Racism in William Shakespeare’s OthelloThe play, Othello, is certainly, in part, the tragedy of racism. Examples of racism are common throughout the dialog. This racism is directed toward Othello, a brave soldier from Africa and currently supreme commander of the Venetian army. Nearly every character uses a racial slur to insult Othello at one point in the play. Even Emilia sinks to the level of insulting Othello based on the color of his skin. The character that most commonly makes racist remarks in Othello is Iago. It is very apparent that Iago uses racism as a scapegoat to hate and blame Othello. Societal racism takes its toll on its victims. The effect of racism on Othello is quite evident and is one of the main causes for his insecurity about his marriage. However, Othello is not wholly the tragedy of racism. The theme of jealousy is also extremely important in Othello. Racism may play a large part in the tragedy, Othello, but it certainly does not adequately explain the entire play.
Othello is a nobleman, a decorated soldier, very well respected by his men (with the exception of Iago). One of the few characteristics that harms, rather than helps him, is that he is dark-skinned in a society utterly dominated by men prejudiced against those with dark skin. At the start of the play, he appears confident that, “My parts, my title, and my perfect soul / Shall manifest me rightly.” (1, 2, 36-37) But Iago makes sure to use Othello’s race against him as much as possible.
In Act 1, Scene 1, Iago effectively uses racism to turn Brabantio against Othello. He is the catalyst of all the destructive events throughout the play starting from the very beginning. Iago uses viciously racist slang to enrage B…
…is. Othello is driven so mad with jealousy that he completely submits to Iago. When Iago suggests that he should have Cassio killed and kill Desdemona himself, Othello readily agrees. Iago’s manipulation of Othello relied much more heavily on jealousy rather than racism.
The theme of racism in Othello is clearly very important. Because of racism, Othello becomes much more vulnerable to manipulation and is easily tricked by Iago. Racism assures that Othello will remain isolated from his peers while Iago tinkers with his mind by separating him from his white peers and making him the outsider. Although Othello is not solely the tragedy of racism, it truly could not be a tragedy without the negative pressures from racism.
Shakespeare, William. “Othello”. The Norton Shakespeare. Ed. Stephen Greenblatt. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1997.