Racism in Othello by Shakespear

Essay by saramdmUniversity, Ph.D. January 2005

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Othello in Shakespeare's play is a black moor from North Africa surrounded by the white society of Venice. Many critics argue against racism in Othello although they believe it has got a racist theme. I think there are quite lots of proofs in the play which show that theme of racism is dominant and the problem of race should not be ignored. First, I will have a brief look at the meaning of black in the English society and the existence of racism in the 16th century and also where the character of Othello emerges from. Then I will refer to the attitudes of other characters towards Othello to conclude racism has been emphasized in the play.

Shakespeare was well aware of racial tension in England and included the theme of racism in Othello. He shared some of the deep fears of his contemporaries about black people. As early as 1596, Queen Elizabeth complained of the number of black people in England and racism in the 16th century did exist, but the ideas and images were only partially developed.

In England more than in southern Europe, the concept of blackness was loaded with intense meaning. Englishmen found the idea of blackness a way of expressing some of their most ingrained values. The meaning of black before the 16th century, as described by the Oxford English Dictionary, included "deeply stained with dirt, soiled, foul, deadly, baneful, disastrous, sinister". Black was an emotionally partisan color and a sign of danger. Therefore, Shakespeare created a character who reflected some of these attitudes. Othello is a Moor of noble descent and a convert to Christianity and was sold to slavery and redeemed. The description of Moors emphasizes many attributes seen in Othello: extreme jealousy, courage in battles and pride. Othello as an African is...