The element of race has overshadowed the point of view in Shakespeare’s play “Othello” for the most part. Except for the few who thought his fame and familiarity challenged their egos, such as Iago and Roderigo, Othello was a beloved and revered man. As a result, the two used race propaganda as both a tool and an end in itself to push Othello down. Regardless, Othello’s complexion had no impact on the rest of the society, who judged him based on the essence of his character and demeanor, including the assumption that he was a noble general. Nevertheless, when Othello was carried away by rage and loathed his character by murdering Desdemona based on falsified infidelity, he lost the respect of the people. Even those who respected him no longer charged his atrocity by his deed, rather, by his skin color. Therefore, the race is a critical theme in the play, as it leads to a feeling of insecurity by Othello, hence his vulnerability to the evil manipulations by Iago. Othello`s otherness makes him lose self-confidence despite him being a senior general. Though more of a gentleman that his haters, he is tagged as “animal” or “savage” (Shakespeare and Crowther 55). The Elizabethan England was defined by stereotype and prejudice against foreigners, hence the theme of race in this play occupying a central objective. Indeed, a character in the capacity of Othello in the modern society cannot hold equal stature like Shakespeare`s Othello, because globalization has diluted the anxiety, fear, and uncertainty once associated with blacks then.
The Issue of Racism in Othello
Discrimination as a social vice in human nature is a shared experience, and people base on fear, desire for influence and power, envy, the need to dissociating themselves from others among other reasons, to practice discrimination. Consequently, ones innate traits could be used as tools to discriminate against them, for instance, skin color could attract unwarranted hatred. Despite his skin color of the African heritage, Othello is a respected man, happily married, and revered general in Shakespeare’s play “Othello” (Shakespeare and Crowther 34). When the play begins, Othello does not harbor the racist feelings nor ideas. However, Iago brings on board the imaginations that racial sentiments against Othello have gained momentum and that he should show repulsion for those who perpetuate the discrimination. The unsuspecting Othello is hence misled by Iago, and the manipulations of the latter eventually come to pass, as racism becomes real in the play (Shakespeare and Crowther 203). The erratic behavior of Othello is condemned using racist rhetoric at the end. Furthermore, Othello as well participates in mounting the degree of racism and discrimination, because in the first place he believes stereotype existed when it was Iago`s propaganda (Scragg, Shakespeare, and Ross 34).
The background of racism in the play is not explicitly founded, considering the implicit background of Othello. Born into royalty and out of privilege, Othello has a rare opportunity for holding the title of an African prince. In fact, Othello personally maintains, “I fetch my life and being/From men of royal siege” (Shakespeare and Crowther 33). Othello chose to abandon the pleasure of his royalty, to end up living with the Europeans, in a faraway land that tight him to no obligations and responsibilities of the royalty. Indeed, while in the foreign land, Othello has the choice to a few responsibilities, which are limited to people he chooses to serve; the primary ones being his adored wife Desdemona and the Venetian government. Nevertheless, despite his demanding responsibilities as a general, Othello enjoys the monopoly of pleasure and freedom when he chooses to, as he whispers to Iago, “But that I love the gentle Desdemona, I would not my unhoused free condition Put into circumscription and confine For the sea’s worth” (Shakespeare and Crowther 67). At a critical analysis, what Othello means in the quotation hitherto, is that, without the responsibilities like those of the matrimonial ilk, then he would have all the freedom, without any circumscribed confinement to being answerable, or to limit his freedom. Eventually, though, Othello has the pleasure of making personal decisions and enjoying the moments he wills as of personal dignity based on the position he holds. At this moment in the play, it serves as a transparent background that the height and social command Othello has achieved has not been limited by his skin color. Moreover, Desdemona and the husband are at the apex of joy and fulfillment in marriage (Shakespeare and Holste 12).
The plot of the play “Othello” is rooted in jealousy, and to the major part, this suspiciousness creates a fertile platform for racism to thrive. Other than Roderigo and Iago, who is at best resentful, the rest of the people have developed admiration and respect for the achievements Othello has attained in life. The development of hate by Iago against Othello began when the African general chose Cassio as his lieutenant, though he had lesser experience compared to the albeit more qualified and deserving Iago, who was given the title of an “ancient” instead (Shakespeare and Crowther 67). Because of the growing hate, Iago designs an ill motive to punish Othello, and this he achieves by manipulating the thoughts and actions of Roderigo, who at this point lusts after Desdemona, Othello`s wife. It is at this point that the hurtful words Roderigo spurs against Othello are full of racist diction, “What a full fortune does the thick-lips owe/If he can carry ‘t thus!” (Shakespeare and Crowther 89). Since then, for the better part, both Iago and Roderigo develop an effective scheme to tell a lie to Desdemona`s father, Brabantio, that Othello, the son in law, had kidnapped the daughter. In fact, the deal is expressly successful when racist ideas are used, as Brabantio is bitterly angered when he listens to Iago say, “An old black ram/Is tupping your white ewe” (Shakespeare and Crowther 232). It is at that moment that Roderigo and Iago tell Brabantio that the offsprings of Othello and Desdemona would be half-breeds between the white and black race and that the pedigree would be a rare show of humanity who would bring shame unending to the family of Brabantio. They achieve destruction of the otherwise warm relationship between Desdemona and her marriage, when they tell her father that, “You’ll have your daughter covered with a Barbary/Horse; you’ll have your nephews neigh to you; you’ll have coursers for cousins and gennets for germans” (Shakespeare and Crowther 231).
