Othello by William Shakespeare
Othello, is a very known playwright written by the famous writer William Shakespeare. If you are a person who have read many of his works you would know that his writings are based on love, triumph and tragedy also. Just by reading Othello I can tell that the story is about jealously and betrayal of lovers, and someone ends up dead because of the drama involved with it. Unluckily I will not tell of the summary of the playwright, nor tell about or give an simple analysis of the characters involved in the story. I will give you an examination of the racial connections in the playwright Othello, and relate it to the racial prejudices of Jacobean England. I will be honest, when I first read Othello, I did not quite understood how race was placed into the playwright, and why it had anything to do with Othello, because the theme of the story was basically about betrayal and jealously between two lovers who were separated over jealously. When I did research about Othello and racism, and read Othello continuously, I slowly began to realize that race did have some kind of involvement into it. Racism seemed to be a big issued in the days of Shakespeare and others. Some writers wrote their stories based on the society they was in and made it quite recognizable in their story, England and other nations had problems with race just as we did in America Othello is a story that made that obvious, Shakespeare puts in different racial stereotypes into the dialogues, giving them to characters like Iago, Roderigo and Branbantio.
In the 17th century, People of England attitudes toward non-Europeans like North Africans and others were said to be shaped by policies and stories by travelers. The term “moor” came from a country that was used to refer to people from North Africa. People of North and West Africa who was living in the Elizabethan England was put out because of their unusual style of dress, behaviors and culture customs. “Moors” were also talked about and was put in the category of being sexually overactive and being a more jealous people. Queen Elizabeth gave the moors full recognition out of quick niceness for their help in defeating Spain, but unluckily that was quickly turned over fast and she deported the North Africans or Moors because of bad and unusual behavior and the fear of if she let them stay in England than there would end up being an overpopulation of black people and she seemed to definitely not want that. Back in that time period in England blacks were not associated with the slavery time period that we all know of, because the slave time period started late in the 17th century.
One part in Othello that opened up my eyes and made me realize that race it was an issue, was when they spoke of different cultures like the Turkish culture and the Vietnamese culture. In Othello it stated that the people in Othello had celebrated the destruction of the Turkish force, I realized that there were some kind of cultural division in the playwright Othello. As I went on with my research and read some of the sources that helped me completely understand the issue, I understood that racism was one of the issues in Othello. One of my sources that I read named “Shakespeare and Race” discussed that some of the racial issues in Othello also probably had something to do with Shakespeare and the society that he was in, not just the racism acted on the Vietnam society in the play Othello. I also learned that the character Othello who was Desdemona’s love was an African or an “Moor” in the story. A moor is once again defined as an member of a nomadic people, who civilization flourished in North Africa between the 8th and the 15th centuries. Othello seemed to be culturally divided and assorted.
In order to answer the question and understand why racism was a big topic in Othello and why Shakespeare incorporated it into Othello, I had to dig deep and go back to the history and the real world outside of the playwright Othello. It also appeared to that the story was written during the time of great racial tensions in England. As I went on I discovered that Shakespeare disguised the white and the black people in Othello. He made the white people seem evil and the black people seem as the good ones. It seemed like Shakespeare was trying to make a point, a point of no matter what color a person is, we are all humans. Mainly because this was true, back then, whites seemed to be over people of color, while people of color was so called “inferior” under white people.
Queen Elizabeth also made contributions to racism in England ,this might have stemmed off to racism in Othello. In the book “English Ethnicity and Race in Early Modern Drama” it stated that “When Queen Elizabeth ruled England she exiled ten Africans from her country, then afterwards Queen Elizabeth traded the Africans for the imprisoned English men held in Spain and Portugal.(pg5 English Ethnicity and Race….)” . This was similar to what I stated earlier. After the end of Elizabeth’s ruling Elizabethan England became Jacobean England and was under the rule of King James. Not like his other works, Shakespeare did not reserve the playwright or story of Othello to an earlier time period. Historians also stated that by the time William Shakespeare wrote Othello, England had already been exposed to Africans or blacks. Terri Vaughn an History Professor of Columbia University stated that “by the year 1555, there were books in England describing the Africans or as they say the “Moors” of Africa.”(Vaughn).
