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Racism And Racism In Othello

The theme of racism has played a paramount role in works of literature throughout the ages. Othello by William Shakespeare is no exception to this. Race takes up many different roles in order to have a major effect on the play. Viewing the play through a racial lens one can see; the prejudices of Shakespeare’s time, Shakespeare’s own prejudices, the true meaning of Othello’s “blackness”, and the effects of each characters own prejudices. Racism leads to Othello’s downfall and other tragic endings and is thus a highly prevalent theme in Othello.
If one wants to examine Racism in Othello one must first look at the historical background of the period in which it was written. The way Othello is addressed in Venetian society clearly displays the racist tendencies of the period. He is known to the people within Venice and throughout Europe as The Moor of Venice (Bloom 67). After the conquest of the Moors throughout Europe most Europeans had come to dislike them. By creating Othello as a black Moor it made it very easy for Shakespeare to create characters with racist beliefs and in turn it was easy to create a play in which racism played a key role. Othello is constantly subjected to the racism within Venetian society. As he is more and more exposed to it, he effectively embodies the stereotypes that the people give him (Adelman 125).
Shakespeare had his own personal beliefs about racism, and he transferred those beliefs into Othello. The play actually begins with a white male, Iago. None of Shakespeare’s other plays put the main character through such scrutiny before he even appears in the play (Adelman 125). Before Othello even sets foot on stage Shakespeare brings forth Iago to set the prejudice tone of the play. Iago states the f…

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…perfect/That will confess perfection so could err/Against all rules of nature,” (Shakespeare ). Here Brabantio argues that Desdemona’s love for Othello is not natural and that it makes no sense for her to marry someone that she should fear to look at. Brabantio’s racism eventually leads to him dying of a broken heart.
As one can see, racism and prejudice leads to almost all of the characters’ downfalls. Brabantio, Iago, Desdemona, and Emilia all seal their fates because of their racist beliefs. Othello epitomizes the stereotype that both the story and the Europeans of the period gave him and he brings his downfall upon himself. Othello is, in reality, a play about the way prejudice can affect people. Shakespeare goes to an extreme and ultimately kills all of the main characters to drive his point home. Overall, racism lead to multiple downfalls and tragic endings.

General Othello in Othello

William Shakespeare gave us a most moving drama in Othello. In this play we witness the demise of a “paragon” of a wife and a “valiant Moor”, Othello. Let us consider the Moor in detail, with professional critical input, in this essay.

From the text of the play a number of clues can be gleaned which round out the description of the general. In William Shakespeare: The Tragedies, Paul A. Jorgensen describes the general in Othello:

Though scarcely the “barbarian” (1.3.353) he is called, the Moor is emphatically black, probably rough, even fearsome, in appearance, and a foreign mercenary from Mauritania in refined Venice. Though of royal blood, since the age of seven he had a restrictive, painful life, being sold into slavery and spending most of his life in “the tented field” (1.3.85).

His “occupation” (3.3.357), to a degree found in no other Shakespearean hero, is war. He can therefore speak of the great world little “more than pertains to feats of broil and battle” (1.3.87). But that he loves the gentle Desdemona, he would to have given up a life of unsettled war and his “unhoused free condition / … For the sea’s worth” (1.2.26-27). (58)

The first appearance of the protagonist is in Act 1 Scene2, where Iago is pathologically lying about Brabantio and himself and the ancient’s relations with the general and about everything in general. Othello responds very coolly and confidently to the pressing issue of Brabantio’s mob coming after him: “Let him do his spite. / My services which I have done the signiory / Shall out-tongue his complaints.” However, Cassio’s party approaches first, with a demand for the general’s “haste-post-haste appearance” before the Venetian council due to the Turkish attempt on Cyp…

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… rises to the occasion and refutes the lies of her husband – at the price of her life. Her martyr-like example inspires Othello to sacrifice his life next to the corpse of Desdemona; for he “Like the base Judean, threw a pearl away / Richer than all his tribe [. . .] .” He dies a noble death, just as he has lived a noble life. Michael Cassio’s evaluation of his end is our evaluation: “This did I fear, but thought he had no weapon; / For he was great of heart.”


Shakespeare, William. Othello. In The Electric Shakespeare. Princeton University. 1996. No line nos.

Coles, Blanche. Shakespeare’s Four Giants. Rindge, New Hampshire: Richard Smith Publisher, 1957.

Jorgensen, Paul A. William Shakespeare: The Tragedies. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1985.

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