Impact of Race in Othello

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Impact of Race in Othello

One of the major issues in Shakespeare's Othello is the impact of the race of the main character, Othello. His skin color is non-white, usually portrayed as African although some productions portray him as an Arabian. Othello is referred to by his name only seventeen times in the play. He is referred to as "The Moor" fifty-eight times. Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary (1913) states that a Moor is "Any individual of the swarthy races of Africa or Asia which have adopted the Mohammedan religion. In Spanish history the terms Moo, Saracens, and Arabs are synonymous." This indicates that Othello is constantly being degraded and set up as an evil person throughout the play. What this really means is that Othello is being judged by his skin color rather than the person under the skin. The view that whites and non-whites are equal is a relatively new concept in our society. In institutionalized racism, such as American slavery, those of a different color were often viewed as inferior. As Shakespeare wrote Othello, this idea was becoming quite prominent as England entered the African slave trade. One can look at the racial issues from the perspective of color, slavery, and society.

There are many references in the play to indicate that Othello was dark colored. The first image we, as a reader, are given of Othello is that of a black ram having sexual relations with Desdemona (1.1.89-90). Later on in the play, there are many other references to Othello's color and race. Desdemona's father, Brabantio, is appalled to learn that his daughter is having a relationship with a "sooty bosom" (2.3.27). Emilia refers to Othello as a black devil (5.2.132). Othello even calls himself black (3.3.265). Iago also...

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...hello is driven mad by the force of Iago's suggestions, indicating that he is merely a victim of another man's jealousy.

Works Cited

1 Norman Sanders, ed. Othello. Cambridge: New York, 1995: 12.

2 C. W. Slights. "Slaves and Subjects in Othello," Shakespeare Quarterly v48 Winter 1997: 382.

3 C. W. Slights. 380.

4 Norman Sanders, ed. 10.

5 J. Adelman. "Iago's Alter Ego: Race as Projection in Othello," Shakespeare Quarterly v48 Summer 1997: 130.

6 C. W. Slights. 388.

Works Consulted

Bradley, A. C.. Shakespearean Tragedy. New York: Penguin, 1991.

Di Yanni, Robert. “Character Revealed Through Dialogue.” Readings on The Tragedies. Ed. Clarice Swisher. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 1996. Reprint from Literature. N. p.: Random House, 1986.

Muir, Kenneth. Introduction. William Shakespeare: Othello. New York: Penguin Books, 1968.
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