William Shakespeare’s Othello explores the issue of race in his portrayal of the protagonist as a Moor which represents his tending marginal role in a Venetian society. In the play, characters are judged again and again based on appearances and outward characteristics. The protagonist’s different ethnic background provides a platform for probing ideas of racial conflict.
This is exposed initially through the title of this play, “Othello, the Moor of Venice”, where the juxtaposition of “Moor” and “Venice” imbued within, reveals Othello’s loss of identity and the outsider nature in Venetian society. The dramatic opening of Act 1 Scene1 captures the audience’s attention and gives us a first impression of Othello as an obnoxious “Moor” and hateful “black creature. ” This mocking tone is heightened through Roderigo’s description of Othello as “thick-lips owe” and reduces him to mere racial stereotype by referring him as his physical feature.
The discriminatory language is amplified further when Iago later portrays Othello and Desdemona’s relationships as “an old black ram…tupping your white ewe” and “making the beast with two backs”. The use of animal imagery of “ram” and “ewe” disparaged Othello to a simple beast and is stereotyped as sexually overactive as well as bestial force, to foil white people’s nobleness. The antithesis of “black” and “white” instilled within emphasizes the racial discrimination and gap between different ethnic groups at the Elizabethan time, when white people don’t admit black (African) people as part of their Christian society.
This antithesis of contrasting colour is widely used throughout the entire play to create character’s hatred toward the Moor, and it is also frequently placed next to biblical justification such as “black devil” and white “noble angel”, as people in the Elizabethan period like to cite examples from Christian theology to support the view that whiteness was the sign of purity while blackness indicated sinister or evil, which highlights Othello as an outsider even though he is a hero to the country and has joined Christianity.
The idea of marginalization and isolation has been brought to a higher extent when it comes to the marriage between Othello and Desdemona. This is evident as Brabantio shouted out “O treason of the blood! ” when he acknowledged her daughter’s affair with the black man, he considers her interracial marriage as a betrayal to her white and thus honourable descent, which indirectly put Othello down to a wicked foreigner.
Brabantio’s fear of miscegenation together with their likely child as a racial contamination strongly vilified Othello’s ethnic identity and expressed his racist point of view. He cannot believe that his daughter could be happy with this outsider, and he thinks that the only way Othello could have wooed Desdemona is with charms, as Elizabethan people “naturally” think black-skinned foreigners of evil enchanters. He accuses Othello, calling out, “O thou foul thief, where hast thou stowed my daughter? and claims that now Desdemona is “abused, stol’n…and corrupted By spells and medicines”, which pungently conveys his distrust and repulsion toward black people, the audience can realize how deeply racist stereotypes and prejudice of Africans and others of different ethnic identity are perpetuated into Elizabethans minds. Therefore, William Shakespeare’s Othello explores the issue of race in his play and how this makes his protagonist more susceptible to marginalization in a Venetian state.
Gender In William Shakespeare’s Othello, both gender conflict and feminist views are developed by the portrayal of Desdemona’s distinct characteristics and dialogues, which not only reveal but also challenges women’s expected submissive and docile nature in Elizabethan society. As the heroine of this play, Desdemona is presented as a paradoxical character, who is both an ideal, compliant woman of the Elizabethan time, and a woman of authority and assertiveness.
Elizabethan women are told to be obedient and tender and they ought to serve upon their fathers’ or husbands’ satisfaction unconditionally being ‘objects’ to their men. This is clear when Iago constantly tells Brabantio “you’re robbed”/ “your daughter” which reveals the patriarchal society that was the Elizabethan age. The language shows women’s statuses as mere estates of men. This is heightened by negative dictions such as “thief”, “stolen [from me]” which indicates that Desdemona is Brabantio’s property and her marriage is a process of illegal theft made by Othello.
The submissive tone is amplified further when Shakespeare uses animal imagery to describe Desdemona as “your white ewe”, which presents her as a kind of tender and tame animal who will obey anything to please her husband. The passive nature is not only conveyed through males’ opinions and descriptions upon females but also how females express themselves. This is evident when Desdemona carefully chooses her words to “argue” against her father about her marriage. “I do perceive here a divided duty: To you I am bound for… You are lord of all my duty… my mother… referring you before her father…” her articulated words concern a woman’s conflicting “duties” towards her father and her fiance as she has to show loyalty to Othello whilst “respect” to Brabantio; it also exposes the loss of her own identity as she is owing allegiance to either her father or her husband, and is especially voluntarily passive in her marriage which is accentuated by her claiming that “the Moor my lord”, Desdemona is thus an ideal woman in Elizabethan society.
