Racism in Othello
Pick one non-dramatic text used on the module, (an extract from Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s Literary Remains,) and demonstrate how it might assist us comprehend Othello. The extract provides a sustained attack by Coleridge on Shakespeare for his absence of realism in the ‘monstrous’ depiction of a marital relationship in between a ‘beautiful Venetian girl,’ and a ‘genuine negro,’ in Othello. He sees Shakespeare’s change of a ‘barbarous negro’ into a respected soldier and nobleman of stature as ‘oblivious’, considering that at the time, ‘negroes were not known other than as slaves. (Appendix) The extract appears to raise 2 concerns– how central is the taboo of miscegeny to the play, and to what extent is Othello’s track record able to counter this bias? It is certainly not difficult to conclude that it is probably Shakespeare’s most controversial play. There is a clear style of racism throughout, one which was securely embedded in the Venetian society which declines the marriage of Othello and Desdemona as erring, ‘versus all rules of nature,’ [1. 3. 02] Nothing separates Othello from, ‘the rich curled beloveds of our country,’ [1. 2. 68] other than skin-colour– he matches or perhaps exceeds them in credibility. At the start of the play, he appears confident that, OTHELLO: My parts, my title, and my ideal soul Shall manifest me appropriately. Othello 1. 2. 31-2 when he is hired front of the court on charges of witchcraft, yet the sinister Iago has the ability to call on Othello’s deep-rooted insecurities about his race in order to play Othello and Desdemona against one another till their marital relationship fails.
Basically, Iago is an agent of the white race, a pre-Nazi figure who tries to inform the general public of the impurity of Othello and Desdemona’s marriage. He demonstrates how this hybrid is threatening to the existing social order, and eventually, Othello’s life time of achievement is not enough to encourage others from prejudice in a minute of crisis (such as Desdemona’s elopement,) or sustain his self-confidence in the long-run. Othello is structured so that the main facility of the play, ntroducing the primary themes, appears near the beginning. It is apparent that Iago has actually an agenda prepared of malevolent percentages with Othello at its target. He is the driver of all the damaging happenings within the play beginning with the very starting when he and Roderigo approach the house of Brabantio in 1. 1. He uses crude, racist language to appeal to the senator’s conventional beliefs, consisting of such expressions as, IAGO: Even now, now, very now, an old black ram Is tupping your white ewe! Othello 1. 1. 87-88
Iago even goes so far regarding propose that Brabantio’s grandchildren will be animals since of his daughter’s base marriage with an ‘other.’ IAGO: … you’ll have your child covered with a Barbary horse, you’ll have your nephews neigh to you, you’ll have coursers for cousins, and jennets for germans. Othello 1. 1. 109-112 Later on we are told that Iago’s intention is jealousy and he uses the rhetoric of racism to weaken Othello, playing on Brabantio’s bias to provoke him, despite the fact that, as Othello relates later on, ‘Her dad liked me, oft invited me. [1. 3. 129] A shock and a couple of crude remarks from Iago is all it takes to make a reputable figure turn versus a friend of equivalent stature simply because of skin colour. Technically, Brabantio was not legally allowed to nullify his daughter’s marital relationship to the Moor as she was over the age of approval. Culturally, however, he had all the assistance required to challenge the marital relationship offered common racist presumptions of the time, and implicates Othello of sorcery and witchcraft.
This indicates first of all that he is not able to envision his child wilfully deceiving him, a reasonable response provided her past devoted behaviour, ‘so tender, reasonable and pleased’ [1. 2. 66] and the nature of the patriarchal society in which she lived. Secondly, like Coleridge, he can not think she would ever ‘fall in love with what she feared to look on,’ [1. 3. 99] without the help of spells, and finally, he recommends that Othello’s race makes him efficient in these powers of ‘black’ magic– we have to ask ourselves; if Desdemona had eloped with Roderigo, would he be implicated of witchcraft?
If Brabantio had not reverted to his bias and remained calm, he might have thought of questioning the legality of the marriage based on the Canon Law’s requirement of consummation, but he stops working to do so, picking rather to attempt to nullify it by claiming that his child was the victim of spells and witchcraft. In other words, Brabantio, a highly regarded member of Venetian society, might have contested the marriage contract realistically and legally, but rather he draws on utilizing discriminative presumptions as weapons, encouraged by Iago.
These events, so early on in the play, establish the idea of white pureness and goodness, recommending that other races represent darkness and evil. The clear cut binary opposition between the blackness of Othello and the fair brightness of Desdemona is developed and united in matrimony, a concept that Shakespeare appears to be try out to suggest the chaos that would occur in a cultural context. Although Othello is not constructed to be the cleverest and most cunning character of the play, he is one Shakespeare’s bravest characters, and he does exhibit a particular wit uncommon to the European idea of a Moor.
He is a significant, romantic guy who has won the heart of a senator’s daughter, in spite of his confession that ‘disrespectful am I in my speech,’ [1. 3. 82] and the Duke confesses that ‘this tale would win my child too.’ [1. 3. 172] Othello is a hero who has actually led a long life loaded with good deeds, which was necessary for a Moor to have his existence tolerated in a predominately white culture. He has actually combated as a Venetian soldier and won the trust of his people. But has he actually won their trust? We experienced how quick Brabantio was to forget his honourable nature.
Othello had won the love of Desdemona with his stories of battle and he had actually likewise guaranteed an injured Brabantio that he would be a loyal son-in-law by that same token. He should be able to go beyond certain presumptions of race through his heroism and courageousness. He handled the whole socio-political structure and had his method with it for a time, however the play reveals all too plainly how thin the value of his track record was to become, in the eyes of others, and to himself. In Act 1, the audience witnesses Brabantio’s response to his daughter’s elopement, and this is incredibly substantial.
