Racism in William Shakespeare’s Othello

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Racism in William Shakespeare’s Othello In William Shakespeare’s tragic play Othello racism is featured throughout, not only by Iago in his despicable animalistic remarks about Othello’s marriage, but also by other characters. Let us in this essay analyze the racial references and their degrees of implicit racism. Racism persists from the opening scene till the closing scene in this play. In “Historical Differences: Misogyny and Othello” Valerie Wayne comments on the racism inherent in the final act of the drama: When Othello finally kills himself and says he is killing the ‘turbaned Turk’ who ‘beat a Venetian and traduced the state’ (V, ii, 349-50), he is killing the monster he became through Iago’s mental poison, but he is also killing the only ethnic and racial other of the play. To be more precise, he is killing that self who is the other, the Turk or the Moor, as an act of Venetian patriotism. Just as one woman was praised by Iago for becoming a ‘wight’ through restricting her behavior to the requirements of men, so Othello becomes white – both virtuous and Venetian – through annihilating his alien self. (168) Could any lesser playwright have presented a black man as the hero of a tragedy? Mary Ann Frese Witt in “Black and White Symbols in Othello” would answer this question negatively: It was then something of a feat for Shakespeare, and a testimony to his genius, to present a black man as the hero of a tragedy. Playing upon his audience’s preconceptions, Shakespeare makes an original, rich use of black and white symbolism throughout the play. It is the black man who is inwardly pure, and it is a seemingly honest white man (and a soldier, a type usually portrayed as genuinely honest) who is inwardly e... ... middle of paper ... ...espeare. Princeton University. 1996. http://www.eiu.edu/~multilit/studyabroad/othello/othello_all.html No line nos. Wayne, Valerie. “Historical Differences: Misogyny and Othello.” The Matter of Difference: Materialist Feminist Criticism of Shakespeare. Ed Valerie Wayne. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1991. Witt, Mary Ann Frese, et al., eds. “Black and White Symbols in Othello.” The Humanities: Cultural Roots and Continuities. Vol.1. Lexington, MA: D.C. Heath, 1985. Rpt. in Readings on The Tragedies. Ed. Clarice Swisher. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 1996. Wright, Louis B. and Virginia A. LaMar. “The Engaging Qualities of Othello.” Readings on The Tragedies. Ed. Clarice Swisher. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 1996. Reprint from Introduction to The Tragedy of Othello, the Moor of Venice by William Shakespeare. N. p.: Simon and Schuster, Inc., 1957.

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