Racism In Othello

Racism is an issue in Othello, a story of black versus white, and deals with the idea of a black hero and a white nemesis.

Othello is a story of black and white. Perhaps black versus white would be more accurate. This battle takes place on two different levels. There is the battle of good versus evil. That always is seen as black versus white. Yet, this is also a personal battle, of a white man and a black man. Shakespeare's twist of fate is that he has made the good represented by black, and evil represented by white. Whether it be simply irony, or an attempt on Shakespeare to make a political statement about race, you are constantly reminded of this one decision consistently throughout the story of Othello.

A man of African heritage is typically portrayed in Elizabethan literature in a negative light, yet is allowed to shine in Othello. From the onset of this story, Othello is depicted as a true hero. He is a great general and a great man. Like any Elizabethan hero, he is flawed; his nobility and honesty permits Iago to use his deceitful ways. Whereas a black person would normally be used in Elizabethan literature to represent the darkness, Iago's absolute evil takes on that role. One idea that does not change is the idea of purity. Desdemona represents purity in its truest form; a young beautiful white female.

The play opens with Iago proclaiming his hatred for Othello. Iago has been passed up for a promotion, which went to a less experienced man. Othello, whom is Iago's master has made this decision, which Iago obviously does not agree with.

This seems to be the only reason for Iago to detest Othello, but his anger stretches beyond this into personal attacks. Iago refers to Othello's "thick-lips" (I.i.66) and to him as "an old black ram" (I.i.88-89). His hatred may have started on a professional level, but in part due to Othello's heritage, Iago's contempt quickly deteriorates to racism. This brings about a reoccurring paradox in Othello. While an extremely powerful man in a political context, his race makes him inferior in a white man's society. Iago is able to trick his master and manipulate him on a consistent basis.

Since Iago has no real foundation for this hatred, he needs to invent new reasons to hate Othello. He forms the idea in his own mind that Othello is sleeping with his wife. While this is obviously untrue, it helps give Iago a reason to despise Othello for other than the color of his skin. His anger is quite obvious when he lashes out with the statement "hell and night / must bring this monstrous birth to the world's light" (I.iii.397-98). Not only does this outburst show Iago's contempt for Othello, it clearly shows the ironic switching of color once again. He refers to himself as hell and night, while Othello is the world's light.

Iago's evil plan to destroy Othello starts to take hold. The seeds of jealousy that Iago has planted over the last several chapters finally start to bloom. Othello is planning on taking the life of his beloved Desdemona for what he believes to be her infidelity. Othello starts to lose his humanity, and takes on the mentality of a savage. One can make the symbolic link between his "ňúsavage' behavior and that of his ancestry. The only thing that keeps Othello as a man is love. With Othello believing the love is gone, he no longer has a need to be a man. Word of nobility has been replaced with profanity normally reserved for the dialogue of Iago.

As the conclusion of the play unfolds, we wind up with Cassio injured, Desdemona dead, and Iago's wife dead as well. Othello has taken the life of his wife, and had unsuccessfully tried to kill Cassio, due to Iago's manipulation. On the other hand, Iago killed his own wife in cold blood publicly for unveiling his evil doings.

When Othello's love is restored, although a little too late, his nobility returns as well. One must wonder then why Othello takes his own life. It can be argued that while Othello possessed all that he did, he did not possess the ability to keep what he had. In a perfect world, love would have been enough for Othello to live happily ever after. However, Elizabethan literature hardly depicts such a world.

If Othello had been white, would he have rode off into the sunset to start again? When he states that he wished to be remembered as one who "loved not wisely but too well"(V.ii.344), he seems concerned about the image people would have of him. Perhaps he is worried that the limitations he has faced thus far due to his heritage will taint him once more when he must face the law for his crimes. If that were the case, then the only person to be able to judge him fairly would be God, and he simply went to find justice.

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