Analysis of Othello's Racial Context

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William Shakespeare’s Othello gains fame for its thematic conflict between appearance and reality, Iago’s motiveless malignity, and the downfall of Othello when he naively believes Desdemona’s without any substantial proof. While all these factors are important, the historical aspects of Othello are even more important for they are the foundation of the more complex concepts the play explores. The context in which the play is written has underlying distinctions between races. Race plays a huge role in Othello because it sets boundaries that cause the tragic hero’s downfall. The introduction to racism occurs when Brabnatio finds out about the marriage of Desdemon and the Moor. Brabnatio immediately says to the Duke, “She is abused, stol'n from me, and corrupted/By spells and medicines bought of mountebanks./ For nature so prepost'rously to err,/Being not deficient, blind, or lame of sense,/Sans witchcraft could not. (I,iii,60-64) Meaning, Othello must have done some tricks of black magic on Desdemona because she would never marry a black person. To Brabnatio, it is implausible for Desedemona to fall in love with anyone that is not white. To settle this, Brabnatio confidently asks the Duke to mediate this dilemma because it is widely known that blacks are inferior to whites, and therefore, people of different races should not marry one another. However, this does not terminate the marriage because even Desdemona implies that she is not against the act of segregation. Desdemona does not argue for the breaking of traditions; she shrewdly defends her marriage not on superficial basis, but on substantial reasons. She argues, “I saw Othello’s visage in his mind” (I,iii,252), which means that even though his face is black, I accept and... ... middle of paper ... ...someone who is not white and considered barbaric, which makes him more likely to be tricked and manipulated due to his lack of social intellect. Another aspect is also shown through these lines: the ideology of boundaries and the consequences of crossing them. If Othello were to marry a woman of his kind, he would not be breaking any rules; he would not feel doubtful or insecure about her acceptance of him. However, because he breaks the race boundary between blacks and whites by marrying Desdemona, he is more easily manipulated into believing Desdemona’s unfaithfulness. So in a sense, crossing the boundaries of race in Shakespeare’s time leads to the tragic denouement of the play: the deaths of Othello, Desdemona, Elimia, Roddrigo, and Barbnatio. Works Cited Shakespeare, William, and Jane Coles. Othello. Cambridge, England: Cambridge UP, 1992. Print.

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