The social environment of England at the end of the sixteenth and the beginning of the seventeenth century was characterized by great attention to social class, citizens’ jobs, and their reputation. Being in the army was a very prestigious occupation, with each rank linked to certain qualities and characteristics that the society of that time valued. For example, Othello was the General of the Venetian army; generals were often thought of as logical, trustworthy, and brave; only the most respected people were promoted to hold such a position.
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Because social status played a major role in the society of England and London of that time, Shakespeare raised some questions associated with racial and gender inequalities, as well as the dynamics of family and workplace settings. For example, because Othello was Black, despite the quantity of the military ranks he had received, and despite his skillfulness and military courage to plan and execute battles, he would always be seen as less worthy of the gentlemanly status. Because of his racial identity, Othello’s glory as the General did not transfer to his success as a political ruler – he served as the insider and was seen as the lower class in the society, an outcast. For Othello, being “different” required him to always be aware of the implications of social perceptions of class and race.
Regarding gender roles as linked to the social viewpoint, Shakespeare created the couple of Othello and Desdemona as a typical representation of dynamics between women and men in the Elizabethan Society of London. In the couple, Othello plays the role of the dominating man while his wife is passive and dutiful. On the other hand, the couple did go through some struggles: Desdemona married her husband despite the objections of her family and had to give testimony that she truly loved Othello. It is highly likely that Shakespeare created the couple of Othello and Desdemona to show that even stereotypical gender roles inherent to the Elizabethan society could not influence relationships between people; similarly, how the society perceived social class and race did not reduce the value of Othello’s courage.