Role of Race in Othello

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Since the Middle Ages, race has been a crucial component in separating people at various levels of society. For example, race has been utilized to define a given group of people's identity, history, social institutions, and even their daily lives. Furthermore, race has been used to identify and classify individuals and groups of people based on their physical traits, most notably their skin color. Race, according to some, defines one's origin or nationality, cultural background, language, and, by far, one's belief system. It is paramount, therefore to note that people associate race with ideologies or the way people visualize aspects of life and understand the world around them. In this way, some of the groups are viewed to be superior as compared to others.

Moreover, as portrayed in the play Othello, race is a very dominant theme and contributes heavily in how the play ends in tragedy, and it influences the dispensation of power in the play. Consequently, the play elaborates the racism role as an implication that offsets throughout the progression of Othello. Clearly, according to (Carey and McCulloch), belonging to a particular race or ethnic belief has the aptitude of generating one’s limited powers in relating to others, that is, race has the power to create an inferiority complex. Undeniably, it shows how one’s race and ethnic background can be exploited and manipulated by those envious of one’s status and used to make them look back at those they love and turn them into monsters. The key objective of this paper is to, therefore, examine the role racism and ethnicity play in Othello.

Influence of Race in Othello

The play displays Othello as the protagonist and Iago as the antagonist. Moreover, Iago is portrayed as an honest and straightforward character who speaks plainly, but later he becomes filled with lies, and they make him exploit and manipulate other characters in the play. Indeed, this manipulation expressed by Iago is driven primarily by the fact that he, Iago, does not approve of Othello due to his skin color. In the play, Iago shows his discontent of Cassio’s appointment to the post of a lieutenant, and this prompts him to feel so much hatred towards Othello. In his heart, he felt that he should have had the post following his recommendations from the great ones in the city. Clearly, Iago felt that the appointment of Cassio to the rank was not in order considering, Cassio did not have much experience in the service. Iago continuously serves under Othello although, he was waiting for the opportune time to execute his ill motives.

Consequently, through deceit, Iago convinces his fellow characters in the play that he speaks and stands for truth and represents honesty, though he is at his best in control of his actions which, are driven towards manipulating and exploiting them. Meanwhile, Iago perfectly alters the thoughts of people and alters the truth through turning facts upside down to fit into his situation leading to a state whereby every politician respects him. According to (Zender 323), the jealousy which is driven so much because Othello is of a different race consumes Iago, and the envious nature leads him to manipulate his fellow characters which push them against the wall and leads them to make fatal decisions.

Arguably, according to (Macaulay 265), racism has crept into the minds of several characters who take Othello to be misplaced in the society because he is black. For instance, the execution of power in the play is majorly affected by the fact that Othello, the general in the Venetian army, is black. For example, Iago who is the captain in the military has amassed a lot of experience in the military and therefore feels the need to overthrow Othello, who is black. The senator, Brabantio, learns of the relationship between his daughter and Othello, as known as the Moor, and he is immediately filled with rage. The marriage between Othello and Desdemona causes distress to her father, and he decides to bring Othello in front of the court and accuses him of using witchcraft on Desdemona. Clearly, the witchcraft was an activity associated with the black people. Therefore, it is visibly clear that race set back the political leadership and power.

Moreover, race has a negative impact on social issues such as love, class, and gender. As shown in the play, and according to (Shakespeare and Rolfe), whenever for example, Iago decides to include Othello’s race in a conversation with a friend, it makes the reader conclude that Othello’s race is responsible for his actions. Arguably, Iago is seen not to approve of the love between Othello and Desdemona. On her part, Desdemona views Othello as a valiant warrior while Othello visualizes his wife as a woman of genuine womanly elegance. Further, the relationship between Iago and Othello becomes of power struggle, where Iago tries to denigrate Desdemona to position himself so he can poison Othello. Arguably, as depicted by (Carey and McCulloch), it is unlikely that Othello thinks that he can climb the ladder and carve a place for himself in the Venetian society for he would not be accepted. From the beginning of the play, this view is upheld especially by people such as, Roderigo, Iago, and Brabantio who find Othello’s marriage to a white woman detrimental.

