Race in Shakespeare

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Since the Middle Ages, the issues of race have long been discussed. In nearly every culture, race has been a topic of complex discussion that has brought social discomfort and in most instances racial prejudice - Elizabethan England being no exception. William Shakespeare applies the issue of race in many of his plays; such in the tragedy of Othello that captures the reality of society in Elizabethan England, showing common racial bias of that era. Through his characters in the play, Shakespeare illustrates Elizabethan social ideology towards race, in which foreigners have adapted to a lifestyle of racial prejudice. In order to better understand the racial context behind the tragedy of Othello it is important to keep in mind the historical complexities that existed in Elizabethan England. Elizabethan vision of foreigners was complex and evolving from the Middle Ages. In the Middle Ages, engaging with foreigners involved the spiritual and material aspect of life. Margo Hendricks, author of Shakespeare and Race, explains within Elizabethan culture and literature that foreigners were viewed as those implementing a “process of vulgarization.” Elizabethan awareness of foreigners was closely tied to the religious outlook of the world, in which followers of Judaism and Islam were the antithesis of Christians. The difference in religions prompted the same outlook on difference in race. In the beginning, foreigners mostly blacks, were forcefully brought over to Elizabethan England as “creatures” that possessed little to no rights. However, as time went on they became members of Elizabethan society known as moors. Although they were now members of society, racial integration with whites often clashed, resulting in complex tensions amongst the different races. Many foreigners in Elizabethan England were blacks, according to Diane Abbott, a current British Member of Parliament, in which the sudden rise in number caused Queen Elizabeth I to issue a proclamation complaining...
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