“Othello” is a play that was first published in 1622, and it is one of history’s most significant works of literature. This Shakespearean play is considered as one of the most intimate and touching tragedies by the renowned author. Shakespeare derived his idea from the story “Tall of the Moor” by Gerald Cirthio and modified it into a play that has remained significant to date. “Othello” is a play that addresses the themes of deception, love, and power.
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The main character in the play is Othello an army general whose social, self, and racial identities are a source of his inner conflicts. Othello’s sense of identity is mostly revealed through his attempts to gain acceptance in a foreign culture. Although Othello is a mainstream member of the Venetian society, he is uncomfortable with his ‘black Moor’ identity.
The main character constantly tries to mold himself into an acceptable Venetian citizen in accordance with the society’s standards of race, sexuality, marriage, and power. Consequently, Othello seeks to distance himself with the misconstrued stereotypes of a ‘Moor.’ This essay seeks to prove that the main character’s sense of identity leads to his self-destruction.
Othello’s identity exists in the space of erratic changes. Othello is considered a lesser person at first but later receives the position of an ‘honorary white’ Venetian. When the play starts, Othello is a colonized human being who has to try to internalize the ideologies and mannerisms of the white Venetian society. However, through his efforts, Othello is able to break into the confines of the Venetian culture and achieve the status of a respected member of this society.
Othello seeks to further his quest for an acceptable-identity by marrying into the white Venetian race, but his relationship with Desdemona only reverses his earlier gains (Shakespeare 115). Othello marries Desdemona in order to achieve the highest social status in Venice, but this move triggers the sequence of events that lead to his self-destruction. By the end of the play, Othello’s quest has turned him into a schizophrenic maniac.
From the onset, Shakespeare portrays Othello as a character who completely identifies himself with his inherited culture. Othello believes that the pursuits of military exploits, male social dominance, and rational, emotional control are the hallmarks of Venetian identity. At one point, Othello articulates his sense of identity by saying, “my parts, my title, and my perfect soul shall manifest me rightly” (Shakespeare 118).
This statement illuminates the main character’s blind quest for acceptability as well as his sense of insecurity and vulnerability. Othello takes every chance he can get to reiterate his status as a Venetian. For instance, Othello sharply responds to Brabantio’s racist jabs by saying that his services to Venice shall ‘out-tongue’ his enemy’s complaints (Shakespeare 119).
Othello’s constant references to his perceived inferiority dominate his way of thinking. Eventually, Othello is unable to shake off his feelings of inferiority as portrayed by his belief that his wife prefers a white junior officer to him.
Some of the things that are important to Othello are the possessions that solidify his identity as a high-society Venetian. Some of these possessions include his Venetian wife and his position as a military general. Ordinarily, a black man would marry a black woman, and the position of a general would only be accorded to a feudal lord. However, because Othello has broken these class barriers, he feels that he is entitled to a certain sense of identity. Nevertheless, this entitlement to a certain sense of identity is instrumental to his fall.
For instance, to avoid being the subject of ridicule in the society, he resorts to killing Desdemona and disguising his actions as suicide. Othello is of the opinion that murdering Desdemona will help him retain his status as a respectable general. Furthermore, to avoid being tried for attempted murder, Othello chooses to kill himself.
Othello had earlier distinguished himself from his Turkish heritage by saying that he is a Christian who is trusted with the responsibility of guarding his country (Shakespeare 324). Nevertheless, this sentiment does not seem to matter when Othello’s sense of identity is under threat.
The height of Othello’s self-identity crisis is manifested when Othello discovers that Desdemona is innocent. Othello’s speech about the motivation behind murdering his wife reveals how his sense of identity drove him to commit murder (Shakespeare 329). Furthermore, in this speech, Othello reveals his true feelings about his Turkish identity.
Consequently, the speech reveals that Othello is aware of the violent attributes of his non-Venetian identity. However, his final words before he kills himself with a sword profess his undying allegiance to the Venetian heritage. It can be argued that Othello’s self-identity crisis contributed to his tragedy.
“Othello” is a Shakespearian tragedy that presents a hero whose sense of identity leads to his untimely demise. The main character seeks to hold on to his Venetian identity at whatever cost. Consequently, Othello’s attempt to marry into a race that he considers superior sets his tragedy in motion. Throughout the play, Othello maintains the standards that he considers important to his Venetian heritage. Nevertheless, even in death, Othello still seeks to hold on to the identity that he considers superior.
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Shakespeare, William. Othello the Moor of Venice, London, United Kingdom: Arden Shakespeare, 1996. Print.