by William Shakespeare
Is Othello A Racist Play?
Although several events occur within the play that might
suggest that "Othello" is a racist work, racism does not
actually dominate the play. The play was written at a time
when blacks were not accepted in English society and
therefore, the romantic union that occurs between Othello
and Desdemona cannot last and is destroyed. Most racist
remarks in the play are spoken by people who are angry or
upset. For example, when Emilia finds out that Othello
killed Desdemona, she calls Othello a "Blacker devil". This
is the only time in the play that she says anything racist
about Othello. Other characters that have racist attitudes
towards Othello are Iago, Brabantio, Roderigo and Emilia.
Iago is the most racist character of all and his hatred
towards Othello begins when Othello chooses Cassio to be
his lieutenant. Iago feels slighted, as he has more
experience in warfare than Cassio. This feeling
precipitates his scheme against Othello and he begins by
saying many negative things about him behind his back. He
scheme to destroy Othello, also includes Cassio and
Desdemona. The first time we hear one of his racist
comments is when he's talking to Brabantio about Othello
" Even now, very now, an old black ram is tupping your
Iago says this to try and turn Brabantio against Othello.
He never says anything racist to Othello's face, but rather
pretends to be his best friend.
Iago is jealous of Othello for many reasons, one being that
Othello has a higher rank in the army than he, and he has a
good marriage with Desdemona which Iago does not have with
his wife, Emilia. These are the main causes of his hatred
for Othello and the reason he adopts such a racist
Roderigo is another one of the racist characters in the
play. He is Iago's accomplice and will do anything for him.
He does this because of the way Iago can twist a situation
to make it sound as if Roderigo would benefit from it. 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.
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 angry that he
sends out his guards to catch Othello and put him into
prison. Brabantio views Othello as a " foul and dirty no
good black". Unlike Iago and Roderigo, Brabantio will
openly make racist comments about Othello to his face such
" lascivious moor",
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. When she finds
out what Othello has done, she expresses her feelings about
"O, the more angel she, and you the blacker devil!"
Although this is the only time she says what she thinks of
him, she never really approved of the realationship.
The theme of the play is about a black and white union,
which was later destroyed. Shakespeare feels that the union
between the two is right, but the relationship would never
be accepted by society at that time and had to be
destroyed. 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 indicates that the
playwright approved of a black and white relationship and
was not a racist.
Once before Shakespeare wrote a sonnet about his mistress
which says, for example,
"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 their mistresses as being white
and perfect. Although the play has a racist undercurrent,
the play was not written with that intent and is not a
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