Othello has actually hitherto been treated with excellent reverence in Venetian society, but Shakespeare creates a moment of crisis to examine the level to which Othello’s reputation defines him when he needs it most. As long as reasoning exists, there will be little space for bias, which is based upon illogical and unreasonable ‘gut’ feelings, but Iago works by removing logic, his crudity and base animal images highlights the primal side of others. Sadly, he shows how quickly this can be achieved through a moment of crisis and a couple of option words.
Act 1almost provides the play in mini; Iago goes on to bigger and much better things when he manages to make Othello turn social prejudice in on himself. The scene with Brabantio also goes to show that Iago’s justification is as efficient in infuriating a civil Venetian senator as it is (as the Elizabethan audience would see it,) a hot-blooded Moor. Othello’s racial ‘characteristics’ such as a quick mood and jealousy, (assumptions held at the time) do not produce his downfall– Iago does– but he is just able to achieve it by working on Othello’s weak points, his insecurity over his race being main to this.
The ‘temptation scene’ of 3. 3 is crucial to an understanding of the methods used by Iago to make Othello doubt Desdemona, by making him doubt himself. His first move following Othello’s rejection of her extramarital relations is to ensure him that, ‘I understand our country’s disposition well’ [3. 3. 204] advising him of his nature as an outsider, and as such, of a lower authority to understand the methods of Venetian females, and certainly, women in basic, using his insecurities at his absence of experience in relations with the opposite sex. He is forced to trust Iago to describe the world to him. And yet how nature, erring from itself–‘ [3. 3. 231] is the crucial point at which we see Othello crack– he has linked Desdemona’s rejection of the ‘curled darlings’ [1. 2. 68] or ‘natural’ choices for other halves with the presence of something innately unnatural and suspect in her character. At line 267, he makes an uncommon recommendation to his blackness in a negative way, and starts to compare himself to Cassio, who is fair, eloquent, and courtly, and reveals his insecurity over his age too. However, when he sees her, he refuses to elieve Iago, but as we see, the damage has been done, and he goes back to Iago to demand ‘ocular evidence.’ [3. 3. 363] Othello is then deceived extremely easily by a thin and insubstantial illusion, after which, he vows to eliminate her, without challenging her when. The ease with which Iago was able to attain this task is frightening, and rests completely on a basic optical trick and his ability to use Othello’s insecurities, a big part of which is his race, and disbelief at Desdemona’s love. We should not forget to look at the behaviour of Desdemona in order to witness the cultural taboo in action.
Desdemona is depicted as a magnificent figure, however exceptionally naive. Her naivety is illustrated in her conversations with her hubby. She does not understand that Othello is the object of Iago’s manipulation, nor does she comprehend the ramifications of her speech. In Act 1, Iago specifies that, IAGO: It can not be that Desdemona needs to long continue her love to the Moor. Othello 1. 3. 342-344 He echoes Coleridge’s issue that her love of Othello ‘would argue a disproportionateness, a desire of balance, in Desdemona, which Shakespeare does not appear to have in the least contemplated. (Appendix) In Act 2, again conversing with Roderigo, Iago states that she will discover the fault in her option since she will discover how Othello does not have, IAGO: love- liness in favor, compassion in years, good manners and beauties. Othello 2. 1. 226-228 Everyone appears to think that Desdemona has little understanding of the actions she is taking, and all the characters see the marital relationship as an unavoidable failure. One of the most questionable scenes in all of Shakespeare takes place in the bedchamber where the Moor’s virtuous other half sleeps comfortably. The action is decreased to a sombre pace.
Othello has gone back to a savage-like state as everyone had actually presumed. Desdemona’s death was inescapable or rather anticipated by everyone who first saw the marriage in between the 2 as forbidden. However, Othello’s death is much more symbolic since it represents the ‘other’ failing after attempting to attain the status of the white guy. Othello ultimately acknowledges the reality that he is an ‘other’ when he understands his irreconcilable fault and picks to take his own life. Hence upon his suicide his last words implicate that those who stand in his presence needs to speak of him as he genuinely is, and understand that,
OTHELLO: Like the base Judean, tossed a pearl away Richer than all his people Othello 5. 2. 345-346 At the end of the play Othello dedicates suicide in front of the audience, a public statement of his shame at his dishonour, produced by Iago, but only due to the fact that he was able to use the insecurities buried deep within Othello. Clearly, the binary opposition represented in the relationship in between the black Othello and the white Desdemona is an illustration of cultural tension. The failure of these two individuals to mate successfully demonstrates a cultural failure.
Racism is the tool used in Othello by Iago to ruin the lives of two visually different kinds of individuals. However, as Davison explains, Othello is not ‘about’ race, or colour, or perhaps jealousy. It dramatises the method actions are directed by mindsets, worries, and deceptions that rule the subconscious than by obvious realities. (Davison, 1988, p. 64) We can criticise Shakespeare’s usage of racism from a contemporary perspective, but it is important to remember that it was fundamental in the culture in which he was composing, and Iago is revealed as simply identifying a reliable method to ring about Othello’s failure– he also makes him insecure about his age and absence of experience with females. Othello is an example of a noble black guy at a time, supposedly, when, ‘negroes were not known except as servants,’ (Appendix) yet bigotry intrinsic in the society which he lived can minimizing him to the barbarous state everybody at root anticipated of him. Thus Shakespeare presents us with a morality play at the historic height of the colonial slave trade with bigotry and miscegeny at its core, initially we witness this through Brabantio, then the tragic repercussions when Othello, with Iago’s assistance, turns social prejudice onto himself.