Last Updated 08 Apr 2020

The Role of Race in Othello

Category Iago, Othello
Words 1758 (7 pages)

“Although the plots of Shakespeare's plays are specific, the motivations of the characters -- as well as of Shakespeare himself -- have been the source of much debate. Arguments continue over interpretations of Shakespeare's intentions in part because his plays remain so profoundly relevant. ” (www. pbs. org, Teachers’ Guide, Othello : Essay on race, web. ) Othello is the story of a Berber who in the fourteenth century, has reached the top of the pyramid in the Republic of Venice thanks to his value as a valiant general of the army.

However, his life ended prematurely and tragically in the darkness of jealousy and crime. Othello is the only one able to defeat the Turks on the Cyprus battlefront. This is why the Doge sent him for this mission and, incidentally, gives him approval to bond with a woman from the nobility of Venice , Desdemona, daughter of Senator Brabantio, despite the reluctance of the latter, which obviously does not this "Moor" in his family. The drama takes place at the couple's arrival in Cyprus and victorious of the Turks - without a single fight since it is served by the storm which swept the enemy fleet.

Othello becomes the governor of the island and is at the height of his military and personal life since he won the heart and selflessness of Desdemona who even strongly opposed her father to stay with him. From there, it's a highway to hell that Shakespeare offers us, and we are right to ask the question of why such a tragedy, when Othello had just made an exceptional course and that nothing, could predict such a fall? In the play, the Venetian society claims not to be racist, what is true because it allows Othello to become a governor of Cyprus.

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But just like our western and modern society, this racism rises under a speech of tolerance and opening. And it re-appears on the occasion of social struggles, of political or economic crises. It is the case in the play on the occasion of the fight between Iago and Cassio. But this racism is also interiorized by Othello. Why does not he speak to Desdemona? Why does not he rely on her? Because he built his life in a violent fight against exclusion, so that he cannot believe in his happiness.

His class is printed for ever in the face. Othello is a text on otherness, on the impossibility for a Southerner, a Moor, a Berber from North Africa to find his place in Venice at that time without denying all of the above. But if this denial -- and that is the demonstration made by Shakespeare -- can last a while, then it turned against its author whose life turns to a tragedy. The play rises the question of the status of the stranger in our human society in general.

Similarly, Othello may sound like a denunciation, a text that Shakespeare would have made masked in a classical tragedy that could please his audience. But we can also consider that the work, with its multiple facets exceeded its own author. It seems t that the idea there is probably a reflection on the question of otherness and the need of human societies to be open to the Other, to avoid the risk of dying themselves from the isolation in which they stand, is widespread with regard to this text. The heart of this tragedy is the question of "acculturation".

To take a place in society, the Stranger or more precisely "the dominated", is obliged to begin this process which is to adopt the dominant culture to be recognized in the world of mainstream. The question of the disappearance of the original culture becomes glaring, because without it the "dominated" loses its soul and so a part of his life. Returning to the text, we can notice first that Othello is often referred to its origins, the color of his skin, his "strangeness", in short, non-membership in the Republic of Venice, this irrespectively of the invaluable services he could have render.

In the first scene of Act I, Iago, Othello’s "faithful" servant, who could not bear not to have been appointed by him as lieutenant, is trying to oppose the Senator Brabantio, Desdemona's father , to the love affair between his master and Desdemona. Iago’s terms would today lead to court prosecution for racism : "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".

A little further the remarks are no less moderate: "I am one sir, that comes to tell you your daughter and the moor are making the beast with two backs “. We also learn in this first act, when Othello is obliged to explain the circumstances of his love with Desdemona (“strange and against nature”), that Brabantio that was linked to him in some "friendship "but we understand that it was true as he remained in the place which was his own, without going to compete with the Venetian nobles and hope to enter, for example, in the family.

