Othello is classified as a tragedy

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Othello is classified as a tragedy but it has some underlying historical aspects. Indeed, it is these historical aspects that shape societies, and to a large extent, Othello's perception of what beauty is.

Othello and Pecola are two characters that are similar in many ways, yet they have significant differences that make them unique. A distinct similarity is that they are both black and live in a society that has shaped their perception of what being beautiful is. This then leads them into wanting to be someone who they are not. At first glance, it may seem that Pecola is the one who is most affected by these desires. I mean, in the end she goes insane. Even though it may not appear to be as explicit as in Pecola's case, the same can be said for Othello.

So, first things first - a bit of background on the setting which forms the backdrop of Othello. The late fifteenth century was a time when the Ottomans, who were Muslims[1], rapidly expanded their already vast empire. 1570 marked the year which they attacked Cyprus, a Venetian state. They ended up conquering Cyprus in 1571 and it is then that this mixing of the Muslim culture and religion with the Europeans started.

Thus, from 1571 to about 1604 (when Othello was reportedly first performed), Cyprus had this underlying Muslim influence. By 1604, so extensive was the Ottoman Empire, that it ranged from Arabia, Egypt and Mesopotamia (modern day Iraq) all the way to the Mediterranean to Hungary.

The importance of Venice is brought out in the opening few scenes of the play. Firstly, Othello has to deal with Brabantio and the Venetian Senate after which he sails to Cyprus. Even there he is representing and defending the state of Venice. Othello keeps on getting orders from Venice and thus the importance of Venice is further emphasized. In addition, in Othello's final words he summarizes the mistakes he has committed and takes this as a 'betrayal to the state' for which he condemns himself.

Othello himself was a Moor. The word 'Moor' is one that not only describes one's race, but also one's religion. There are clear examples in the play that attest to Othello's race. For example, Iago says "And I, God bless the mark, his Moorship's ancient." (I, I, 33), and "... very now, an old black ram / Is tupping your white ewe. (I, I, 89-90). Brabantio himself, besides calling Othello a Moor a number of times, says, "Run from her guardage to the sooty bosom" (I, ii, 70). Such is his hatred to the notion of interracial marriages that he says Othello has a black heart.

This leads Othello into wanting to be someone who he is not.

First, Othello's manner of speech is very interesting. He speaks with a certain flair and structure that is synonymous with the speech of nobility. This is contrary to what one would expect, as Othello is a Moor. Furthermore, he says

            "Rude am I in my speech

            And little blessed with the soft phrase of peace," (I, iii, 81-82)

He jokes about his speech and appears to be very modest. However, in emulating the nobility's speech, I feel that Othello attempts to convey this notion of beauty that he is so distanced from. In choosing to speak in this way, I believe that Othello makes a significant effort to be this someone who he is not.

Second, Othello's marriage to Desdemona. This is perhaps the most drastic act he undertakes to be this someone who he is not. In marrying Desdemona, not only does he marry a Venetian Senator's daughter, but also what's happening is that a black person is marrying a white person. Perhaps Othello feels that by marrying Desdemona, and by narrating the story of how she fell in love with him, he would be accepted more easily in society.

Third, being a Moor, Othello must have had some Muslim roots. Nevertheless, by fighting for the Venetian State, and indeed embracing their culture and values, Othello shows everyone else that he is prepared to accept Christianity - the pre-dominant religion in Europe at that time. By doing this, he is, again, attempting to 'fit in' with everyone else and become closer to this someone who he is not. In a way, him spear-heading the fight against the Turks also shows that he is ready to do what it takes to be this someone that he is not.

Fourth, the manner in which Othello fights the Turks suggests that - even though he is a Moor - he is prepared to accept the European traditions and culture, and in the process, forfeit his own 'original' culture. He valiantly and bravely fights the Turks, and places duty above everything else. In placing duty above everything else, I feel that Othello is trying to eliminate some of his insecurity (which stems from his race and status in society) by attempting to please his superiors. In doing this, he is trying to be this someone who he is not.

I chose the doll to represent Othello as well as Pecola. The fact that there is one doll representing these two different characters shows that there are similarities within them as well. For example, to Pecola, the doll is an idol of the person she wants to be, whom she is not. I feel that this is the same situation for Othello. The doll being white and Othello being black reinforces the idea that Othello is not happy with himself, as he is. He wants to be white (which he is not) and hence the doll is a perfect metaphor for the person that Othello wants to be.

Pecola is obsessed with the Shirley Temple image. She even drinks three quarts of milk just so that she can hold the Shirley Temple cup; such is her infatuation with Shirley Temple. In particular, she craves blue eyes. Pecola feels that once she possesses blue eyes, she will be considered beautiful. This is a result of society basing their ideals on whiteness.

