Race In Othello Essay

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In Shakespeare’s Othello, race is a concept that is only minimally explored. Characters in the play assume that, since they are English, they are superior and foreign characters (like Othello the Moor) are inferior. This is not questioned much at all, and in fact it is assumed outright that Othello is indeed a lesser man because of his skin color and the ways in which characters like Iago and Roderigo treat him. While an early modern audience would accept this concept without hesitation, an audience of today’s age is left to question whether Othello is actually acting out because of the societal pressures, beliefs, and actions put upon him, or because he is inherently different as a person who is not white. While Shakespeare seems to think the contrary, Othello’s development in his actions and words—from a confident general to a depressed, wife-killing maniac—show clearly that his demise and his reactions were products of his peers (namely, Iago) and that he is not inherently different because of his race. Ultimately, it was all Iago’s fault. From even the first scene of the play, Iago and Roderigo discuss Othello and only refer to him in racist terms, and never by his name. The first mention of the titular character that the audience receives is a generic pronoun: “Thou told’st me thou didst hold him in thy hate” (1.1.6) in which Roderigo’s simple mention of Othello ignites Iago to a rage. The fact that both characters do not even have the respect for Othello to use his name is the first piece of evidence of their hatred and disrespect towards him. They go on to use a slew of racial epithets, which further prove the idea. Othello is referred to as “his Moorship” and “the Moor” (a word that refers to a person of darker skin, but... ... middle of paper ... ...y of the truth and stabbning of Iago only hints at the justice Iago truly deserves. He manipulated Othello and his peers and used the people around him—including his own wife, who he also kills—to enact a vengeful, jealous whim and ruin Othello, who is only guilty of being successful and having a pretty wife who loves him. Throughout the play Iago made it clear to a modern-day audience that Othello only acts the way he does as a result of the manipulation he has been through—he is a product of Iago’s actions, not his own. The not-so-subtle racism throughout the play betrays Shakespeare’s thoughts on this subject, as well as the thoughts of the audience of the play when it was originally performed. However, in a more modern context, Othello is a tragedy not just because of the events that unfold, but also because of the treatment and manipulation of Othello himself.
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