farmhouse and claims that if Desdemona keeps sleeping around with Othello, she will give birth to children that neigh (Shakespeare 1.1.120-125). Comparing Desdemona’s children with horses shows Iago’s hatred against the blacks because he views them as meaningless creatures.

Brabantio also insists that Othello enchanted Desdemona with charms, leading to her falling in love with him. He observes that the woman “Run from her guardage to the sooty bosom of such a thing as thou—to fear, not to delight! Judge me the world, if ’tis not gross in sense That thou hast practiced on her with foul charms” (Shakespeare 1.2. 90-94). Describing Othello’s bosom as sooty is disrespectful and a way of saying that he is dark and unlovable. Since Othello is the only black-skinned person in the play, he is exposed to high levels of discrimination and prejudice. The characters also connect the issue of race with sexual norms and marriage. In the past, individuals viewed interracial marriages as a violation of the set social rules

In conclusion, Iago brings out the theme of racism significantly well, specifically in addressing Othello and his relationship with Desdemona. Individually, he dictates almost everything about what others should do, including Othello, Desdemona, and her father. On the other hand, Othello lacks confidence and is not proud of his origin. The ultimate act of killing Desdemona confirms the racist stereotype that black people are violent and should be feared. However, Iago’s character generally represented how the Whites perceived Blacks and the issue of inter-racial marriages.

Works Cited

Shakespeare, William. “Othello:[1622].”  Oxford Text Archive Core Collection  (1991).

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Racism in Othello, Essay Example

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Given the age and the setting in which Shakespeare’s Othello was written and first performed, racism as a component in the drama is surprisingly less evident than a modern audience would likely expect, at least not in the way racism is thought of today. It is ordinary to think of racist views as far more a product of older and less enlightened days, and Othello’s approximate date of creation as the year 1603 would certainly make an audience of today anticipate powerful racism within it as a matter of course. Moreover, England as a nation was adamantly insular and xenophobic, particularly as the defeat of the Spanish Armada of 1588 was still resounding in living memory. Shakespeare was himself notorious for writing to suit the public taste of his day, as he also tailored plays to please the power bases at court.

The basic reason, however, that racism as such is not a predominant factor in Othello is easily explained by the man who wrote it. Shakespeare’s genius would never have been content to present a mere racial motivation as a pivotal plot device, or even as a defining character trait; his art was too expansive and he knew the complexity of human beings too well to allow that. There is racism in Othello , to be sure. So, too, is racism revealed as an element in Iago’s intense hatred of the Moor. Shakespeare’s vision and presentation, however, is too enormous to rely upon so primitive and ultimately uninteresting a foundation. In exploring Othello’s tragedy and Iago’s evil, Shakespeare goes further to explore how racism itself is never a single, blind trait.  In Othello , as in life, various factors collide within men, and “racism” is merely one manifestation of the wider, darker path these may take. “Only a very intelligent and highly imaginative writer could articulate the fusion of racism, xenophobia, and misogyny… in such psychically plausible terms” (Dollimore 132).

The England of Shakespeare’s day was, as stated, fiercely insular. Insularity typically breeds xenophobia, which may be seen as the structure in which racism resides. The ancient feud with France, for example, fueled within the British character a proud disdain of all French people, which led to a widespread and violently racist view of the French as a weak and immoral people. Then, antisemitism was not a hypothetical issue. Rodrigo Lopez, Queen Elizabeth’s personal physician for years, was a Portuguese Jew. When the Earl of Essex, desperate to gain the Queen’s favor in the 1590’s, had Lopez brought to trial on scant evidence of treason, the interrogation centered on the doctor’s Jewishness.  As is universally acknowledged, this fueled The Merchant of Venice , simply because “…Lopez was the best-known of the few Jews in England when the play was written” (Afran, Garber 3).

This is essential to note in regarding Othello as a victim of racism, because Shylock and Othello are the greatest representations of racism victims in Shakespeare, if not in all of Western literature, and how Shakespeare dealt with Shylock goes far in explaining why he presents the racism in Othello as he does. Shylock is not rendered as an especially likeable character; Shakespeare knew his audiences would never accept a fully dimensional Jew, and Shylock is presented in a very stereotypical manner. He is relentlessly grasping and he lives to make deals, which is how Jews were generally perceived at the time. Shakespeare, however, is incapable of drawing characters in single dimensions of any kind, and the humanity and pain of Shylock as a man is known to all the world.

With Othello , which is a later, and more subtle, play, Shakespeare does not focus on racism as such. It should be understood, in light of the comparison with Shylock, that the English had a different view of Moors, or people of African descent: “…The Elizabethan social situation was not indisolvably ( sic ) categorical, black versus white. Some Elizabethans knew about and appreciated Moorish culture, which of course relates to Othello’s character” (Kolin 15). To the greater and more cosmopolitan Elizabethan audience, Moors were nearly mythically powerful warriors, and aristocratic in their own traditions. This admiration itself has within it elements of racism, of course, yet it was by no means a simple dismissal of a Black man as a lower order of human. Consequently, Shakespeare was free to more carefully explore the many elements that go into what is often simply assessed as “racism”.

