Tension is defined as “the feeling caused by a lack of trust between people, groups, or countries that do not agree about something and may attack each other” (Macmillian Dictionary). Shakespeare seamlessly conveys tensions between different cultures in multiple plays through his expert use of language and ethnic knowledge. These tensions may result from the hatred between two races, two religions or two ideologies. Racial tensions are most pronounced in Shakespeare’s Othello and religious tensions are most prominent in The Merchant of Venice.
Othello is a play where Iago tricks Othello into believing that Desdemona is unfaithful and to do so Iago manipulates and disposes of characters at his will. The play Othello begins with Roderigo and Iago telling Brabantio that his daughter has married Othello. This leads Brabantio to confront Othello, and that is where Brabantio learns that Desdemona willingly chose to marry the Moor. Right after that event, Othello has to go off to war to fight the Turks. Later on, Othello safely arrives in Cyprus while a storm destroys the Turkish fleet so; the city of Cyprus has a celebration. At this party Cassio gets drunk and gets into a fight where he injures Montano, which results in Cassio’s demotion from his position as lieutenant. Iago then tells Cassio to ask Desdemona to help get back his position. Iago tells Othello that Desdemona is cheating on him with Cassio since they are always together. Emilia gives Iago Desdemona’s handkerchief and Iago places it in Cassio’s possession and then Iago tells Othello that he will get Cassio to admit that he slept with Desdemona. Othello becomes enraged and tells Iago to kill Cassio, but Iago only injures Cassio and then Othello kills Desdemona. At the end of the play it is revealed that Desdemona was innocent, and out of grief Othello kills himself.
This play was greatly influenced by the events that occurred in Spain during the 1600s. During this time period there was a grand war being waged between Spain and the Moors (Johnson 29). This war had an impact on the way Spaniards and all of Europe perceived the Moors, whom they viewed as uncivilized threats to their sophisticated ways of life. This helps to explain the high racial tensions that were expressed throughout the play. Due to European distaste for the Moors, it’s logical that Shakespeare would depict Othello as someone who is abusive to women, quick to anger, and very jealous. These characteristics of Othello show him to be weak; it provides a sense of superiority for the civilized Europeans because their character, Iago, is portrayed as cunning and very shrewd. Othello’s “blackness is the indelible witness to Othello’s permanent status as an outsider” (Bloom 45). The obvious racial undertone throughout the play provides strong evidence for the Venetian culture’s distaste for the barbarous Moors and people of color.
Throughout the play there are various instances where it is clear to see that there is a sense of...