Othello

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Othello's Alienation Author(s): Edward Berry Source: Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900, Vol. 30, No. 2, Elizabethan and Jacobean Drama, (Spring, 1990), pp. 315-333 Published by: Rice University Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/450520 Accessed: 01/05/2008 11:43 page 319

The most dramatic reactions to Othello's blackness within the play are those of Iago and Roderigo in the opening scene. Their overt and vicious racism provides the background for Othello's first appearance. For Iago Othello is "an old black ram" (I.i.88), "the devil" (I.i.91), and a "Barbary horse" (I.i.lll); the consum-mation of his marriage is a making of "the beast with two backs" (I.i.115-16). Roderigo, who shares Iago's disgust, speaks of Desde-mona's "gross revolt" (I.i. 134) and the "gross clasps of a lascivious Moor" (I.i. 126). As Jones and Hunter have shown, these characters evoke, in a few choice epithets, the reigning stereotype of the African on the Elizabethan stage. Othello is black, and his 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. Although lago's notorious artistry is usually linked to his capacity to shape a plot, it extends as well to characterization, for the Othello he in many ways creates comes to see himself as his own stereotype. Although he lacks Iago's sardonic wit, Brabantio shares his imagery of blackness, for his rage at Othello expresses the same racism Iago and Roderigo had incited in the streets of Venice. Brabantio has often entertained Othello and, with Desdemona, listened to his tales. Yet the discovery that his daughter has married the Moor releases in him violent feelings of fear, hatred, and disgust. He accuses Othello of being a "foul thief," of being "damned," of arousing Desdemona's love by witchcraft (I.ii.62), of working against her by "practices of cunning hell" (Liii.102), of being a bond-slave and pagan...
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