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Othello – Racism Expressed in Words Essay

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Othello –  Racism Expressed in Words  

 
    The Bard of Avon’s tragic play Othello expresses racism; there is no doubt about this among most critics. However, to what degree – to a vulgar extent? Or to an excusable level?

 

In her book, Everybody’s Shakespeare: Reflections Chiefly on the Tragedies, Maynard Mack comments on the audience’s reaction to the black-white union in the play:

 

That a beautiful Venetian girl should fall in love with “a veritable negro” seemed to many implausible, in fact “monstrous.” The words are Coleridge’s, but the sentiment was widely shared and, on the nineteenth-century stage, was increasingly taken into account by “orientalizing” the hero, making him appear to be what one of the century’s best-known actor-directors declared he emphatically was: “not a negro” but “a stately Arab.” (129)

 

In the opening scene, while Iago is expressing his dislike, or rather hatred, for Othello for his having chosen Michael Cassio for the lieutenancy, he contrives a plan to partially avenge himself (“I follow him to serve my turn upon him”), with Roderigo’s assistance, by alerting Desdemona’s father, Brabantio, to the fact of his daughter’s elopement with Othello. Roderigo shares Iago’s prejudiced attitude toward Othello: “What a full fortune does the thicklips owe / If he can carry't thus!” The word thicklips is a disparaging reference to a facial characteristic of many members of the black race. David Bevington in William Shakespeare: Four Tragedies describes how racism is obvious from the very outset of the play:

 

Othello is unquestionably a black man, referred to disparagingly by his detractors as the “thick-lips,” with a “sooty bosom” (1.1.68; 1.2.71); Elizabethan usage ap...


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...rsity. 1996. http://www.eiu.edu/~multilit/studyabroad/othello/othello_all.html No line nos.

 

Wayne, Valerie. “Historical Differences: Misogyny and Othello.” The Matter of Difference: Materialist Feminist Criticism of Shakespeare. Ed Valerie Wayne. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1991.

 

Witt, Mary Ann Frese, et al., eds. “Black and White Symbols in Othello.” The Humanities: Cultural Roots and Continuities. Vol.1. Lexington, MA: D.C. Heath, 1985. Rpt. in Readings on The Tragedies. Ed. Clarice Swisher. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 1996.

 

Wright, Louis B. and Virginia A. LaMar. “The Engaging Qualities of Othello.” Readings on The Tragedies. Ed. Clarice Swisher. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 1996. Reprint from Introduction to The Tragedy of Othello, the Moor of Venice by William Shakespeare. N. p.: Simon and Schuster, Inc., 1957.

 

 


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