At the same time, however, she is able to challenge women’s humble status. This is shown as she constantly speaks up for herself in front of others and her father Brabantio: “So much I challenge that I may profess Due to the Moor my lord. ” She confronted; and she claims that she “saw Othello’s visage in his mind And to his honours and his valiant parts Did I my soul and fortunes consecrate. ” Her words establish her courage and strength of conviction and oppose the patriarchal society and the override absolute women’s obedience.
Desdemona’s independence is emphasized by the image of “greedy ear” said by Othello which shows how curious and keen she is, compared to the traditional Elizabethan woman she is made to be. Othello’s brave sagas had created her a brand new outside-world which broke her sheltered, routine existence and role, he brings her to life, and this “life” certainly broke the stereotyped one before. Therefore, as a contradictory female character in this play, Desdemona appears both as an autonomous and wise daughter to Brabantio as well as a passive stereotypical meek wife to Othello.
Power Shakespeare’s Othello uses Iago to establish the idea of Machiavellian power and the notion that a leader is only as good as his followers, relying heavily on the loyalty of others. As the antagonist in this play, Iago’s dramatic soliloquies and asides, in contrast to his speeches in the presence of other characters, reveals clearly his deceitfulness and self-disguise. His manipulative nature is shown at the beginning of the play through his convincible language toward Roderigo such as “Despise me if I do not” where he direct tone and the construction exposes his ability to operate words which thus controls others’ thoughts. This is heightened by the following mocking tone “And what was he? ” Iago skilfully manoeuvres his language to make him trusted as well as to dominate those around him. His true deceptive intentions are conveyed patently when he states that “I follow him (Othello) to serve my turn upon him. We cannot all be masters, nor all masters Cannot be truly followed. Iago’s malevolent language displays the “vallian” beneath his masquerade who uses others as agents, the well-balanced sentence illustrates his carefully constructed plan, also his Machiavellian beliefs – the end justifies the means, no matter how disloyal to his master he needs to be – he declares that he will be “trimmed in forms and visages of duty” and will “keep… hearts attending on” himself, he will gain himself profits at last which makes it worth being deceiving.
The Machiavellian nature is amplified by his simple conclusion at the end of the speech “I am not what I am” in which the powerful and direct language expresses not only his attitude to Othello, but also his positions in the world, he will do all the despicable disguises to create a picture of an dutiful and trustworthy person for everyone who surrounds him, and his persona allows him to cunningly manipulate and to contribute to the downfall of them.
And the dramatic irony thus occurred as people, especially Othello, do believe him, when he introduces Iago to the Duke of Venice as “A man he is of honesty and trust”, Shakespeare cleverly points out that Iago is an astute observer of character for he knows people’s nature will and can thus use their weaknesses, foibles and strengths of the victims to his advantage, which for example, Othello’ gullibility that is further explained by Iago’s derisive words “The moor is of a free and open nature, That thinks men honest that but seem to be so, And will as tenderly be led by the nose. . Furthermore, he breaks the bonds of friendship between him and Rederigo as Iago uses him as a scapegoat who infuriates Brabantio, and uses both Roderigo and Brabantio to against Othello, cleverly without even show himself on the stage as he states “though I do hate him as I do hell’s pains, Yet, for necessity of present life, I must show out a flag and sign of love, which is indeed but sign”, only through manipulations of them, like an intelligent puppeteer who controls his puppets every moves according to his will yet hides himself and the truth in the shadow.
Iago’s ability to authorise others moreover exemplified him as a political realist and a Machiavellian villain, a man who knows “the power and corrigible authority of this lies in our wills” and how to destroy others without getting himself involved in the conflict. Therefore, Shakespeare’s Othello uses Iago to establish the idea of Machiavellian power and the motion that a leader relies heavily on the loyaly of others.