Racism has a damaging effect even on Othello himself, and it lowers his self-esteem. Interestingly, it is important to note that Othello’s race, charm, dark appearance, and life of mysterious, romantic colorings are some of the characteristics that attracted Desdemona towards him. Nonetheless, Othello falls for Iago’s tricks of manipulation, and he finds himself losing all he had including his wife. Additionally, Othello does not only criticize his wife Desdemona for infidelity but also in a way, vindicates her activities by assuming his flaws, associated to his race, motivated her to have an affair with another man. Further, Othello becomes more impetuous, and he refers to his wife as a prostitute. Even so, it was after Othello commits the ultimate act of killing his wife, Desdemona, that the Venetian residents use his skin color against him. Consequently, it is after Desdemona’s death that people disregard the respect they had for Othello. For example, Emilia refers to him as a “blacker devil” (IV, II, 132). In Desdemona’s defense, Emilia says that she had remained loyal to Othello and “she was too fond of her most filthy bargain” (IV, III, 157), disrespectfully using racist terms against Othello.

Further, racism has had a negative influence on so many facets of life, and therefore, people have worked so hard to try and eradicate the stigma brought about by racism. In the contemporary world, racism has been found to have adverse effects on the society such as creating an inferiority complex among the affected individuals. Clearly, inferiority complex is the strange feeling of general inadequacy caused by actual or supposed inferiority in one domain, sometimes marked by hostile behavior in return. Therefore, these feelings induce the victims into a state where they may lack the confidence to participate in discussions affecting their lives and hence may lead to unequal opportunities. Moreover, this is a factor that has led to the increased levels of unemployment and poverty among minority populations. Similarly, as seen from the play, the inferiority complex induced into Othello leads him in making fatal decisions that resulted in tragedy.

Nevertheless, racial discrimination disfavors the society by imposing negative impacts. Even in the contemporary world, issues such as love and marriages have been hit hard by the issues of racism. For example, an individual from a particular group of people viewed to be a minority, can neither date nor marry from the majority of the citizens. Likewise, according to (Shakespeare and DiYanni), from the play, “Tragedy of Othello,” the protagonist being a Moor and having a white wife is undesirable as viewed by many. Apparently, most of the characters led by Iago, Roderigo and Brabantio did not approve of the relationship, just because Othello was black.

Presently, in most cases, political power and administration have been an area undermined by racism. In some countries, the fact that one belongs to a group considered a minority makes it difficult for them to get appointed into positions of power. Nonetheless, some societies and countries have overcome this retrogressive ideology, and they elect leaders according to their abilities. For example, the United States of America elected a black president in the year 2008. Clearly, this is a milestone towards the elimination of racial discrimination. Similarly, in the play, the appointment of Othello, a black individual to the respected rank of a general was a step against the odds, although, this caused a lot of distress to those who envied him and even led to destruction.


Certainly, scenes that depict the delicate human nature and relationships fill the play "The Tragedy of Othello." As seen in the play, Othello lived a life without racial discernment, except for those individuals who resented and disliked him or were afraid he would interfere with their authority. Clearly, these individuals used his race as a means to bring him to his disgrace. The larger population of the people took him to be the noble, and virtuous general, regardless of his skin tone. All in all, after committing the brutal crimes because of his unfounded jealousy, those who had respect for him and admired him criticized and condemned him mostly regarding his color. Through the study of these relationships, racial differences, gender, and social class suggest that like in any other group, Venetian society consists of both empowered and constrained groups. Therefore, more researches need to be done to highlight the implications of racial profiling on the overall good of the society as the issue of race continues to have a greater impact on the society on both the positive and the negative.

Works Cited

Carey, Gary K, and Helen McCulloch. Cliffsnotes On Shakespeare?S Othello. 1st ed. Hoboken, N.J.: Wiley Pub., 2014. Print.

Macaulay, Marcia. "When Chaos Is Come Again: Narrative And Narrative Analysis In Othello". 39.3 (2005): 259-276. Web. 1 Apr. 2017.

Shakespeare, William, and Robert DiYanni. The Tragedy Of Othello. 1st ed. New York: McGraw, 2007. Print.

Shakespeare, William, and W. J Rolfe. Shakespeare's Tragedy of Othello, the Moor of Venice. 1st ed. [Charleston, SC]: BiblioBazaar, 2011. Print.

Zender, Karl F. "The Humiliation of Iago". Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900 34.2 (1994): 323. Web.

May 17, 2023




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