Xenophobia in Othello and the Merchant of Venice

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William Thomas McNary
ENGL 3000
The Effect of Xenophobia on Comedies and Tragedies
From 1589 to 1613 William Shakespeare produced some of the most original, thought-provoking and emotionally compelling plays, sonnets, and poetry. Two of his finest pieces of work, Othello and The Merchant of Venice feature dynamic characters, and insights into the chivalry and the xenophobic disposition of the English people at the time. Throughout these two stories, three primary female characters emerge, Desdemona from Othello, and Portia and Jessica from The Merchant of Venice. The female leads in each of these stories share many things in common such as their devotion to their mate and gracefulness, but the fate each woman ends up with at the conclusion of the story reflects the decisions they made and how those decisions were perceived in England during that time. The death of Desdemona and the happiness found by the newly married Portia and Jessica clearly shows the taste of the English audience during Shakespeare’s time, as an interracial marriage ends in a murder-suicide, and the former Jew Jessica receives riches and a wonderful new life as she converts to Christianity. Although a hatred of Jews and foreigners can be seen by characters throughout Shakespeare’s plays, Shakespeare was a brilliant writer, and he would not have been as successful as he had been if he did not write about the controversial racial and religious relations of the time and create characters that related to them. Desdemona begins Othello married to Othello, after having secretly eloped with him. She is a loyal wife, and is gentle and self-determined, shown by her accompanying Othello upon his departure to battle the Turks, in which she states “I saw Othello's visage in his mind”(1.3.252), meaning that she truly understands who she is married to and why she is needed. Her marriage to Othello is likely one that the English people of the time would have frowned upon...
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