Shakespeare’s play ‘Othello’ provides a commentary on the contextual belief in the inferiority of dark races. Othello’s transformation under the guidance of Iago provides an ironic insight into the racial attitudes of Shakespeare’s time; Othello is not naturally jealous or unstable, but becomes the extreme stereotype of his race because of the influence of white society. The characterisation of Othello and the juxtaposition of his good character with Iago’s evil, manipulative character reveals Shakespeare’s belief that such stereotypes were absurd and the consequences far reaching. Shakespeare uses his characters, and their interactions to reflect the racial inequality of his time and to lead his audience to question these attitudes and to take responsibility for the effects of stereotyping and cultural inequality.
The following is an extract from our student 'Othello' essay scaffold and study guide pack, focusing on the opening scene of the play through a race-centred analysis.
The opening scene of the play introduces the audience to the contextual values and attitudes relating to race through Iago and Rodrigo’s hate-filled discussion of Othello. By referring to him in terms of racial attributes “thick lips” and calling him “the moor” instead of using his name or rank, Shakespeare is revealing the fact that race and identity were strongly linked in his society. Iago and Rodrigo do not identify Othello by his achievements or character, but mainly see him in terms of his skin colour. To them, Othello is his race. We learn in this scene that Iago wants revenge for not being promoted, but the extreme use of racial language/insults causes the audience to question whether Iago’s extreme level of anger and determination to destroy Othello would exist if Othello were white. The ideology of racism is also evident in Iago and Rodrigo’s warning to Brabantio: “thieves, thieves, thieves! Look to your house, your daughter and your bags…you’re robb’d” highlights the idea that the darker races were naturally to be considered untrustworthy criminals. Yet Desdemona’s marriage to a man of Othello’s rank and achievements would probably be encouraged had he been white. This suggests that Shakespeare was – at least to an extent – using his play 'Othello' to explore and raise questions about society’s attitudes towards different races. Shakespeare here reveals that a person’s worth in society was directly related to their skin colour, rather than their personality or achievements, and yet we learn as the play progresses that it is not Othello who deserves our distrust and contempt, but Iago who manipulates and seeks to destroy him.The following is an extract from our 'Othello' study guide and essay scaffold bundle. It focuses on the exploration of race and racial discrimination in Shakespeare's play 'Othello.'
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Our primary contributor is Elissa, who is a qualified high school teacher and Irlen Screener.