The Tragedy of Othello, the Moor of Venice by William Shakespeare
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The tragedy of Othello is a tale of shame, rage, racism, spousal abuse, envy and jealousy that leads to a destruction of a hierarchy that was previously effective. It centers on Othello who is the Moor of Venice, his trusted sub ordinate Lago, who systematically destroys all touched by his shame driven rage, Desdemona and Cassio, who is the ultimate successor of Othello. It’s a tale of all time and reflects societal norms that we still face today such as; Jealousy racism, abuse of spouses and other social ills. In this essay, I will focus on racism, how it is portrayed today, what the audience of today will think of such racism and the way forward.
Racism in the play
Othello is a black military general, however, his status as a black foreigner in Venice marks him as an outsider and exposes him to utter racism, especially by the father of his wife who believes that his daughter’s interracial marriage was a result of Othello’s tricks. The play portrays fear of intermixing of races through marriage. Lago’s hatred towards Othello was not simply because of being passed by promotion and losing to a less experienced man. His hatred spreads and in the play, he refers to Othello as having thick lips in Act I scene ii (pg. 66) as well as an old black ram in Act I scene i (Pg. 88-89). His hatred initially began on a professional level but thereafter extended to Othello’s Moorish heritage and Lago’s contempt rapidly deteriorated to racism. Othello is an extremely powerful black man in a white man’s society and this makes him inferior, Lago uses this to trick him and make his life miserable. Additionally, Barbantio, also divulges some sense of racism, he disapproves of the marriage between Othello and his daughter. He has always not liked Roderigo as a suitor for his daughter due to unfavorable reputation, but once Lago tells him of the estranged marriage between Othello and his daughter, he wishes Roderigo could be the one marrying his daughter. Barbantio exhibits racism by disapproving his inters- racial marriage of his daughter and saying since Othello is black, he had tricked his daughter into marrying him. Thus Barbantio suggests that a disrespected white man is more superior to a respected noble and gentleman whose only ‘problem’ as he saw it was because he was black.
This shows Barbantio’s true feelings and views about blacks even when he was just waking up from his sleep. In the 16th century, race was a heated topic of discussion, most blacks were discriminated against, they could not get the same education the white did and neither would they eat in the same restaurants and hold high positions in government and companies. However, in the 21st century, people’s views have changed for the better. In the developed world, people are living as a cosmopolitan society whereby people are more tolerant and would reject any actions of racism whatsoever. People who are openly racists have now become outcasts and can now be punished by law. With this in mind, the way modern society will interpret racism in Othello is the same way they will interpret Othello as a play.
The social dysfunction that is portrayed in Othello is sexual dysfunction, Othello in the play has been portrayed as successful in the battlefield, which elevated his reputation as being the best general there is and he had military proficiency. His sexual dysfunction however is not much discussed in the play. There is evidence that Othello was impotent in both his sexual and social responsibilities. This is clearly evident in the fact that throughout the play, Othello and Desdemona never experienced intimacy at any point in time. His sexual disorder then transformed him to be impotent in his social life, he had no power when it came to dealing with people in the play, and his impotency played a major role than neither his Military might nor his Moorish heritage. Throughout the drama evidence crops up how Othello did not get intimate with his wife, shortly after murdering his wife, he said that Desdemona was cold even in her chastity this is illustrated in Act II scene iii. By referring to Desdemona as chaste, he divulged that he had never had sexual intercourse with his wife. The quote talked about regarding this social dysfunction is;
My sweet wife,
the purchase made, the fruits are to ensue:
The profit's yet to come 'tween me and you.
Good night. (2.3.2). it is clear that the two have not yet had sexual intimacy. Sexual dysfunction in the world today is not that different from what was executed in the play through Othello, it is a problem that has been prevalent in the world as we know it and just as it was in the play, less is said about it as those with the problem hide and never share their experiences.
A critical review by Prof. Niamat Ali, states that Othello by Shakespeare depicted as always an artistic balance in the writing of the play, the play uses unique characters such as Desdemon, her beauty, charm and nicety so as make the reader glued to the plot of the play. Iago’s role as well have a magic effect on the reader as what he sets to do works out well and he seems cunning more than the devil himself. Use of symbols such as the handkerchief was a wise move as it keeps the reader on his/her toes and engages the reader to try and find out what the handkerchief symbolizes. Othello is seen as a brave warrior and has outstanding success in the battlefield, but the play fails to proof Othello’s brevity except when he murders his innocent wife. At the end of the play his might and bravery ends up being lower than his status while Roderigo’s foolishness ends up being higher than his character, ( Niamat 2012),. The play is one of the greatest Tragedies there is on William Shakespeare, but there are some logical, psychological and technical hiccups in the play.