Racism in William Shakespeare's Othello
The play, Othello, is certainly, in part, the tragedy of racism. Examples of racism are common throughout the dialog. This racism is directed toward Othello, a brave soldier from Africa and currently supreme commander of the Venetian army. Nearly every character uses a racial slur to insult Othello at one point in the play. Even Emilia sinks to the level of insulting Othello based on the color of his skin. The character that most commonly makes racist remarks in Othello is Iago. It is very apparent that Iago uses racism as a scapegoat to hate and blame Othello. Societal racism takes its toll on its victims. The effect of racism on Othello is quite evident and is one of the main causes for his insecurity about his marriage. However, Othello is not wholly the tragedy of racism. The theme of jealousy is also extremely important in Othello. Racism may play a large part in the tragedy, Othello, but it certainly does not adequately explain the entire play.
Othello is a nobleman, a decorated soldier, very well respected by his men (with the exception of Iago). One of the few characteristics that harms, rather than helps him, is that he is dark-skinned in a society utterly dominated by men prejudiced against those with dark skin. At the start of the play, he appears confident that, "My parts, my title, and my perfect soul / Shall manifest me rightly." (1, 2, 36-37) But Iago makes sure to use Othello's race against him as much as possible.
In Act 1, Scene 1, Iago effectively uses racism to turn Brabantio against Othello. He is the catalyst of all the destructive events throughout the play starting from the very beginning. Iago uses viciously racist slang to enrage Brabantio that Othello has wed his daughter. Iago says to Brabantio, "Even now, now, very now, an old black ram / Is tupping your white ewe." (1, 1, 97-98) Iago carries on this theme of dehumanizing Othello by calling him a Barbary Horse, and warning Brabantio that "you'll have your nephews neigh to you, you'll have / coursers for cousins, and jennets for germans." (1, 1, 126-127) These harsh words seem to work well on Brabantio. He turns against his friend, Othello, and labels him as a lesser person because of his race. Iago's easy provocation of an important Venetian senator by using Othello's racial characteristics shows how prevalent racism is in the play.
Roderigo also plays a part in the stereotyping of Othello. He is extremely upset that Desdemona has eloped with Othello, because he has been attempting to court her for several months with no avail. Roderigo, like many other characters, then bad-mouths Othello with racial slurs in order to paint a picture of Othello being a lesser person than himself. Roderigo, with great delight, says, "what a full fortune does the thick-lips owe," (1, 1, 72-73) in order to scapegoat him.
Emilia, when she discovers what Othello has done to Desdemona, also...