‘In what ways is the theme of racism more or less prominent than themes of love, deceit and jealousy in Shakespeare’s Othello? ‘ Othello is a play which was written by William Shakespeare and believed to be written around 1603 and first performed by the king’s men. Othello is a tragedy which focuses on Othello – a Moorish captain, Desdemona, lago his trusty companion he believes and his wife Emilia, Cassio and Roderigo. “Disdemona and the Moor’ and the story of ‘Epitia’ – seemed to have inspired Shakespeare when writing Othello and Measure for Measure.
Gli Hecatommithi is arranged in ten sections and was first printed in 1565. Cinthio was a nickname for Giovanni Battista Giraldi who was an “Italian poet and novelist (wikipedia). lago is known by the audience to be sly and cunning however the other characters do not realise until Emilia tells Othello about how lago had been meddling with the handkerchief. (Quote). – National theatre – emilia/ desdemona The way in which lago manipulates the rest of the characters is bewildering and staggering. Themes that are present in Othello range from the racism, jealousy, love, deceit, anger and manipulation.
My question is ‘whether racism is more prominent than other themes consistent in Othello and whether it is relevant to the outcome of the play. ‘ There is a substantial racial undertone in Othello, Othello is first spoken about his “black lips” however they don’t mention his name until he enters the scene and with his skin colour he has supposed inferiority to other Europeans. This racial undertone still exists in our 21st Century from institutional racism in formal agents of social control to the Leader of the free world. (Quote beggining of play)
In 1596, Queen Elizabeth I wrote an ‘open letter to the Mayor of London announcing that “there are of late divers blackmoores brought into this realme, of which kinde of people there are already here to manie,” (website) and ordered for them to leave. It was ineffective however, it helped create prejudice and enhanced the idea of white superiority and the population began to gain vocabulary for discrimination. In 1603, Shakespeare was able to play on the idea that Queen Elizabeth believed that ‘Blackamoores should go to Portugal or Spain as they did not help society in UK.
Again, the British population believed from this ‘open letter they were racially superior. Around the time Shakespeare was creating Othello ‘in England – God had founded a church and appointed a Monarchy so that the land and people could be well governed. ‘ Othello Preface. During 1604 the population believed that the earth was flat and you could fall of the edges. In Venice some of the Clergy members were investigated and some were convicted of rape/murder/stealing/lying to the church as well as having high rates of homosexuality, prostitution and rape and the church was trying its best to conceal this.
Othello’s darkness was alluded at many points in the playwright however during the Elizabethan era anyone one who was darker than brunette was classified as black. “Othello is a black man in a white man’s society, and a solider among civilians; he is also one of the world’s greatest lovers in literature” (Othello preface) Moor – definition Deceit is a theme that follows the play, – lago lies to Roderigo about the reason to kill Cassio. Roderigo is convinced by the lago that Cassio is advancing on Desdemona. ago’s character is a role reversal from the rest of the characters in Shakespeare’s Othello. He is viewed as a companion to all, most acclaim him as “honest lago” however the audience know better. He is Othello’s trustworthy ‘ancient’, Roderigo’s assistant, therapist to the downtrodden Cassio, even adviser to the wretched Desdemona. Iago speaks about Cassio about trying to smooth things over with Othello through speaking to Desdemona. Then lies to Othello to about Cassio and Desdemona are having a sexual relationship.
Scott Graham’s production of Othello highlights the manipulation and the deceit between the characters. The movement of the handkerchief in both productions was monumental to the actions that occurred. Othello wanted “Ocular proof” of his wife cheating but settled for the proof of Cassio having her handkerchief. Scott Graham’s Frantic Assembly’s Othello was set in a West Yorkshire bar ere racism was still apparent. This shows how racism was such a big theme they designed a set around it. The set was designed by Laura Hopkins and was a tacky pub.