Following the heated and controversial scenes across the play, one wonders whether the theme of racism is fabricated in the play or not. The events curve to a new level of drama when Brabantio chooses to accuse Othello of witchcraft and kidnap, so he could not shame the position he holds as a revered senator. Therefore, it appears as though Othello uses underhand means and ill-motivated behavior, to retain respect and honor that he deserves not in the society. However, a keen analysis immediately realizes the statement offered by Othello in his defense, that, “in the past Brabantio lov’d me; oft invited me” (Shakespeare and Crowther 132). Indeed, this is a great show of how the former days looked brilliant, and whence racism was not known to anybody between the pair. Nevertheless, Brabantio has become a racist all of a sudden, after the influence from Iago and Roderigo compelled him to believe he needed to protect his political interest and maintain relevance. When Desdemona comes on board, she defends her husband and claims that by all means, Othello is an innocent soul. On his part, the Duke confirms to Brabantio that, “If virtue no delighted beauty lack/Your son-in-law is far more fair than black” (Shakespeare and Crowther 189). For the first time, the authority has realized that racism is real and that it is not worth the challenges in the society. Consequently, the Duke rebukes Brabantio to deal with and charge Othello based on his deeds and virtuous nature, as opposed to his complexion.
Following the many social challenges and the immediate threat to his marriage, Othello is now a firm believer that racism exists, and hence the flowers of racism by Iago bearing blossom. Nevertheless, because of the lack of certainty to justify the dubious approaches by his enemies, Othello chooses reality over racism, and he argues, “My parts, my title and my perfect soul/Shall manifest me rightly” (Shakespeare and Crowther 278). As such, Othello does not buy the assumption that his guilt could be determined by his mere skin color. Initially, Othello is capable of overcoming the propagandist rhetoric by Iago that his wife, Desdemona, was cheating on him because of his dark complexion. In fact, Othello defiantly pronounces, “Nor from mine own weak merits will I draw/The smallest fear or doubt of her revolt/For she had eyes, and chose me” (Shakespeare and Crowther 98). Though, he goes forth and effortlessly utters, “And yet, how nature erring from itself—” (Shakespeare and Crowther 145). The quote hitherto indicates the beginning of doubt in Othello’s heart. He is more of the opinion that Desdemona has a favor for a people of her race, as opposed to other persons in social diversity, like himself. Indeed, Iago fast picks the phrase from Othello and uses it against him, by saying, “Her will, recoiling to her better judgment/May fall to match you with her country forms/and happily repent” (Shakespeare and Crowther 122). In essence, both Othello and Iago do confirm, that Desdemona meditates about her marriage, and in comparison, she regrets marrying Othello, as his white counterparts are better males than he, the black man does. The epitome of racism touches the arc of infidelity, without factual prove, when Othello desperately concludes that it was true, Desdemona cheats on him, just because he is black.
While alone, the boredom of race overwhelms Othello and he utters, “I’ld whistle her off and let her down the wind/To prey at fortune (Shakespeare and Crowther 243). Typically, Othello has concluded, informed by the racist and falsehood background, that if he finds Desdemona true of infidelity, then his household she would leave immediately. Unfortunately, the seed of racism appears to grow faster in the mind of Othello, as would be manifested in his emotions, than the outside world which harbors his ardent enemies; Iago and Roderigo. For instance, before he confirms whether the wife was cheating on him due to his complexion, his anger compels him to say, “Haply, for I am black and have not those soft parts of conversation that chamberers have, or for I am declined into the vale of years (yet that’s not much) She’s gone. I am abus’d: and my relief Must be to loathe her” (Shakespeare and Crowther 121). Indeed, Othello does not only confirm that Desdemona neither cheated on him due to her bad character nor her sins, but also explains how he feels cheated on because of the weaknesses of his nature, as a black man. The quote hitherto is a climax that marks a change in the person of Othello. He has become a formidable racist than those he blames do charge him mistakenly because he is a black man. Othello has chosen the less trodden path, and perhaps the most dreaded. On the one hand, he resorts to chasing her outside of his household. On the other, he is not content and would loathe her, or do anything extreme to console himself of the pain and inferiority Desdemona caused him (Neely 135).
