Racism in Othello and Elizabethan Society

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William Shakespeare’s Othello, The Moor of Venice is a captivating tragedy that not only keeps the audience entertained by the drama and scandal, but also sheds new light on the perspective of the Europeans during the Elizabethan era and Othello’s role as an Englishman. Othello, based off of the controversial representation of blacks, was written in a manner that perfectly displays the true nature of the Europeans during this time period. Shakespeare opens the first act with Iago, the antagonist, yelling to Brabantio a visually graphic description of his “daughter covered with a Barbary horse” and racial inferences of Othello as “an old black ram/ Is tupping your white ewe” (I.1.87-110). This prevailing imagery of racism gives us a glimpse into the stereotypes and prejudices that have been happening for centuries and that continue to persist in the present. The use of the word ‘black’ throughout Othello had multiple meanings that the audience would understand in connotation, but this also included the larger scale audience of Elizabethan England. Othello portrays the Moor; although contradictory in context of this play, it shows how the Elizabethan society treated the minority or “difference” race during this time period. Europeans were extremely naïve when it came to “ANYONE exotic enough to startle a European” based off the differences “in terms of culture, religion, ‘color’ etc.” They thought that most Moors were from the African or Ethiopian decent, believing that they were uneducated and uncivilized. The Europeans failed to distinguish between the “Moors [who] were natives of Morocco,” and were “mainly Arabic and Berber, settled in North America, invaded Spain in the 8th century and were driven out in the 15t... ... middle of paper ... ...e of the racist of a world we live in but immediately retreats back to what society has taught him. Othello is a great representation of racism and how the racial tension in public was accepted it in the 17th century. Shakespeare would have no pressure from society against presenting people of color as “savages.” From the first act Othello is talked badly upon by Iago, he later turns out that Othello is actually a decent man despite his skin color. Although Othello is not portrayed as inferior, Iago controls the entire situation based off his impressions of Othello being a Moor. Through this control the audience and reader are able to get an accurate representation of the self-absorbed Elizabethan society that controlled the racism during this era. Works Cited Shakespeare, William, and Jane Coles. Othello. Cambridge, England: Cambridge UP, 1992. Print.
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