The Distorting Powers Of Jealousy And Distrust English Literature Essay

Shakespeare depicts racism through the negative terms and diction used to refer to Othello’s race by the other characters in the play. References to black and white play an important role in contributing to the actions of the characters. For example, Brabantio refers to Othello as a "sooty bosom". The black and white images placed in Brabantio's mind influence his perspective on Othello; he is suggesting that Othello’s color makes him filthy. Brabantio also calls Othello a "thing", demonstrating that he does not see him as a human. Moreover, Iago fuels Brabantio’s racist views by presenting him with bestial images of Othello as a "Barbary horse" and an "old black ram". This makes Othello seem savage and inhuman. Othello is often referred to as using images of hell and the devil because the color black symbolized evil in Elizabethan times, while the color white was usually linked to purity and innocence. Emilia compares Othello and Desdemona by stating "the more angel she/ and you the blacker devil!", this emphasizes the black and white moral divide. The only characters that are openly and clearly racist are Iago, Brabantio and Roderigo - are Venetian, and therefore view themselves as "insiders", at the top of society. Their prejudice may come from a superior position being undermined by outsiders. This would explain their angry reaction to Othello’s success. Shakespeare evidently portrays racism within his play through the use of negative diction to refer to Othello’s race by other characters.

Racial prejudices existed in Elizabethan England. Moors were generally perceived as savages and treated as slaves. This makes Othello an unusual character because he has risen to prominence in a white society. In fact, Elizabethan I complained that there were too many blackamoors in England, and twice tried to have them deported (SITE). In the 16th century, race determined the role one was obligated to play in society. With relation to other plays before Othello, the idea of a "Moor" character would only avail in a plot in which their character was represented poorly or exhibited less desirable personas. Therefore, the idea of having a christen "Moor" and his character being respected by the senators of Venice, would seem outlandish to the first audiences of the play. There were many adaptations of Shakespeare’s Othello after it was written in 1603. After being studied, critics have analyzed the drama in the 18th century and racism was manifestly the crucial theme that ascended from these critiques. A quote taken from Coleridge’s Lectures on Shakespeare in the early 1800’s explains what he would have considered to be the outlook of the Elizabethan audience to Shakespeare’s decision in having a black protagonist: "Can we imagine him so utterly ignorant as to make a barbarous Negro plead royal birth, - at a time, too, when negroes were not known except as slaves?" In his writings, Coleridge criticized Shakespeare’s use of a black person as a man of nobility and one who is of a high ranking in Venetian court. Thomas Rymer is another critic who, when writing A Short View of Tragedy made an utterance that revealed the common and negative scrutiny of the play in relation to race. He said, "A caution to all maidens of quality how, without their parents consent, they run away with black Moors", this quote showed the mentality of the audience in the 18th century not just of a black hero but of a black man marrying a wealthy white European woman.

Unlike the 18th century, the 20th century critics thought that Othello was more ambiguous. Although the idea of racism is one that seems to be constantly generating debate, it appears to be less of an issue today than it was during the Elizabethan era through to the 18th century. Critics such as A.C Bradley claim that Othello is a sympathetic and noble character. Feminism is a recent critical development and Karen Newman looked at how Othello fits in with its social and cultural background. In Newman’s Fashioning Femininity and English Renaissance Drama, she argued that Desdemona’s decision to marry a black man is portrayed as "heroic rather than demonic" and that the play challenged traditional views about interracial marriages in Elizabethan England. Newman thought that Othello’s portrayal is both "heroic and tragic" when other black characters were generally portrayed as "villain(s) of low status".

Othello is a very intriguing play that has bought with it many controversies, especially when it came to racism. This play can be studied through Shakespeare’s interpretation of race within the play as well as the various viewpoints and critiques on racism in the 18th century versus the 20th century. Ultimately, Othello is a play that renders racism in a way that incites the audience into rethinking its ideas and attitudes about race.