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The Importance Of Race In Othello

1036 words - 4 pages

Throughout time, writing has evolved such that gender, race and creed have taken on a more pivotal role in fiction. Some people argue that race in William Shakespeare’s tragedy, “Othello,” is hardly an issue. However, to many people, race is everything in “Othello. The challenges that Othello, the lead character, faces are directly attributed to his “Moor” complexion and if he were of a different nationality, the outcome of his situation would have been drastically different. These claims are supported by the articles of “Othello’s Alienation” by Edward Berry and “Race Mattered: Othello in Late Eighteenth-Century England” by Virginia Mason Vaughan that argue that race is a major element in “Othello.”

Within the first scene of “Othello,” the antagonist, Iago, shows his true feelings for Othello. He confides in Roderigo that he deserved the job that Othello gave to Cassio. In Iago’s rant, he proclaims that Cassio has been given the job of lieutenant while he would be the “his Moorship’s ancient.” Iago goes on to say, “Now sir, be judge yourself, /whether I in any just term am affined/to love the Moor. Yet, again, Iago refers to Othello’s race as if it were a deciding factor in his actions.

His statement leads to the question: Would Iago feel any more loyal to Othello if he were of a different complexion? Would Othello have the same problems if he were white? And ultimately, why would Othello so undisputedly believe the lies that he was told?

In the article, “Othello’s Alienation,” Berry explains that Othello’s race is “not only a mark of his physical alienation but a symbol, to which every character in the play, himself included, must respond” (Berry 319). In this alienation comes insecurities; Othello cannot help but to believe what others say. He takes any bit of help as a gift, for he believes that he is not worthy of the help of white people. For this reason, he, without question, believes Iago.

When Iago makes a point of including Othello’s race in a conversation with a confidant, it proves that he feels that Othello’s race is the reason for his actions. There is an obvious abhorrence for Othello based upon his race. Later in the play, Iago goes on to say “If she had been blessed, she would never have loved the Moor” (Reading and Writing Across the Curriculum “WRAC” ). This statement shows that Iago is jealous of Othello because he won the love of Desdemona and is cause for insecurities on his part. Iago must now question his marriage and whether or not Othello is cause for infidelity. These insecurities act as extra motivation for Iago’s actions.

Aside from Iago, his wife Emilia, also shares in his racist outbursts. Berry clarifies that when Othello tells Emilia that he has killed Desdemona and Emilia calls him “[a] blacker devil. ” (Berry 321) she shows that she has always thought him “a black devil” (Berry 322). Her racist tendencies are exemplified in this statement and ascertain that she has always harbored bad sentiments...

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