Was Othello Black Did It Cause Conflict?

Updated 8 November, 2023
The motive William Shakespeare had in mind by having his main character – Othello – as black is not clear. However this fact is the source of one of the many conflicts in the play – racial prejudice.For instance, the reasons behind Lago misleading Othello by bringing him to loggerheads with Roderigo were racial oriented. In addition to that, the reason why Desdemona's father tried so hard to stop her from marrying Othello must be racially oriented to some extent.
Detailed answer:

One of the most discussed themes in extensive literature is racism. During the Elizabethan era, the ideas of racism were not much addressed due to a lack of understanding concerning foreigners. However, members of English society still considered people from other races as inferior to them.
Because of Queen Elizabeth’s extreme xenophobic nature coupled with her social influence, her own personal views towards different ethnicities were enforced upon England as other conflicting views would result to death. This contextual information can be seen through the very first act and scene of Shakespeare’s play Othello as evidenced by “Even now, now, very now, an old black ram is tupping your white ewe!”. By falsely displaying Othello with animalistic imagery despite his noble and polite mannerism, displays him as a cultural outsider purely based on his dark skin. The specific use of animalistic imagery dehumanises Othello and strips him down to the stereotypical violent and irrational animal. Furthermore, the interracial relationship between Desdemona and Othello is subverted by Brabantio’s distraught reaction to their marriage as evidenced by “To fall in love with what she feared to look on! / It is a judgment / maimed and most imperfect / That will confess perfection so could err / Against all rules of nature.” The use of paradoxical language of “To fall in love with what she feared to look on” displays how black people were normally feared by the whites due to their racial background. In this case, a marriage between a black and a white person in Shakespeare’s context was seen as absurd and looked down upon. The addition of “Against all rules of nature,” further reinforces the abnormality of this situation.
As much as it is acceptable that William Shakespeare wanted his main character – Othello – to be black, the motive behind that is not evident. It is not clear what he – Shakespeare wished to achieve by having a black hero in front of an audience consisting of more white people than black people; white people who consider their black counterparts as wicked and inferior to them. However, it was evident that William Shakespeare expected people to react positively to Othello’s black color and did not want them to oversimplify him as an ordinary black man.

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