Racism in Shakespeare's "Othello"

Essay by cmjohn911College, UndergraduateB, April 2008

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William Shakespeare's famous tragedy, Othello, the Moor of Venice is a masterpiece which exemplifies classical Elizabethan literature. This tragedy was his own revision of an earlier tale from a Italian writer, Giraldi Cinthio, titled "Of the Unfaithfulness of Husbands and Wives." It contains many literary devices that William Shakespeare is renowned for. The play is set in the Mediterranean empire of Venice and the Venetian outpost of Cyprus. The main character of the play, Othello, is an African Turkish military general who is sent with his newly married wife, Desdemona, to Cyprus to defend it from an impending attack from the Turkish Empire. While not an obvious theme in the play, race plays a deep and important role in the actions and attitudes from all the characters involved. Racist remarks and attitudes, would eventually leading to Othello becoming deceived by Iago's cruel intentions.

In the opening scene of Othello, Iago and Roderigo wake Brabantio in the middle of the night to inform him that his daughter, Desdemona, has eloped with Othello.

Iago pleads for Brabantio to listen to him "…Even now, now, very now, an old black ram is tupping your white ewe. Arise! Arise!" (Shakespeare 1.1. 91-92). At first, Brabantio does not believe Iago's accusations, but then calls up a group of men to go throughout the city to locate Othello and his daughter. Iago's hatred of Othello has been more successful in the military and chose Michael Cassio over him to be his assistant. Iago and Roderigo form a plan to get what each other wants, Iago a promotion, and Roderigo Desdemona. Racist remarks are spoken by even the minor characters early in the first acts and continue all throughout the tragedy. Roderigo refers him as "thick lips" and then expresses his beliefs in saying "… To the...