Othello and Racism. but others believe that the reference to black and white is merely referring to good and evil.

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1 Danielle Archer Mr. Ellis 2 December 2009 Research Paper Othello and Racism Othello is a play that can have many interpretations. Many people think it is a racist play, but others believe that the reference to black and white is merely referring to good and evil. There is an apparent theme of racism during the story, and in my opinion both are true interpretations. Othello is referred to as the Moor, which literally meant darker skinned people during the English Renaissance. Shakespeare uses color to create irony, and he uses Othello to show how racism can be produced within oneself. Othello is a story about black and white. Othello is black; whether black is the color of his skin or the evilness that he becomes. As we know, the story of Othello does not begin with the character Othello; as the play opens, the audience is presented with a nameless character that is referred to as only the Moor, thick-lips, and an old black ram. (Shakespeare 788). It is obvious than an effort is being made to belittle Othello's character by not referring to him by his name. The audience is lead to the Elizabethan common, negative assumption of a black character. Iago goes further with the racism in the beginning of the play when he says Even now, now, very now, an old black ram is tupping your white ewe (Shakespeare 789). Iago needs to make Othello into a black monster, invading the citadel of whiteness (Adelman 129). Thus, he gives the audience a clear image of an inter racial couple, which he, and clearly the audience, strongly disagrees with. Iago s language evokes separation of white and black, and threatens contaminating whiteness with blackness (Adelman 130). He is trying to separate Othello and further alienate him from the society. Iago s goal is for Othello to not only be physically black, for him to become black from

2 within as well. Janet Adelman wrote Iago creates Othello as black - and therefore himself as white when he constructs him as monstrous progenitor; and he uses that radicalized blackness to destroy what he cannot tolerate (130). Othello appears to the audience as an outsider. He is an exotic man with an extraordinary past, but he is accepted by the Venetian upper-class because of his abilities in war. Desdemona s father, Brabantio, is one exception. Before the marriage of Othello and Desdemona, Brabantio liked Othello. Othello affirms this when he says: Her father loved me, oft invited me, Still question me the story of my life. From year to year, the battles, the sieges, fortunes, That I have passed. I ran it through, even from by boyish days To the very moment that he bade me tell it (Shakespeare 797). Brabantio invited Othello into his home, and heard all of the tales of his life, he loved Othello, but now he is not worthy of Desdemona s hand in marriage. Brabintio also says that Desdemona in spite of nature fell in love with what she feared to look upon (Shakespeare797). Othello is being outcast by people that he believes love him because of the color of his skin.. As the story moves along, Iago manipulates Othello and we see a change in his character. Race is the main reason for this change. Othello s blackness connotes ugliness, treachery, lust, bestiality, and the demonic. This poisonous image of the black man, as we shall see, later informs Othello s judgment of himself (Berry 319). In other words, Othello s blackness also comes from within in himself. He plays a part in his own racism. He makes the comment My name, that was

3 as fresh / As Dain s visage is now begrim d, and black/ As mine own face (Shakespeare 831). Othello is discovering that his blackness is a stain, and if Desdemona becomes a black weed for Othello, her blackening is a kind of shorthand for his sense that his blackness has in fact contaminated her (Adelman 126). In other words, Othello understands the since of himself as an outsider, and that he is polluting Desdemona, therefore it is easier for him to believe that she is also stained. This makes Othello connect Desdemona with blackness thru himself. He sees her as able to be dark and stained because of her ties to him. Othello s awareness of his alienation from the Venetian race is affecting his relationships and also the decisions he makes. It allows him to believe that his innocent wife has become black. In many ways Othello has come to see himself as his own stereotype (Berry 319). Edward Berry claims To understand Othello s predicament, one must appreciate not only his Africanness but his position as a black man in Venetian society; and also that Othello s alienation is the play s most striking visual effect (318). Othello s physical blackness connects the character to the symbolism of darkness, but what is ironic is that from the beginning of the play Othello is physically black, but he is not evil. The blackness is drawn out of him by Iago, who is physically white, but truly black internally. Although in the opening scenes of the play Othello is branded as an outsider, the audience learns very quickly that Othello has a good nature and is only physically black. Until around Act III the audience sees that good nature, which he possesses. Iago destroys that. Iago implants Othello with the blackness within himself to make Othello truly black, and truly an outsider. Othello is no longer only black on the outside; he is becoming evil, and black within. Othello is convinced that he must do something about his wife s indiscretions. He not only finds it horrifying that she corrupts herself but because her blackness confirms his

4 (Adelman 329). Desdemona s wrongdoing is the source of Othello s inner blackness. He cannot live with an everyday reminder of that blackness. Edward Berry says that Othello tries to kill in some sense his own blackness (329). The blackness with in Desdemona is the evil blackness that Iago has implanted into Othello s mind. The irony is that the blackness is within Othello, not Desdemona. When Othello is about to murder Desdemona he speaks over her while she sleeps. He says, Yet she must die, else she ll betray more men. Put out the light, and then put out the light (Shakespeare 857). According to Rodney Edgecome the torch Othello carries cannot be what Othello is referring to as the light. He says that the light in medieval times applied to wanton sexual behavior (9), but in my opinion Shakespeare was referring to not only the life of Desdemona but once again to color. The light symbolizes life and goodness. Othello knew that Desdemona was pure and a good woman when he married her. He told Iago he was not worried about her cheating in the beginning of the play, but Othello let the darkness overcome him. He allowed Iago to manipulate him. Othello became what Iago wanted him to become, not only black, but dark and evil.

5 Works Cited Berry, Edward. Othello s Alienation. Studies in English Literature, , Vol. 30, No. 2, Elizabethan and Jacobean Drama. Spring 1990: Jstor. Web. 4 Nov Edgecombe, Rodney Stenning. Put out the light in Othello. ANQ. Summer2008, Vol.21 Issue 3: 8-11.Galileo. Web. 4 Dec 2009 Aldelman, Janet. Iago s Alter Ego: Race as Projection in Othello. Shakespeare Quarterly. Summer 1997, Vol. 48 Issue 2: Galileo. Web. 7 Dec 2009 Shakespeare,William. "Othello, the Moor of Venice." Legacies: Fiction,Poetry, Drama, Nonfiction. Cheryl Forman. Fourth Edition. Boston, MA: Lyn Uhi,

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