The household that Pecola lives in makes it even more difficult for her to achieve this sense of individuality and uniqueness. Not only is she deemed an 'ugly child' by her own parents and is a witness to the atrocities that Mr. and Mrs. Breedlove partake in, she is actually a victim of this domestic violence. This makes it even more difficult for her to accept herself for who she is (as an individual).

The society and the surroundings make it practically impossible for Pecola to see through this 'bubble' that she is in for she cannot come to accept, let alone realize, that being black can mean being beautiful, and that it is just the society around her that has shaped her way of thinking and indeed her perception of beauty. These circumstances, among others lead her to the belief that she cannot be beautiful without having blue eyes and without emulating Shirley Temple.

Pecola's reaction to being black is an interesting one because it is not only her own emotions that influence her response, but also the emotions and actions of the characters around her.

The doll also represents Pecola and the person she wants to be. Pecola's own self-hatred and the self-hatred of those around her - which she absorbs - shuns her away from society and further into the depths of insecurity.

This leads to another similarity, which is that Othello and Pecola are two very insecure persons. For example, as soon as Iago even mentions another man, Othello becomes very uncomfortable about his looks and his age. A prime example of Othello's insecurity is how he believes that Desdemona is having an affair with Michael Cassio without actually seeing any real, solid proof. Moreover, even when she declares her love for him he refuses to even consider her plea.

One might say that these are the results of Iago's tactful manipulation, however, Emilia (Iago's wife) says

"I durst, my lord, to wager she is honest,

Lay down my soul at stake. If you think other,

Remove your though; it doth abuse your bosom.

If any wretch have put this in your head,

Let heaven requite it with the serpent's curse!

For if she be not honest, chaste, and true,

There's no man happy. The purest of their wives

Is foul as slander" (IV, ii, 11-18)

I believe that such is Othello's insecurity at this stage that he does not even think of the fact that this is Emilia (Desdemona's mistress) talking. Furthermore, what does Emilia not do to try convince Othello of Desdemona's honesty? I mean, she swears on her soul, she says General Othello is wrong and even curses the person who tried to convince Othello of Desdemona's infidelity. But, such is Othello's insecure mind that he sends her away (to call Desdemona) and then talks of her being a deceitful whore.

The doll also symbolizes this insecurity. For example, when I bought this doll, all the other dolls around it were the same. They had blue eyes and blonde hair. Only their clothes differed. For me, this means that the notion of insecurity is addressed by having many dolls and showing unity in numbers. This then eliminates the idea of insecurity. However, this doll, being on its own, epitomises the concept of insecurity that both Othello and Pecola face.

Othello and Pecola are also very different people in that their reaction to being black is very different. I will use the metaphor of the doll to explain this further. Ironically, the doll is white, and yet I use it as a symbol of blackness. The parts of the doll without any clothes on represent Pecola's exposure to the harshness and cruelties of her society. She is not shielded from any of these and has to endure the full force of these realities.

The parts of the doll with clothes on represent Othello and how he uses his own race as fuel to motivate himself in order to better himself. Othello uses his blackness coupled with his military capability to his advantage in the sense that he embraces what he already has and attempts to build on this in his search to be this person who he is not. Thus, the clothes symbolise this 'protection' that Othello possesses. Society cannot do without Othello as they need him to lead the battle against the Turks and he uses this to shield himself from society's perception of blackness. Thus, the parts of the doll with the clothes on symbolize Othello shielding himself because the flesh of the doll (which represents blackness) is covered by the clothes that represent protection.

On the other hand, Pecola's blackness subjects her to a life away from society. She seems to exist in her own 'bubble' and is shunned away from society. However, society too, needs her as she epitomizes the blacks' self-hatred of themselves. She is made a scapegoat as everyone else's frustrations with their 'ugliness' are absorbed by her. The parts of the doll without clothes reinforce this idea that Pecola is not protected in any way from the harsh realities of society's perception of blackness. Therefore, she absorbs whatever society throws her way (in terms of their frustration and self-hatred). Thus, this also symbolises a similarity as society needs both of these characters, albeit in different ways.

Another difference is that, in a personal sense, Pecola cannot handle the pressures put on her by society, of being black. In a professional sense, Othello can handle these pressures of being black as he holds the position of a General, and is respected by the higher ups in Venice (as the Duke says "If virtue no delighted beauty lack, / Your son-in-law is far more fair than black." (I, iii, 285-286)). However, pseudo Pecola, to a certain extent, Othello too cannot handle the pressure of being black on his personal side. His blackness (and falling into Iago's trap) leads him to breaking down towards the end of the play and results in him killing Desdemona and then himself.

I took one of the dolls' shoes off to show that Pecola is hurt and directly influenced by the blacks' self-hatred of themselves and the consequences of being black.

The doll is wearing the other shoe and this symbolizes Othello, and the fact that to a certain extent he is protected from the harshness of being black.

The doll, which is ironically white, is used to link two black characters from two very different works of literature and two very different periods of time. Till today, evidence of society's perception of beauty can be seen through this same doll, although, to a lesser extent.

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