From its 1604 publishing date until the modern era, Shakespeare’s Othello has continued to be an essential sociological tool in its historical evocation of discussions of prejudice. The modern chronology of Othello’s worldwide criticism is consistently laden with race issues and exhibits the development of human thought in its gradual drift away from the archaic structural notions of human difference toward a more humanist and sensible perspective. This timeline of documented literary reactions validate the importance of discussing race in Othello.
Proclivity toward racial misconception plagued Othello’s early modern critical works so frequently that it provides generous insight into the ...view middle of the document...
Published in 1952, Butcher’s Othello’s Racial Identity makes an attempt to pinpoint Othello’s ethnicity through both folio and historical documentation. Throughout Othello, numerous instances of characters describe Othello’s appearance as “black” and “thick-lipp’d” (Butcher,243). Butcher’s primary conclusive evidence for Othello’s absolute blackness is a mere collection of patently racist generalizations. Overlooking other significant themes in favor of expressing his own ethnocentricity, Butcher reinforces the dominant prejudicial hierarchy of the time, as does his narrow argument about something as inconsequential Othello’s specific racial classification.
In a notable global performance of Othello, Japenese director Ninagawa Yukio attempted the first production of an all Japanese cast Othello to no avail. He acknowledged that his version failed because Othello can only be played with characters of contrasting color, yielding that the unique western problem of ethnic discrimination and racial tensions…make it wrong for the Japanese to produce” (Tierney, 514). Yukio’s failed experiment Reinstates the fundamental, unique importance of ethnological dialogues of difference in Othello, as most of Japan’s population is visually indistinguishable, thus much less familiar with the type of racial bigotry between white and black.
A painting of Morocco’s 1600 Royal Ambassador to Queen Elizabeth, acquired by the Shakespeare Institute in the mid-fifties provided concrete visual evidence for the Elizabethan presence of blackness and race in the era, visually confirming what many readers wished to deny. Harris’ Portrait of a Moor examines the significance of obtaining the painting. Political relations between Elizabethan England and Morocco were convoluted at best. Moors were often semi-visually identified as ‘blackamores’ and Englishmen along with Elizabethans widely associated them negatively as “subtle, stubborn, bestial, and intolerant” (Hendricks, 4). Moors were formally expelled from England’s society, yet hypocritically they were tolerated when useful in commercial and diplomatic affairs. Harris asserts that Shakespeare’s presentation of Othello as a hero contradicts the racial hierarchies of his time, as Shakespeare was conscious of the racial complexities of the time, unlike many of his peers (Harris,35).
In Othello, we see the gross English preconceptions of blacks in full dramatic form. Iago critiques Othello and Desdemona’s marriage as follows:
Not to affect many proposed matches,
Of her own clime, complexion and degree,
Whereto we see in all things nature tends—
Foh! one may smell in such a will most rank,
Foul disproportions, thoughts unnatural.
[III. iii. 229-33]
Othello and Desdemona’s interracial relationship would be publicly viewed as repulsive by Elizabethan England. English sentiments concerning Moors are detailed by Everett in Spanish Othello. Through exploring the linguistic origins of each character’s name,...