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ConnieAnnKirk
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Othello and Race

Is Shakespeare making any arguments about race in his society through the play Othello?
~ConnieAnnKirk




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StevePerk1
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Re: Othello and Race

I haven't finished the play, so my thoughts may change, but my initial impression has been somewhat a surprise at how fair-minded Shakespeare appears to be regarding race and prejudice.  While there are definitely racial slurs and stereotypes alluded to in the course of the play, they seem to be given voice by the antagonistic or foolish characters (Iago and Roderigo, respectively), whereas the more sympathetic characters (the Duke, Desdemona, Cassio, Montano) appear to be quite warm and genuine in their admiration and high-esteem.  The racist sentiments seem grouped with all the other vices in characters we are naturally inclined to reject or condemn.  

 

I guess I'd expected the play to have had a general threshold or background-level of racism in all the characters that would be inherent to the day and probably not even conscious in the minds of the characters or even Shakespeare himself.  I don't see it though, so I'm somewhat surprised.

 

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Fitzprof212
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Re: Othello and Race

I do have to add one thing to StevePerk1's post: Brabantio, a senator, also uses racial epithets.  He's very highly respected in the community and he seemingly loves and respects Othello.  However, when Brabantio finds out that O is with his daughter, his tone completely changes.  The rest of the characters don't seem to make as much of an issue out of Othello's race and foreign-ness as he does himself, though. 
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ConnieAnnKirk
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Re: Othello and Race

Has anyone ever read any biographical studies or literary criticism about Shakespeare's views on race?  Such a discussion highlighting the subject probably wasn't even in the vocabulary back then, but sometimes artists can be ahead of their times in tolerance, or at least awareness, of societal issues.
~ConnieAnnKirk




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Strenia
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Re: Othello and Race

[ Edited ]

Part of the reason that Iago hates Othello is because of his race.  However, when you consider that Iago's status in society is quite low, this doesn't seem to matter much.

 

Which leads one to ask:

This is primarily a play about how stealthy evil is, and about love and jealousy and the nature of truth.  I wonder what race has to do with all that.  Why is a white character not deluded by his servant into turning against his wife?  When considering the main plot, I do not yet realize how Othello's blackness is relevant --- and yet I'm sure it really is very much so.

Message Edited by Strenia on 03-14-2009 03:44 AM
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Albert_Rolls
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Re: Othello and Race

I'm late but what the hell: http://www.hull.ac.uk/renforum/v6no1/rolls.htm.

Albert Rolls
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ConnieAnnKirk
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Re: Othello and Race


Albert_Rolls wrote:

I'm late but what the hell: http://www.hull.ac.uk/renforum/v6no1/rolls.htm.


 

Hey, welcome, and thanks, Albert.  Join in any time, and the threads remain open for additions like this or further discussion even after we've moved on to another featured play.

~ConnieAnnKirk




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Angellica
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Re: Othello and Race

I think it's important to see that Othello goes beyond "race" per say. Though Othello, through Venetian convention is whitened, in the sense that he has given up his barbaric past to be a highly ranked soldier in a "Aristocratic" context, much of the racism centered around the fear of sex. Othello is very much impotent in this play, it is Desdemona that has the sexual appetite, a desire that will be used to blacken her in many ways. When her father states his case against the moor to the council, she makes allusion to her right to have her marriage consummated. The handkerchief she loses is a sign of the magic surrounding Othello has a moor, and a sign of virtue in his eyes. He cannot consummate his marriage, and as such, demonstrates faith through the red pigmented cloth. He refuses to stab her, again alluding to the fear, or rather incapacity of penetration, and "puts out the light", or rather, leaves Desdemona dead, or blackened, losing his whiteness as well in the end.  Othello is therefore Black by nature, but White by nurture, until he murders his wife, destroying his white facade again. Do I think that Shakespeare was passing a social commentary of race? In the end, what Iago plays on to make the moor kill his wife, is toying with the "emotions" or "characteristics" of his "whiteness". The play states that he was not naturally jealous, that's a trait of nurture over nature, and as a high rank military in Venice, the nurturing is not 'his'. Though the Black man marrying a White woman can be viewed very much like today, the implications surrounding the tragedy aren't as simple as race.

 

Side note, Harold Bloom is a wonderful companion to any Shakespeare play. His book Shakespeare, the Invention of the Human is quite delightful. :smileyhappy:

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