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The play Othello by Shakespeare is a tragedy of human relationships where the protagonist is unable to adjust to the rules and principles of Venetian society. His alienation from actions and concerns affects his much because his physical appearance along with his character traits is in dissonance with the context of the play.
Hence, due to his otherness, Othello is unable to enter the rational society. His consciousness is overwhelmed with jealousy and fury. The hero is also an outsider in expressing his thoughts and manners; he is unable to accommodate the moral and ethical norms of human behavior and, therefore, such an opposition dooms Othello to be a permanent outsider, which also makes him a tragic figure. In addition, Othello’s alienation is also revealed through linguistic and contextual techniques.
Othello as an Outcast of the Venetian Society
The first feature that differs and alienates Othello from the Venetian society is his race (Vaughan 33). Being a Moore who came from Egypt, people are reluctant to accept him. Despite his enormous attempts to gain respect, his military and respectful position in the army still keeps him far away from being recognized and accepted.
His race and origin pursues his throughout the play which makes more hostile and outrageous which is reflected in all his actions and deeds. Even after marriage with Desdemona, the senator’s daughter, Othello is still perceived as something unusual and even mysterious due to the color of his skin; his affection for Desdemona is also realized in unusual way: “That with some mixtures pow’ful o’er the blood / Or with some dram, conjured to this effect/ He wrought upon her” (Shakespeare 382).
Even those who consider him as a peer, particularly Desdemona and Brabanzio, are still attracted and bewildered by his exotic features. There are cases when Othello himself realizes that he is an outcast of society and recognizes his exotic appearance distinguishing him from other Venetians.
Othello is conscious of his blackness and distinctions from other members of society. He takes advantages of his racial distinctions to justify his actions and explain the reasons of his moral and social inferiority.
Bloom states, “[h]is blackness is the cause of Brabantio’s opposition to his marriage, it affects the consciousness of everyone around him, and it has just been pressed upon him by Iago’s insinuations of Desdemona’s unnaturalness” (55). In the play, Othello strives to emphasize that his blackness is insignificant impediment and highlight the advantages of his origin revealing the positive features of his character and behavior.
However, by justifying his origin, Othello subconsciously acknowledges that his an outcast of this society and there is a considerable gap between his wild and irrational world and between superior and aristocratic Venetian society: “Haply, for I am black,/ And have not those soft parts of conversation,/ that chamberers have, or for I am declin’d into the vale of years (yet that’s not much), She’s gone” (Shakespeare 438)
At the same time, by trivializing his racial affiliation, the hero accentuates the irrationalism of his judgments and rejects to acknowledge the actual reason for his alienation. Such position leaves Othello with two options only: he can either recognize his blackness in the face of his counters or internalize this feature which makes him resort to self-loathing.
Othello as an Outsider in Human Relations
Othello becomes an outsider and a foreigner due to lack of experience in human relations and communication. The hero looks different in the society where moral and ethical standards deviate considerably from his personal ideas about life and relationships. Inability to control his feelings and emotions cinches him, specifically in relations with Desdemona, Iago, and other characters of the play.
Paradoxically, despite of Othello’s apparent eloquence, he still protests “Rude am I in my speech, / And little blessed with the soft phrase of peace” (Shakespeare 381). Othello’s marrying Desdemona can also be estimated as a feeble attempt to assimilate to the society focusing less attention to his exotic appearance. However, the failure to be recognized and to be equally considered by others deprives him of the last chance to regain his identity.
The false reputations gained in the army still blind his ambitions any display of disdain and negligence toward him is perceived furiously. Therefore, Desdemona’s betrayal seems horrifying to Othello because he regards as another stab in his back and in his attempt to be considered equally in relations.
Othello also considers Desdemona’s adultery to be a confirmation of his otherness. Betrayal, thus, means the loss of reputation and, at a deeper level, his anguish and rage is caused by the identification of himself via his affection for Desdemona.
Therefore, he cannot accept because it would alternatively mean the perversion of his love: “But there, where I have garnered up my heart, / where either I must live or bear no life; / The fountain from the which my current runs, / or else dries up: to be discarded thence!” (Shakespeare 473). Othello erroneously believes that his identity and being can be expressed through his feelings, but his impulsive behavior betrays him and outcasts him once again from the rational and balanced society.
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Othello’s fear of his own rage coming outside makes him even more wild and outrageous, which dooms him to be the outsider until his death (Bloom 58). Therefore, the murder was the act of liberation from the bounds of love and passion, which prevented him from struggling with his repulsive nature.
Othello’s Language and Behavior within the Context of the Play
The way Othello communicates with other members of society and expresses his feelings and emotions is another indicator of his alienation. Evaluating Othello as the outsider from the linguistic and contextual point of view is also possible. With the regard to the possibilities of the text and the context, Othello is endowed with a so called counter text and counter language with the help of which he is forced to explore himself and surrounding world (Rao 55).
In other words, Othello as the outsider “…has a grammar of his own but its syntax cannot relate to syntactical realities of the white narrative” (Rao 55). This two-polar opposition could be explicitly viewed when opposing the protagonist with other characters. Hence, Othello – Iago and Othello – Desdemona can be regarded as dichotomies that should be interpreted outside the marginal meaning and apart from prevalence of a signifier and signified.
Taking into consideration the structure of the play and its narration, it is possible to assume that Othello is antagonistically presented through his language and communication. His reactions to his own manner of communicating outcasts him from the ideal world, the world totally contrast Othello’s world. What is more important is that language serves to distinguish various social classes and roles, educational background, and means for disguising the true intensions and thoughts of Shakespeare’s characters.
Finally, the language also manages to render Othello’s willingness to appropriate his speech to the Venetian society and his role in it. Hence, the hero is forced to suppress his nature and being to be recognized by those who openly reject him.
The image of Othello’s world, hence, is reflected through his feeble attempts to imitate the language that he does not know. Othello’s characteristics language also provides reasons from being alienating from the society (Clingman 85). It identifies the failure of being assimilated in society and contradicts his racial affiliation.
The play Othello by William Shakespeare discloses very complicated topics and one of them relates to the representation of Othello as the outsider as a foreigner who fails to be recognized by the Venetian society. Due to his racial affiliation and alienation, Othello cannot be accepted by refined and rational society. Being overwhelmed with burning desire to prove his right to equally exist in the Venetian society, the hero is gradually becoming frustrated with the severe reality because he is perceived as nothing but a Moore with exotic appearance.
Therefore, such acceptance forces Othello to become an outsider and to realize his impossibility to inherit all manners and behavior that are necessary for peer existence. Therefore, his alienation and estrangement from the white world is expressed through societal attitude, Othello lack of communication and failure to establish norm human relationships, and the contextual and linguistic peculiarities of the play.
Bloom, Harold . William Shakespeare’s Othello. US: Infobase Publishing. 2010. Print.
Clingman, Stephen. The Grammar of Identity: Transnational Fiction and the Nature of the Boundary. UK: Oxford University Press, 2009. Print.
Rao, P. Mallikarjuna. Postcolonial Theory and Literature. US: Atlantic Publishers & Distributors, 2003. Print.
Shakespeare, William. Four Tragedies. US: Penguin, 1994. Print.
Vaughan, Virginia Mason. Othello: A Contextual History. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996. Print.