In this situation, the witch trials is already wielded by Brabantio accusing Othello of magic. Othello: "Her father loved me, he often invited me, he asked me the story of my life ... ”. This is in sharp contrast to the despair and violence of the father when he learns that his daughter left with Othello. He even make explicit reference to skin color and supposed ugliness of the stranger: Scene 2 of the first act: "Can a girl so tender, so beautiful would [... ] never ran from the tutelage of her father in a black soot to be like you, to fear, not to delight. . Scene 3 of the first act: "... become, despite his love of nature [... ] she was afraid to look! ". Othello’s forced denial is complete: he converted to Christianity and blames himself the Turks who represent Muslim revivalism, until his last words which will be discussed further. No word on his Berber origins nor his first religion which is Islam in all likelihood It seems to devote a genuine hatred for the Turks in the name of this total feeling of belonging to the Republic of Venice. He understood that his ascent is the price.

It is simply swept away, erased its own and profound identity in its very essence. We can see in the same time as the others always refer to the "particuliarities" that are his, his "strangeness," and then only when it comes to belittle, humiliate and to remove any legitimacy on this earth for which he fought body and soul. His denial is the cause of Othello's descent into hell, into a kind of belated recognition that he was at the zenith of its glory. The "homecoming" seems to be inevitable for all of us, especially one who is living an important moment of his life and history.

At the peak of his life, the Moor of Venice is undoubtedly aware of his confinement in this gilded citadel - military glory and carnal love. Then he givse up, probably unconsciously, self-destruction and easily falls into the trap of his so called faithful villainous Iago. There is a strong moment in this play, the only one to make a positive reference to the origins of Othello: it is the episode of the handkerchief, a crucial object that comes from his mother when she was on her deathbed. Othello's mother is quoted there for the first time, as a remnant of that origin killed out of necessity ...

This hences the importance of the handkerchief Othello and focusing on its loss. The fact that the object has been given to Cassio, Desdemona's supposed lover, therefore appears quite high. The behavior of Lodovico, the Doge's sent to Cyprus to recall Othello, is the most emblematic of the shaky status of Othello in this society he wanted to endorse with all his heart: it is as if Othello man considered and respected, was expected at the turn, as if it were enough for him to make any mistakes so that everybody will sound the most negative about him and forget immediately all its virtues.

That's what it feels well in Act 4, Scene One: Lodovico, ironic, after seeing Othello in the grip of jealousy hit Desdemona: "This would not be believed in Venice, Though I should swear I saw it " . Othello seems to be the subject of a hostile nature, a sort of presumed guilt until he proves he is innocent The tragedy of Othello is that he felt one day that his meteoric success was insignificant because it was really and deeply – socially and culturally -- was denied by a block of domination in a society which he lived in and which he has become, paradoxically, one of the banners.

Irreversible process, there remained to be a good reason for the man to end the world, and he is guided by hatred Iago who is going to serve him a dish of lies and machinations . Othello then gives up again. Iago does not kill Othello, but gives him the means to destroy himself. After his credit tainted by political and military actions that Venice could not accept, he decides to kill the woman who deeply loved him and to end his own life with these words that clearly show his awareness of the " wrong way "it has made in his life :" ... f one whose hand, like the base Judean, threw the pearl away richer than all his tribe; of one whose subdued eyes, albeit unused to the melting mood, drops tears as fast as the Arabian trees their med’ cinable gum. Set you down this. And say besides that in Aleppo once, where a malignant and turbaned Turk beat a Venetian and traduced the state, I took by th’ throat the circumcised dog and smote him -- thus (He stabs himself). " Everything is here, up to the tribe of Othello's origins and thus he has "betrayed" ...

And we might think that "circumcised dog" is Othello himself. As we said in the beginning, Shakespeare’s work have always been the source of much debate and of many interpretation. In deed, let’s conclude with a quote from the critic Harold Bloom in his book Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human notes, "We can keep finding the meanings of Shakespeare, but never the meaning. As each generation re-interprets Shakespeare, it's likely that these issues will continue to challenge, infuriate, and intrigue audiences.

The Role of Race in Othello essay

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