Apparently, the character of Othello has been questioned, not only by the characters in the play but also the audience of Shakespeare. Jealousy and rage are the adjectives held inseparable from the person of Othello, and his temper is even further fueled by the fake proofs Iago continues to supply to his foe unknowingly. This raises the temperance of Othello, and perhaps a better manifestation would be the case of Lodovico, who comes to deliver a letter, and when Desdemona mumbles a word, Othello immediately suspects she means terrible for him and praises her white lover; a misguiding principle that makes him slap his wife. The action moves the constant and stable emotions of Lodovico, compelling him to caution Othello about the rash which embraced desperately, “My lord, this would not be believed in Venice/Though I should swear I saw ‘t; ‘til very much” (Shakespeare and Crowther 90). In fact, Lodovico persist and tells Othello evermore that, “Is this the noble Moor whom our full senate call all in all sufficient? Is this nature whom passion could not shake? Whose solid virtue The shot of accident, nor dart of chance, Could neither graze nor pierce?” (Shakespeare and Crowther 97). On the other occasions that defined a furious and frustrated Othello, Emilia, the wife to Iago says, “Here’s a change indeed!” when Othello calls Desdemona a prostitute (Shakespeare and Crowther 24). Unfortunately, the bitterness does not seem to contain the unfounded wrath of Othello until the unforgettable happens. The climax of racism and by far the peak of the play is achieved, when the hand of Othello is caught up in the demise of Desdemona; a cold murder (Proctor 275).
The sentimental and misguided racist spurs that began with the jealousy of Iago and Roderigo have now resulted in murder, and Othello is the culprit who has quickly fallen prey to racial propaganda. When it happens, even those who respected Othello and charged him not by his appearance but his character, are forced to condemn him and rebuke his deeds as an element caused by his skin color. For example, Emilia describes Othello as a “blacker devil!” (Shakespeare and Crowther 236). Moreover, when it comes to the question of infidelity, Emilia answers, “Desdemona was true and was too fond of her most filthy bargain” (Shakespeare and Crowther 63). For the rest of the society, if Othello never chose to ironically loath himself at the pretext of punishing Desdemona, he would have forever remained to be an icon of revered and exemplary behavior; but lest the audience of Shakespeare forgets he has committed murder.
Relating Racism to the Problems of Racial Hatred in Elizabethan England
The dramaturgy of the day, including Shakespeare`s Othello in then England’s old culture, reveals the sense of humor and criticism that used to emanate from racism and stereotypic sentiments (Goodwin, Allen, and Shakespeare 13). Considering that black people earned themselves a description of the stock villains, it then confirms why the audience of Shakespeare had a hard time understanding why he chose to make Othello an icon in this tragedy. The racism of Iago, for instance, is a common tool used by people of his ilk in then days to bargain for their unwarranted hatred against blacks. Consequently, the Moor, as Othello is called, describes the common understanding and attitude of the then Elizabethan England people toward aliens. Indeed, about the many racial prejudices the author uses to describe Othello, it confirms how the black people looked vulnerable and highly predisposed to stereotype in the white society. On the better part, the Elizabethan England can be described as a society that harbored the exotic feeling, fear, and strangeness toward the black faces, considering that after all black were not many amidst them (Goodwin, Allen, and Shakespeare 32). Most importantly, lack of knowledge about the African culture as a people, fear, and prejudice, as well as discrimination must attract enmity, hostility, and distrust on the part of the white community. As such, the race factor in the Elizabethan England was described by the adjectives used to refer to the black people; guilelessness, pride, courage, easily aroused emotions and passions as well as credulity.
Whether A Black Actor Playing Othello Today Would Still Have the Same Effect, It Has Had Throughout the Years
Once the modern audience of Shakespeare in his play “Othello” recognize the culture of the ancient Elizabethan stature, and note that black character was such a villain, then they can relate to the present day setting. Othello had an outstanding character as a black hero then, of course before his fall after committing murder (Goodwin, Allen, and Shakespeare 21). One would ask why Shakespeare made a black character an icon of his play and tragedy. Moreover, one wonders whether Shakespeare had any intimate contact either black people in his life. Indeed, considering the then albeit conservative England culture and the lack of exposure to the African world, a character in the role of Othello cannot have much effect as it did then, because apparently, globalization has settled all the racial, cultural, and religious diversities that helped Shakespeare create suspense and anxiety in the person of Othello. In this twenty-first century, the presence of an African character would be familiar to London and the world beyond. Even though the overcrowding in London created room for Shakespeare to meat black people, however, most of his audience never did, which could not be the case currently. In the tragedy of Othello, Shakespeare makes his black character appear as an animalistic organism, whose evil is brought to light by Iago and Roderigo, but the world refuses to see until later Othello effects his destructive nature after accessing accommodation in the white society (McKeown, Hundley, and Shakespeare 13). On the contrary, a character in the capacity of Othello apparently cannot hit such a degree of importance an concern, because unlike in the fifteenth century and beyond, people in the modern world no longer believe in racism as a factor of influence, instead, one’s character and behavior. Therefore, at a close analysis, an audience makes a character, and the people of London made Othello because of their suspicious reactions to the alien face, unlike it would be the case in the modern world.
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