Othello During the Elizabethan times it was uncommon for black people to act out roles in plays. Shakespeare introduces this to his audience in two plays, the first Titus Andromicus and the second Othello. The first black character, Aaron, is portrayed as a secondary villain. Othello on the other hand is of higher status than many of his peers in the play. This was different for Shakespeare to present a minority person with such authority as a main character.
Even with such, many different racial slurs were used by supporters to degrade him. In Act I, Scene I, Iago, the villain in this play and at the same time the right hand man of Othello, is screaming to Desdemonas father from the outside of his house “even now, now, very now, an old black ram is tupping your white ewe” (Shakespeare 1051). The “thick-lips” (Shakespeare 1050) is mentioned in this play towards Othello but is not the first time Shakespeare uses it. He uses the phrase in Titus Andronicus to describe the biracial child of the Moor, Aaron. Moor is another term frequently used to identify those darker skinned people. (Shakespeare 1052).
Brabantio goes as far as accusing Othello of witchcraft. He says that Othello must have used “drugs and minerals” to get Desdemona to marry his “sooty bosom”. Iago instigates the characters in this play that do speak foul of Othello. It is quite obvious from the beginning of the story that Iago is betraying Othello. Iago mentions to Roderigo “I am not what I am”.
The choice of words he used towards Othello does not necessarily mean that he is a racist yet at the same time I do not feel that Othellos Quintana -2- background effects the events in this play. With or without Othello being a Moor the outcome of the play would have worked as well. Name-calling, which is how I describe what Iago was doing throughout the play, is a common way of trying to degrade someone even in todays society. You try to find something in your opponent that distinguishes him from yourself and the people who defend you and you use this to break down their esteem. Iago, out of jealousy, calls Othello names behind his back and still with all this. Iago is very clever in making Othello vulnerable to his word. Iagos manipulation to Othello is never specified to be race related although racial slurs are what he constantly repeats.
He simply uses these remarks to mock Othello. This is evidence that leads me to believe that if Shakespeare would not have made Othello of the same race as the rest of the characters the plot of this story would have remained the same and it would have flowed just as well. Shakespeare would just have had to use other non-racial yet discriminating words against Othello. Love and jealousy are the central feelings portrayed in this story, not racism. All Iago wants is to take over the leadership power that Othello has.
He enjoys creating chaos as all villains do and will stop at nothing to get what he wants. This demonstrates the evil he has within himself. Iago persuades Roderigo to sell all of his belongings so that there may be a chance between him and Desdemona. (Shakespeare 1065) Two-faced Iago also flourishes Desdemona with his praises. (Shakespeare 1068) is making himself out to be a loyal friend in her eyes everyone is easily influenced by Iago.
He has his way with everyone. Neither Roderigo nor Desdemona are different in color Quintana -3- complexion for Iago to deceive them but he does anyway. They are all part of his betrayal. Iago is all for himself. He even goes to the extent of convincing his wife to steal a handkerchief from Desdemona and then made it part of his scheme. There were no limits for him.
He took down whomever he had to. Even though Othello was black he was integrated into the Venetian society and was also the states military champion against the Turks, which made his status equal to that of Desdemonas father, Brabantio. Prior to Othello having eloped with Desdemona Brabantio had invited this Moor to his house and held this black man as one of his peers. But even having all of this authority Othello is nonetheless an outsider and he is very much aware of this. Othello tells us this in Act I, Scene III when he mentions his mercenary at a “rented field”. Othellos black skin color is less a racial issue than a cultural discriminator.
Nevertheless racial stereotyping rather tham simple division between Venetian and non-Venetian does surface in Othello. In the minds of Shakespeares audience black people were identified with witchcraft and other non-Christian superstitions. Brabantio accuses Othello of witchcraft, saying that the Moor must have used “drugs and minerals” to overcome Desdemona to his “sooty bosom”. In act III scene IV Othellos explanation of the missing handkerchief implies that his mother engaged in charms that she acquired through other non-whites, in this case an Egyptian. Race plays less a factor than what most critics makes it out to be.
Othello being a minority yet at the same time holding such high status in society, even though Quintana -4- conditioned to his usefulness to Venice, proves this. It was common for Skakepeares audience to stereotype and associate his color complexion with witchcraft but by no means identical to what occurs in present day society. Bibliography 1. Meyer, Michael. “Othello The Moor of Venice”. The Compact Bedford Introduction to Literature.
New York: Bedford/St. Martins, 2000 2. Moore, Roger. “Hamlet Click-Guide”. All Shakespeare [online] “last updated 1 July 2000” [cited 8 July 2000] Available from World Wide Web: URL: http://www.allshakespeare.com 3. Ogude, S.
E. “Literature and Racism: The Example of Othello” Othello: New Essays by Black Writers. Ed. Mythili Kaul Washington, D. C.: Howard University Press, 1997, pp. 151-166.