Othello the Moor: the “race” for “sex”

Prepare for run-on sentences guys.

Staying true to Shakespearean writing, I find Othello being of no exception, to be extremely allegorical. Even throughout the first 3 Acts there are hints towards issues and underlying themes of racism, sexism, and social class. Initially we learn that Iago is upset (to put it lightly) at Othello. Regardless of suspicion that Othello may or may not have slept with Emilia, his anger is fueled by the fact that Othello has given Michael Cassio the promotion that he felt he deserved. hmmmm? We notice Cassio being described as a Florentine, a foreigner, a mathematician, but of course no soldier like Iago. (anything yet?) Might this have been a contributing factor to why he was given the job over Iago? Not convinced yet..? fair enough! Upon Desdemona and Emilia’s arrival to Cyprus, Cassio greets them warmly with kisses and tells Iago that “tis my breeding that gives this bold show of courtesy”. The idea that it it’s his upbringing, his CLASS that propels him to act in this uppity way. I feel as though these differences are those which distinguish a Florentine smooth-talker like Cassio from a more soldierly Iago, therefore placing Cassio a step above Iago on the social ladder. Of course both men are considered “the elite” or the uperclass in this case but I feel as though this is definitely intentional. Another, more subtle example occurs when Iago goes on his rant about women, in essence, being good for nothing. (sexist right?) I find it quite interesting that although Emilia does not respond, Desdemona does. We know that Desdemona comes from a wealthy family, and so might be considered of higher class than both Iago and Emilia. Therefore not only would she not at all feel obligated to submissively listen to Iago’s opinion, but is also confident enough to retort and engage in conversation even though her husband is absent. Perhaps this exchange would not at all be possible is Desdemona were not of a certain status, keeping in mind she is the Boss’s wife of course. (its levels to this….)

Moving  on past Iago’s Chauvinism and Cassio’s possible class related promotion, there is the more obvious race thing. Race is real, just as it is today, it was than. We are confronted with these initial slight ( sometimes not so slight) instances of racism in both the diction used as well the ideology present within a couple characters. Apart from the examples we mentioned in class like Othello being refereed to as the Black ram tuppling Brabantio’s white ewe, did anyone notice that Othello is not even referred to by name until they get to the duke.(a man fair and who respects Othello). Here is this successful war hero, seems to be pretty well known and even financially well-off, yet those that mention him can’t even muster up enough respect to say his name. I feel as though this is a much more ideological racism being that it is not so much as stated as it is an assumed norm. Also when Brabantio learns that his beloved Desdemona has run off with a black man, he immediately assumes foul play, that which craft or some other mind-altering tool must have been used because no way his white pure, wholesome, christian daughter would fall for the black, moor.

Proposed in class what was the question of whether or not the antisemitic nature of this Shakespearean work affirms the beliefs and ideals of Shakespeare or do they acquit him of this rather sickening way of thinking. Although, I do believe that we must read Othello in totality and I personally must read more Shakespearean literature to accurately answer this question….. for the sake of a good time… I’ll give it a shot. (hopefully you guys follow up)                                                                                      Regardless of weather or not Shakespeare himself agrees with the ideals of his characters, the fact that he implemented these themes in his art shows that he is most definitely aware of these issues and therefore has an opinion. Perhaps in ‘publicizing” the nature of racism and sexism in a bit of discreet way, Shakespeare is speaking out against it. Regardless of, by no means would I deem this to “acquit”  him.

6 thoughts on “Othello the Moor: the “race” for “sex””

  1. I really like your point about Othello not being referred to by his name until the Duke comes in, I didn’t even notice that. Now that you’ve brought it up, it reminds me of the way the creature in, “Frankenstein” was never referred to by name, purposely to prevent the reader from identifying/empathizing with it. I don’t think that’s what the goal of Othello was necessarily, because Othello gains plenty of sympathy from the reader, but the same disrespect is apparent in both cases.
    I also wonder if the point about Cassio being promoted just because of his class is supposed to say something about Othello, if he was the one doing the promoting? It might just have been written so that Iago has a reason to be angry and want vengeance, or it could be a way of making Othello look bad. If Othello promoted Cassio just because of his class it wouldn’t make him look very good from a leadership standpoint; as a general he’s supposed to make fair, unbiased, decisions, and clearly this wasn’t one. It might be another way of putting him down, just like the way he wasn’t referred to by name until the Duke.

  2. As other Emma pointed out, I too did not realize how long it took for Othello to be called by name. I find that to be interesting and agree with what you said in regards to them not having enough respect to say his name. I find it hard to think that the reason was anything other than a race issue, as there is nothing in the play that relates back to that.

  3. I three did not notice the fact that Othello is not called by name until meeting the Duke. I don’t know if that’s because he’s only surrounded by people who disrespect him, though. Namely Roderigo and Iago, the main two conspirators in the play. The form of disrespect is unlike any other we encounter in the play, though, like stripping Othello of his human qualities. I’m sure that everything we notice in Shakespeare’s plays, he intentionally did, and this lack of calling him by name is in line with other sly racist remarks made about Othello (or those not made, as we see here). Whether or not Shakespeare can be acquitted of this sickening way of thinking, his play as a whole shows that he has a strong command of the racist mentality, especially due to the way he sets up interactions between Othello and key characters. I personally think Shakespeare was just “giving the people (his audience and readers) what they want” by writing a racially charged play, and the sentiments expressed within it are not his own.

  4. I also missed the point about Othello not being called by his real name, but I think that Paul had a good point in saying that we do not hear his name used because the only people around are ones who disrespect him. The same can be true with the Frankenstein monster’s name; the story is being told by one Dr. Victor Frankenstein, who created the monster, and he does not respect the monster and therefore does not name it. It could be that neither Iago and co. or Dr. Frankenstein want us to empathize with either character, but somehow a majority of people are able to empathize with either, or both. It is also interesting that the issue of class was brought up, because while Cassio may have been promoted simply because of his class, Othello is also in a high position despite his skin color. Which was considered more important: Class, or race?

  5. Like everyone else who has commented, I also did not realize that Othello was not called by his name. I think this is unique, especially because the title of the play is Othello. To me, calling others by their name is respectful and because of this, I agree with Paul and Meaghan. The reason Othello is not referred to by his name could easily be that the other characters did hold him in high regard. Lastly, I want to address the question of whether this work of Shakespeare affirms his beliefs and ideals. Unfortunately, I think that this play was written to not only address the nature of racism, but also portray Shakespeare’s attitude. Although it is not evident in his other works, I believe that Shakespeare may have been slightly racist because I think that people write about what they’re comfortable with. Or, controversially, he could have just been making people more aware of the issues around them. Either way, I think Othello was very different than Shakespeare’s other plays and allowed its readers to question the idea of respect and morality.

  6. I think it is very difficult to declare anything about Shakespeare’s beliefs on racism or anything for that matter. Shakespeare is only known for his plays, as there are no other records of anything he had said or written. In each of his plays he has different points of view, so there is no justification in saying that he was racist. I do agree with Darrien though, that Othello is different than Shakespeare’s other plays and allows its readers to question the idea of respect and morality.

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