Although Frantic Assembly are a physical theatre company they still manage to portray themes such as jealousy and deceit that plague Shakespeare’s Othello. It was ingenious their use of the handkerchief and how monumental that was to the outcome of Othello. “OBSERVE HER WELL WITH CASSIO IN FOLLOWING HIM I FOLLOW NOTHING BUT MYSELF – I AM NOT WHAT I AM” Jealousy is a theme that follows the play – The 2013 National Theatre production of Othello focuses on an army base with Adrian Lester as Othello and Rory Kinnear as lago. ago believes that Othello is trying to have relations with Emilia, lago’s wife. “I hate the moor, And it is thought abroad that he has twixt my sheets He’s done, i know not if it’s true, but i for mere suspicion of that kind will do as if for surety”.
Cassio speaks about a mystery girl to lago and Othello believes the mystery girl to be Desdemona because lago tells Othello this. Othello then ask lago to kill Cassio due to the jealousy of which is misplaced by lago manipulating the situation. lago tricks Cassio in drinking too much then othello fires him from that enior position of lieutenant for making a fool of himself. Rory Kinnear speaks about how he felt lago character feels “incredibly frustrated about being passed over for promotion”. (Othello Interview). lago speaks to Roderigo about his dislike for Othello due to the fact that Othello chose Cassio for his second in command position, preferring Cassio to lago. This motive is most likely one of the most important reasons for his vindictiveness. Iago’s “anger is that of a man who has been rejected and despised” (Othello – preface).
His reaction may be understandable however the way he handled the situation by seeking revenge was wrong. Jealousy is usually connoted with the colour green so when lago refers to the ‘green eyed monster he – Racism is a theme that follows the play – Desdemona’s father thought he casted a spell Introduced at the beginning “lago uses racism to trigger Desdemona’s father Senator Barbanzio against Othello. ” “Even now, now, very now, an old black ram Is tupping your white ewe. Arise, arise; “(Othello -) lago says this to Brabantio. ago compares Othello to a sheep. This racial slur is used to rile Brabantio to realise his ? little’ daughter is being defiled by Othello. Iago tries to initiate a reaction from Brabantio, Desdemona’s father delivering obscene descriptions of sexual intercourse between Othello and Desdemona.
Another explanation for his rational distress nonetheless this one is entirely irrational: ‘lago hates Othello because he is black, in the presence of his general, lago appears loyal and respectful: behind Othello’s back, he loses no opportunity to abuse or diminish. (Othello preface). This response is because he feels himself to be mediocre compared to Othello, trying to diminish the other characters to his own level. Repeatedly in dialogue lago displays this ‘reductive’ tendency, being scornful at Roderigo’s passions, maltreating females – even the most beautiful and virtuous are good only “to suckle fools, and chronicle small beer” – and casting uncertainty on the capability and reliability of his superiors ‘(slandering Cassio for drunkenness, and suggesting that Othello is a regular abuser of his wife)’.
Ira Aldridge was the first african american to play Othello because the lead had fell ill. Ira Aldridge played Othello in Russia, His acting was of such standard there is commentary of audience members checking if’lago was ok’and members of the audience were crying out. ‘Adrian lester’ – Ira Aldridge received very racist notices in London. To conclude, Shakespeare’s attempt of the portrayal of Othello shows the Elizabethan audience how they might react to a black male with power would be treated in their society.
Shakespeare’s use of racism relies on the themes of jealousy and deceit. Without the theme of racism the text would not be nearly as powerful. The way in which Othello is presented as a juxtaposition of where a black man may be in society in 1603. It is commonly believed that Othello is one of the greatest poets, again showing how Shakespeare is reversing absurd stereotypes associated with black people however, Shakespeare’s Othello highlights racism we are not sure if that’s a big theme as to Love, deceit and jealousy.
Iqbal Khan’s 2015 RSC production of Othello helps highlight that race isn’t prominent with lago being black. lago motives are driven by many factors, personally racism is a factor however jealousy led lago down the dark path that he went down. Iago is to be believed to be one of the most cunning villains that Shakespeare wrote. “lago is one of Shakespeare’s nastiest villains” (Othello – pre/outface) “The rest of the characters have only partial glimpses and even the audience must make it’s own judgement on some of the reasons offered by lago to explain his actions” (Othello preface).