Essay about Shakespeare's Definition of Dissimilarity

Essay about Shakespeare's Definition of Dissimilarity

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It seems to be a perennial feature of human society that individuals judge each other by using the language of similarity and difference. Some of these judgments are reasoned, taking into account the actual qualities of the individual being assessed. Too many of these judgments are superficial, presuming from the existence of one readily observable characteristic a whole host of unrelated characteristics. Assessment and prejudice should be very different activities, but too often human beings combine the two, muddling their understanding of other individuals and the world.
Shakespeare frequently features in his plays a character who is outwardly different from the rest, designating him clearly as “other.” By introducing individuals who differ in some observable way from the cultures they inhabit, Shakespeare forces his audience to question the nature of humanity and our definitions of difference. Why do we create the categories that we do? Why do we associate one physical quality with other social and moral ones? Are these categorizations rational? Through his black characters in Titus Andronicus and Othello, Shakespeare demonstrates that the main culture uses racial stereotypes to blame the “other” for society’s problems while failing to see the causes of the same problems in themselves. Such prejudices therefore endanger both the “other” and the main culture that exhibits prejudice. By portraying Aaron and Othello as complex human characters who share more in common with white characters in similar situations than they do with each other, Shakespeare shows that racism undermines the humanity that unites us all.
In order to understand Aaron and Othello, we must first ask how Elizabethan culture would have view...


... middle of paper ...


...were courage, pride, guilelessness, credulity and easily aroused passions” (1). Understanding the Elizabethan preconceptions about Moors will permit a deeper understanding of the black characters that Shakespeare created.



Works Cited

Cowhig, Ruth. “Blacks in English Renaissance Drama.” The Black Presence in English Literature. Ed. David Dabydeen. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1985.
D’Amico, Jack. The Moor in English Renaissance Drama. Tampa: University of South Florida Press, 1991.
Jones, Eldred. Othello’s Countrymen: The African in English Renaissance Drama. London: Oxford University Press, 1965.
McLendon, Jacquelyn Y. “‘A Round Unvarnished Tale’: (Mis)Reading Othello or African American Strategies of Dissent.” Othello: New Essays by Black Writers. Ed. Mythili Kaul. Washington, D.C.: Howard University Press, 1997.


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