Othello - A Racist Play?
Although there are lots of things to suggest this is a racist
play I don't think that racism actually dominates the play, even
though it has a racist theme. There is a romantic union between black
and white which gets destroyed because most people think the
relationship is wrong. At the time the play was written, 1604, even
the Queen of England was racist so there must have been a strong
hatred of blacks around that time.
Most racist comments in the play are said by people that are
angry or upset. For example, when Emilia found out that Othello
had killed Desdemona she was extremely mad and she called Othello a
"Blacker devil", this was the only time in the play that she had said
anything racist about Othello. The main characters that have racist
attitudes are Iago, Brabantio, Roderigo and Emilia, with the hatred of
Othello as the basis for their racist actions and comments towards
him. Iago is the most racist character in the book as he has it in for
Othello right from the start. What sparks off Iago's hate towards him
is the fact that when Othello chose his lieutenant , it was Cassio who
was chosen instead of Iago. What made Iago angry was the fact that
Cassio had no experience in war when he did and Cassio was chosen
instead of him. Iago does not say anything racist to Othello's face
but he has a lot to say against him behind his back. He schemes to
destroy Othello and anything in his way including Cassio and
Desdemona. The first time we hear one of his racist comments is when
he's talking to Brabantio about Othello and Desdemona,
"Even now, very now, an old black ram is tupping your white ewe".
Iago says this to try and turn Brabantio against Othello. Iago uses
racist comments all the way through the play, as he tries to turn
people against Othello, for example calling him a "Barbary Horse". He
never says anything racist to Othello's face because in his plot he
had to be his best friend, so as not to make him suspicious that Iago
was causing all the trouble for him. Iago is jealous of Othello for
many reasons, one being that Othello has higher ranking in the army
than him, and also he has a good marriage with Desdemona which Iago
does not have himself with Emilia. These are the main causes of his
hatred for Othello and the reason he adopts such a racist attitude.
Roderigo is another one of the racist characters in the play,
being so right from the start. He is Iago's accomplice and will do
anything that Iago wants him to. I think he does this because of the
way Iago can twist a situation to make it sound as if Roderigo would
get something good from it but in the end he doesn't.
One of the racist names he calls Othello behind his back is
"Thick-lips" . He hates Othello because he's jealous of him as he
also loves Desdemona but cannot have her. I don't think he views
Othello in a very bad, racist way but uses the racism against Othello
because he's jealous of him. Neither Roderigo or Iago would say
anything racist to Othello's face as he is the general of the army.
Brabantio is also a racist character, and is enraged when he
finds out that his daughter, Desdemona, has been seeing "the moor"
behind his back. Brabantio is so mad he sends out his guards to catch
Othello and put him in prison. Brabantio views Othello as a foul and
dirty no good black, I think this racist view of his is because he's
angry when he finds out that his daughter has been seeing this "moor".
Unlike Iago and Roderigo, Brabantio will openly make racist comments
about Othello to his face such as,
Brabantio can do this because he is the Senator of Venice and is
higher in rank than Othello.
The other character who is racist towards Othello is Emilia, the
lady in waiting to Desdemona. Emilia is disgusted with Othello when
she finds out that Othello had killed Desdemona this is the time she
gets a chance to express her feelings about Othello,
"O, the more angel she, and you the blacker devil!"
Although this is the only time she says what she thinks of him, I
think that she was racist towards Othello all through the play and did
not approve of his relationship with Desdemona but just could not show
it because she would get in trouble with her "lord".
Because Shakespeare wrote a play about a black and white union,
which was later destroyed, I think it shows that he's not racist. I
think he feels that the union between the two is right, but the
relationship would never survive in a racist community at that time.
He portrayed the union between Othello and Desdemona as a good thing,
and the people who destroyed it, mainly Iago and Roderigo as evil.
This shows once again that he approves of a black and white
relationship and therefore was not racist himself.
Once before Shakespeare wrote a sonnet about his mistress which says,
"If snow be white, why then her breast be dun"
He writes about his mistress being black when other poets of that time
wrote about how their mistresses were white. The other poets were the
racist ones, they girlfriends were always white and perfect,
Shakespeare wrote about how his mistresses is black and not very
beautiful. Although the play has a strong racist theme against blacks
I don't think that the play is racist.
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