What Are The Examples Of Racism In Othello?

Updated 30 September, 2023
Created in the Elizabethan Era, Othello is greatly influenced by the racial tensions at the time. Shakespeare's writing was intended to document the xenophobic nature of society at hand between Europeans and non-Europeans during the 17th century.
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In the play, Othello, Shakespeare explores the explicit racist nature of the Elizabethan context. 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 the play as evidenced by “Even now, now, very now, an old black ram is tupping your white ewe!”. Iago degrades Othello and Desdemona's loving relationship by depicting Othello as a sexual beast who has tainted Desdemona with lust, highlighting the hypersexual and violent behavior associated with Othello's race. Through this Iago attempts to disgust Brabantio with animal imagery, contrasting Othello's blackness to Desdemona's white purity and highlighting that a black man does not belong with his noble daughter, again confirming that Othello's standards are only held to the color of his skin.
By falsely displaying Othello with animalistic imagery despite his noble and polite mannerism, Shakespeare 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.

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