I also learned from my research that in the sixteenth century the meaning of the color black was defined as deeply stained with dirt or being dirty. Writers such as William Shakespeare and others referred to any dark person from North African as a “Moor” or a “black moor”. I also learned that white people or light skinned blacks that was from Africa wasn’t considered an moor because they couldn’t tell if they was from Africa or not. When I started to read and understand Othello more I realized that Othello was about a relationship between a black man and a white woman. Usually back in the slavery days if a black man was in a relationship with a white woman he would face some kind of punishment for that. It would have been like an offense or an rule that was broken by the black man. Maybe no connections or association with other nations or countries made it to be that way. England people who went outside of their race were viewed as barbarians. those who fell outside the borders of the known, white world were viewed as “barbarians, which means a member of a culture that’s uncivilized and its sometimes considered offensive. Michael Neil states in an article that was written by him called “Race in Literature”. “ The term moor probably have existed as a description in terms of color, but not necessarily in terms of its position to the white civilized world .Othello is a play with a lot of racial feeling in it.” writes scholar Michael Neill(1985).
In the article called “Shakespeare and Race”, written by John Stows. it greatly emphasizes that to the Elizabethans the appearance and conduct of the moors was a complete outrage, saying that here was a big difference between themselves and the moors. The article also explained that when William Shakespeare chosed an African or an moor as an hero or general, he wasn’t really confused or had lack of knowledge bout racial thought or racism, but was more aware of his society who made the divisions of black and white world a big issue.
The character named Iago in the story made races remarks about Othello calling him a black ram. Othello is treated unequally in the story because he is black and not white, if Othello was a white man, I’m pretty sure he would have been treated fairly with no names and racial slurs called out at him. Comments of racial remarks are said all through out the story. Emilia also made a racial remark toward Othello, She called him an “blacker devil”, when she found out that he killed Desdemona. There were other characters who were racist towards Othello like Iago, Emilia, Brabinto, and Roderigo. Iago made the racial comment about Othello, because he simply didn’t like the fact that he made lieutenant and that he was married to Desdemona. Iago also made a racist comment to Desdemona’s Dad about Othello and Desdemona. He states, “Even now, very now, an old black ram is tupping your white ewe”. Iago had it in for Othello he simply tried to turn every one against Othello, even Desdemona’s dad. Many racist comments like thick lips was said about Othello. Yet they were very messy because they never said it in his face.
It seemed as if Shakespeare wanted race to be known to his readers of his stories, he wanted people to see that there wasn’t just whites in the world, there were other races in the world also and that people of other races was good also and people of Caucasian decent made blacks and others look like negative entities. Shakespeare wrote three other plays with non whites and moors in it, They are “The Merchant of Venice,” Titus Andronicus” and of course “Othello”. Many think that you will find honest straight up racism and racist sayings and language in Othello. Many also consider that many plays like Othello can examine tools of racism and racist views, with thin an historic setting and both within an historical setting and existing context. historic and a contemporary cultural or spiritual context. Some say that Othello is also an very racist play and that it has an racist theme. I think that its not really that racist because Shakespeare shows a woman and a man of enemy races and puts them together. The only thing racist about the play is the racist comments that the characters say to Othello. It seemed as if racist comments was said when only angered. It seems like it was just depicting the society of that time. Before we had freedom blacks was considered to be under and lower than whites. But jealousy is more likely to be the theme of Othello.
Othello is an historical reading that explores race in other countries and in Literature. It portrayed one of the first love stories of an interracial couple who is destroyed and broken up over hatred and jealous by people who didn’t want an accomplished black man to survive and make out in a good situation. Even though William Shakespeare might have lived in an racist place and was surrounded by racist people it showed that he personally wasn’t an racist person. Maybe William Shakespeare himself did approve of an relationship of an white woman and black man. Maybe he wanted to show that he was a good person and wasn’t like others that was around him at the time. Ruth Cowhig wrote in an exert called “Othello and Racism”. In the excerpt, Ruth Cowhig provides a simple background on blacks in England during William Shakespeare’s time. She simply states that “the character Iago’s racism is the main source of his hatred towards Othello. He gives off an prejudice energy toward other characters in the story to turn them against Othello the Moor also” (Cowhig, R). Ruth Cowhig emphasize that William Shakespeare continuously examines stereotypes with his story of Othello. I think the opening of the play presents an opportunity to discuss a variety of issues and stereo typing including interracial marriage. Othello gives us a lesson and something to think about, especially in society today and things that seemed to happen in the past .
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