Racism in Othello

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Racism is inextricably linked to the story of Othello and presents several universal themes, still prominent in modern society. It is this that questions what sort of message Shakespeare intended to convey to his audience; was Othello the black ‘moor’, portrayed as a tragic hero? Or did his character eventually come to resemble the prejudices of which he was a victim? A text rich with ethical debate, Othello is a story of black and white, culture, fate, and ultimately good versus bad. Racial ‘otherness’ is a crucial part of the text; it is with this that Shakespeare crafts a journey in which Othello is initially presented proud, with dignity and respect, then painfully contorted into the mould that Iago has created, eventually turning Othello’s ethnicity into his primary vulnerability for psychological attack. Themes of black and white are continuously entwined within the play, as they build layer upon layer of textual irony. Conflict occurs on two levels; there is the battle of good versus evil, which is often seen as black versus white, but there is also a personal battle, of a white man and a black man. Shakespeare’s twist of fate has made the good represented by black and evil represented by white. The play begins with Iago proclaiming his hate for Othello. Iago refers to Othello’s "thick-lips" and as "an old black ram”. His hatred may have started on a professional level, but in part due to Othello’s heritage, Iago’s contempt quickly deteriorates to racism. This brings about a reoccurring paradox in Othello. While an extremely powerful man in a political context, his race makes him inferior in a white man’s society. Iago is able to trick his master and manipulate him on a consistent basis. Othello’s colour is the basis in which other characters perceive him in the text. It provides different meanings from the range of perspectives; Iago’s hatred of Othello’s ‘otherness’ is balanced by the exotic desired he inspires in Desdemona. In some cases, the fact that...
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