Many critics of Othello disagree, and they have the relentless hatred of Iago on their side. “There’s no denying that racism was the motivation, the means, and the end in Iago’s systematic destruction of Othello” (Robinson 94). This viewpoint overlooks the play’s greatness, as well as the brilliance of Iago’s mystery. To begin with, Iago only occasionally hints at a dislike of Othello because of his race, as he even admits that his hatred is too large to be attributed to one cause. It is simply there, within him, and the intrinsic evil of Iago is a far more fascinating character presentation than that of an angered and envious racist. To say that Iago’s racist disgust at Othello is the driving force of the play is to remove the heart of the play, and to insultingly over-simplify Shakespeare’s art.

Other critics come closer to the mark when they investigate the sexual component in the mixed race relations of Othello and Desdemona, if only because a dread of a supposed greater African potency underlies a good deal of white racism, then and now. To the racist, few things are as horrific as the notion of a Black man taking a white woman, and Shakespeare brings this up again and again, in Othello. If there is racism here, it is sexually-based.

It is not simple, either, for this sort of deep look inside racism reveals the even greater fear: the race will be polluted, and forever. In a discussion of the animalistic references to sex in the play, many of which involve different species having sex, Daileader comments: “These copulative images highlight the idea that inter-racial sex creates a new creature – and not only in the future progeny, but at the very moment of sexual union” (23). This is the overpowering fear at the heart of racism, that something unnatural will result when races combine. It is never directly referred to in Othello , but Shakespeare effectively makes the audience confront the irrational terror possibly in their own hearts.

Another aspect of racism itself, often overlooked and employed within Othello as further evidence of the author’s genius in capturing fully-dimensional characters, is how Othello is himself an active participant in the very racism he must deal with. This is true of any culture; as racist ideas are infused within it, the object of them must in some way share in the bias. Othello makes it very clear, and early in the play, that he is indeed the great hero everyone in Venice sees him as. He is very certain of his accomplishments, as he is of what the city owes him in respect. Any other hero would, then, assume Desdemona’s devotion to be a natural thing. He is a great man and he completely deserves the love of a fair maiden.

Othello, however, knows he is of a different race. “A tawny Moor, a black African, Othello  is also the ‘turbanned Turk’ of his own description” (Bloom 126).  Consequently, he always marvels at Desdemona’s love, and this is his own racism at play. No hero in Shakespeare is ever this amazed at being loved: “I cannot speak enough of this content/ It stops me here/ It is too much joy” (Shakespeare 22). This wonder is a form of disbelief, and it is this disbelief, born from Othello’s awareness that a Moor warrior does not as a rule have an adoring, white bride, that subtly conveys the sense that Othello views himself as different, if not inferior.

This ties into the sexual component of the drama, for Othello’s uniqueness would not place him in jeopardy if he were not married to a white woman. He has, in a sense, gone too far, and he is aware of it. Iago is as well, because Iago knows he can exploit Othello’s racial insecurities through exactly this avenue. When all is said and done, this mighty warrior is a Black man wed to a woman of a different race, and everyone in the drama, Othello included, knows that this makes him vulnerable.

The most comprehensive criticisms of Othello concede that it is a mistake to view the racism within the play as racism is understood today. In fact, the study of Othello offers vast opportunities for a better understanding of what is a truly complex issue, and it is in any culture’s best interests to seek to explore all the shades of motive within it, from the xenophobic to the sexual. Studying racism is very much a matter of studying humanity, because racism, for good or ill, has always been a reflection of human interaction.

Finally, it must be conceded that Shakespeare’s genius in presenting racism in Othello was to reveal how subtle and universal a force it can be. In a very real sense, everyone is a victim of racism because both object and racist alike live within the same world that allows the racism. This is one of the massive undercurrents in Othello, and it greatly overshadows any concept of a biased Iago as the critical instrument of the drama: “…To say that Othello, Desdemona, and Cassio seek only love and honor in the play is to gloss over the ways in which they are themselves ‘flawed’ by the racial structures: we need to guard against viewing any of them as simple oppositions to a racist Iago” (McDonald 814). Because of the scope and genius of Shakespeare, a brilliant drama revealing the many shades of motive and feeling within racism is always available to be more deeply explored.

Works Cited

Afran, B., and Garber, R. A.  Jews on Trial . Jersey City, NJ: KTAV Publishing House, Inc., 2005. Print.

Bloom, H. William Shakespeare’s Othello . New York, NY: Infobase Publishing, 2010. Print.

Daileader, C. R. Racism, Misogyny, and the Othello Myth: Inter-Racial Couples from Shakespeare to Spike Lee. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 2005. Print.

Dollimore, J. Sex, Literature, and Censorship . Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishers, Inc., 2001. Print.

Kolin, P.C. Othello: New Critical Essays. New York, NY: Routledge, 2002. Print.

McDonald, R. Shakespeare: An Anthology of Criticism and Theory, 1945 – 2000 . Malden, MA: Blackwood Publishing Ltd., 2004. Print.

Robinson, E. L. Shakespeare Attacks Bigotry: A Close Reading of Six Plays . Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, Inc., 2009. Print.

Shakespeare, W. Othello: A Tragedy in Five Acts . New York, NY: Doubleday & Co., 1954. Print.

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