The book, “Tragedy of Othello, The Moor of Venice,” written by William Shakespeare, was written in 1603, which is based on the Italian short story known as “Un Capitano Moro (“A Moorish Captain”) which was written by Cinthio. The main character in the book is Othello, a Moorish general who worked and served in Venetian army. In the book, there are also other major characters such as Desdemona and Cassio. The book carries a variety of themes ranging from racism, jealousy, betrayal, love, repentance, and revenge. In this section, we shall focus on the theme of race as depicted from the book.
Race is not a limiting factor as seen in the character of Othello
As from the book, Othello is portrayed as one of the first black heroes in the English literature. He was a military general who rose to the position of power and influence. Him being a black-skinned foreigner in Venice marks Othello as an outside. Because of this, he is exposed to some sort of pretty overt racism more so by his wife’s parents, especially the father, who in his life believed that his daughter’s interracial marriage could only be possible because of Othello’s trickery.
As from the begin of the play, we are not told about the name but rather described as a dark-skinned and different from the rest of the people in Venice and given the name, “the Moor”. Despite this, Othello emerges to be a barbarian and more elegant than any other characters in the book (Lloyd, 2012, p 32). This is seen particularly in terms of his martial position, verbal ability, and general personality. For this reason, despite the emphasis on the racial factor, race is considered to be not a primary factor by any means thus viewing race by the difference in skin color and not any other virtue or ability which one has.
As the story progresses, Othello’s character is developed and not limiting him on the racial basis which emerged at the beginning of the play. As from the beginning, he was seen as a black and discriminated against by most of the people including Iago and Roderigo. It is also evident as the play progressed that all those who were close to Othello considered him as their equal, seeing no limiting factor to him (Daileader, 2005, p 232). The aspect of racism in the book is overbalanced through Othello’s character. He plays an importance role in portraying race as not a limiting factor in one’s ability in his or her daily life. This included the role he held in the army, being the General of the Army.
In the opening scene in the book, Roderigo and Iago repeatedly refer to Othello as “the Moor” thus despising the black people, considering them as not humans, as well as not worthy being given the name. As seen in the book, Roderigo calls Othello “Thick lips” (Shakespeare, 2014, p 61). This strongly points out the aspects of racism that existed in the book. Roderigo goes further to tell Desdemona’s father “You’ll have your daughter covered with a Barbary horse, you’ll have your nephews neigh to you” (Shakespeare, 2014, p 107). With the two descriptions given by Roderigo about Othello, he is portrayed as a useless person, who has no significance meaning in the society. He is even abused by saying that Desdemona’s father will have grandsons that will be half-horse because the of the animal’s blood which flows in Othello and because horses have big lips, which resembles Othello’s. The two considered Othello as an ill-formed animal.
Iago further widens this theme of racism by adding that Desdemona’s union with Othello will form the “beast with two backs”. (Shakespeare, 2014, p 112). The book at the beginning portrays black people, as close to animals and thus they do not qualify to be called humans. The consider black people as not civilized. To the contrary, Othello is much civilized and well spoken with oratory skills in language than other white skinned people. Othello emerges to be the most honored person, who was considered with a lot of respect that was given to him by both the white and black people.
Brabanzio is startled by the news that his daughter, Desdemona was engaged with the “the Moor”, which he considers as it can only be possible through trickery and dark magic. At this time, Brabanzio did not know that Roderigo and Iago were referring to Othello but rather a dark “savage”. For this reason, he accuses Othello of using witchcraft, and he wonders how “against all rules of nature his lovely daughter could have fallen in love with that what she feared to look on”. (Shakespeare, 2014, p 98) This clearly reveals how race was viewed by the contemporaries of the Shakespeare. Desdemona’s union with Othello is considered to be against the laws of nature not considering that love does not recognize the cultural bounds or skill color. This suggests that since the Moor is a black man, they thus associate black people with witchcrafts and dark magic, thus suggesting that the blacks and whites are not supposed to be allowed to marry nor associate romantically, considering it as not natural.
Brabanzio further views that by allowing the black people to access their society, there will be a slippery slope, as stated in the book, “For if such actions may have passage free, / bondslaves and pagans shall our statesmen be”. (Shakespeare, 2014, p 98). This shows that Brabanzio still does not believe that black people are also true men but considered them as merely “the bondslaves and pagans” who have to place or any significance in the white’s society. After realizing that Roderigo and Iago were referring to Othello, he begins to accept that fact that black people are also true men. This was because of the position that was held by Othello, despite him being a black person (Daileader, 2005, p 232). Othello’s character is developed and giving black people respect and equal position that the white people also hold in the society. In fact, Othello holds a significant role in the white’s society, the leadership capacity.
As the play progresses, it is clearly evident that Othello was just an ordinary man like any other, only having the difference in the skin color. As the evil characters as Iago refers to Othello as “the Moor”, those who knows him refers to him as “the valiant Moor” thus making his race as such respected. This brings out a new meaning and view on the black people. Brabanzio and other people close to Othello begins regarding black people as their equals.
As portrayed by Shakespeare, the character of Othello does not resemble that which he was referred to at the begging of the play. In the beginning, people of Othello’s race; the blacks were despised and seen as animals who did not qualify to be called human beings (Lloyd, 2012, p 76). Othello’s character is developed and does not match any of Roderigo and Iago’s description as seen at the beginning of the play. Even as from his talking, Othello portrays a unique character, which is much contrast as to what was described by Roderigo and Iago. He states in the book, “Keep your bright swords; for the dew will rust them / Good signor, you have more command with your years than with your weapons” (Shakespeare, 2014, p 58). This portrays Othello as a gentleman and a civilized person.
In the play, Othello recognized and commented on his differences as seen from those around him. He is humbled and does not pretend to be like a pompous figure and thus he states in the book, “Rude am I in speech, / And little blessed with the soft phrase of speech.” (Shakespeare, 2014, p 84). This is some humility that is portrayed by Othello. He accepts the fact that he is of the different race with other people, but that does not limit him in any way either. He does not feel inferior by any means.
Despite the humble character that Othello, a black man portrayed making him an equal to the whites, he also depicts some barbarous acts. He did it not on the grounds of some innate savagery, rather as just like any other character caught in a web of deceit. Throughout the book, Othello remains to be a humble person, a mere man who held up special responsibilities in the white’s society.
In Shakespeare’s book, “The Tragedy of Othello, The Moor of Venice,” racism is given some weight by the society. Characters such as Roderigo and Iago are seen as racist in the entire book, not accepting the fact that Othello was an equal to them. They even tell Brabanzio of his daughter’s engagement with Othello, a black man. In the beginning, since Brabanzio did not know the man in question, he also sees blacks as inferior. After knowing that a man is Othello, he changes his views about black people. Furthermore, throughout the book, Othello portrays unique character of leadership and well spoken, thus showing that black people as equal to whites.
Works Cited Daileader, Celia R. Racism, Misogyny, and the Othello Myth: Inter-racial Couples from
Shakespeare to Spike Lee. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2005. Print
Lloyd, Vincent. Race and Political Theology. Palo Alto: Stanford University Press, 2012. Internet resource.
Shakespeare, William. The Tragedy of Othello, the Moor of Venice. Minneapolis: First Avenue Editions, 2014. Internet resource.