Racism in William Shakespeare’s Othello Essay

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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
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The alleged supersexuality of Africans also figures in the play: Iago calls Othello the “lusty Moor,” describing him with images of animal sexuality. Other characters reflect similar prejudice. (128)

Perhaps the charges of racism in the play are exaggerated. Louis B. Wright and Virginia A. LaMar in “The Engaging Qualities of Othello” comment on the Elizabethan point of view:

Much ink has been spilled in the debate over the color of Othello and what physical characteristics Shakespeare attributed to a “Moor.” Actors who have portrayed the part have also shown much concern over their make-up. There is little to indicate that Shakespeare of his contemporaries would have interpreted the union of Othello and Desdemona as a problem in mixed marriage or would have regarded the racial differences as of vital interest. To the Elizabethans, Othello was an exotic, and such interest as always attaches to exotics attached to him. (129)

In the opening scene, while Iago is expressing his dislike, or rather hatred, for the general Othello for his having chosen Michael Cassio for the lieutenancy, he contrives a plan to partially avenge himself (“I follow him to serve my turn upon him”), with Roderigo’s assistance, by alerting Desdemona’s father, Brabantio, to the fact of his daughter’s elopement with Othello. Roderigo shares Iago’s prejudiced attitude toward Othello: “What a full fortune does the thicklips owe / If he can carry't thus!”

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