Racism – the intolerance and discrimination of a person based purely on the colour of their skin. In a contemporary context, racism is thought of as an issue of relatively small proportion, although still present.
Western civilisation has become more accustomed to, and there for more tolerant of a multi-cultural society. But before this, before the struggles and victories of the civil rights movement, before the American civil war and the abolition if the slave trade, back in the days when Othello was written, racism wasn’t even a concept.It was accepted that the colour of your skin dictated your life and culture. The difference in colour stated more than country of origin.
Although many stereotypes existed for different cultures, the colour of your skin could almost define you as a different, inferior species entirely. As for sexism, women throughout history have fought for recognition of that they are more than possessions, more than just mothers and wives. But even so, it took a long, long time for this to be realised. It is so easy for something thought of as acceptable becoming the status quo.
Even now, sexism, like racism still exists.It may be subtle in the western world, differences in pay, attitudes toward women and their choices, etc or dictated by religion and seemingly old fashioned and extreme, but overall attitudes have changed since the days of Shakespeare. Of course, there are always instances in which these idealisms are broken. In Othello, a former slave rises to a position of power and respect.
This happens in Venice, noted as a cosmopolitan state, thriving on capitalism and employing mercenary soldiers to protect its wealth. In this case, a black military leader is credible.Maybe not likely, but a definite possibility. Moors”, People of Moroccan and North African origin, where thought of in a stereotypical way at the time.
They where portrayed as Proud, yet jealous. Loyal, but easily angered. Steadfast in friendship but also thought of as gullible. Othello, the moor of the title, makes and breaks these stereotypical images in several ways.
Venetian women. Women at the time where seen, as women. A second-class citizen, holding no real power of the time. Venetian women (cosmopolitan state etc) where also seen as glamorous, but loose.
Weak minded but untamed. The Venetian women in Othello are Emilia and Desdemona.Desdemona comes across as weak minded and devoted to Othello. Although she disobeys her father, she is loyal to her husband.
She is faithful, breaking the stereotypes of the loose Venetian female. Emilia on the other hand, does not appear to be faithful to Iago, but is a strong-minded, independent woman. Both women both adhere to and beak different stereotypes of the time. Othello himself starts off as a contradiction to the more negative points of the “Moor stereotype” He is calm and well spoken, When he addresses the council when accused of eloping with Desdemona without Brabantio’s permission or even knowledge, he proves himself eloquent;Hath this extent, no more.
Rude am I in my speech And little blessed in the soft phrase of peace” Although he admits he is woefully addicted unto wrath, he keeps his cool, and therefore defies the stereotype. He does fall victim to Iago eventually. He proves his loyalty to his friends by believing Iago over his wife, and also the stereotyped gullibility, although he takes some persuasion. His anger becomes more prominent; he looses his cool and becomes consumed by rage and jealousy.
He becomes the stereotype, rather than beginning as one.In my opinion, this is not meant as a racist statement by the play, as Iago, the Venetian, is portrayed as the evildoer, and although Othello adheres to the stereotype, it is possible any man could do the same under the circumstances, rather than just a “moor. ” The attitudes towards Othello from the other characters could be said to be “understandable” from the historical context. Even so they are racist.
It is doubtful Shakespeare did this to be malevolent; it is far more likely that it was written in character.Emilia refers to him as “the blacker devil”, which could be taken as a comment on his race, and most likely is written in that context. Iago seems have issues with the colour of Othello’s skin. As he alerts Brabantio to the fact that Desdemona is eloping with Othello he uses such phrases as “an old black ram/Is tupping your white ewe.
” The duke of the Venetian council tells Brabantio that his son-in-law is “More fair than black” – adding weight to the theory that the general populace thought as moors in a stereotypical fashion.By calling Othello fair, he is implying that he is an exception amongst black people, that he is somehow different in attitude and demeanour; that some how he is superior and therefore “fairer”. The popularity of Othello when it was originally written and performed could be attributed to the “novelty” of the subject. A mixed race relationship, the disobedience and strong will of a woman.
A mixture of curiosity and morose or odious fascination to see how it would be performed, and who would triumph overall. The prejudice of the time would certainly contributed to the popularity.In a contemporary perspective, as society has become more tolerant of different cultures and races, sexualities and sexes, the play would still hold interest, but for different reasons. The significance would be concentrated so much more on the deceit and jealousy, the basic human emotions and down fallings through love and envy.
There would be some interest as to how the leading character would cope in the time that the play that was written and how racial difference was perceived at the time, but no discrimination or intolerance.Looking at this play in its original, historical context, you could also argue that it is actually a condemnation of racism. A Black man rises to a position of power and respect, enters into a mixed race relationship, which although rejected by the surrounding public, went ahead. His fall into jealousy could be seen as much more of a basic human flaw than conformity to a stereotype.
Such a thing could rip any man apart. Racism and sexism are still present today, although much less apparent. Othello is the victim of some racial discrimination although, overall, the play is not a racial hate statement.All the prejudice is contained within the characters, and Othello himself breaks the stereotype of a moor, until he is consumed by jealousy and anger, which anymore may fall victim to under the same circumstances.
The role of women is still somewhat hazy though. Although the stereotype is broken, they are not in anyway seen as somehow different fro how they where though at the time. Second class. This play is not extremely racist or sexist, especially looking at it in the historical context, but there are some old fashioned ways of thinking.
Overall, this play is entertainment, rather than a comment on civil rights of the time.