Racism in Othello is the essential theme that plays a significant role in the plot development. Othello is the only black-skinned character in the play. His unusual appearance becomes a reason for social prejudice. As a result, Othello faces numerous offenses from Iago, Brabantio, Roderigo. Moreover, Shakespeare raises the problem of interracial marriage in the play.
The issue of racism in Shakespeare’s Othello is the driving force for the plot progression. The main character of the play – Othello, is the Moor. This indicates his ethnic background being of North Africa. Starting from Act I, the characters constantly show an explicit form of hatred towards Othello. For example, in a conversation with Brabantio, Iago compares the Moor to a Barbary horse:
“Because we come to
do you service and you think we are ruffians, you’ll
have your daughter covered with a Barbary horse;
you’ll have your nephews neigh to you; you’ll have
coursers for cousins and gennets for germans.”
(Act 1, scene 1)
Roderigo actively supports Iago by accusing the Moor of his prurience. Here is what he tells Desdemona’s father about her relationship with Othello:
“As partly I find it is, that your fair daughter,
At this odd-even and dull watch o’ the night,
Transported, with no worse nor better guard
But with a knave of common hire, a gondolier,
To the gross clasps of a lascivious Moor”
(Act 1, scene 1)
The interracial marriage is one of the brightest examples of racism in Othello. Back in time, any romantic connections between people of different races were not accepted by society. Still, despite any stereotypes, Othello secretly marries Desdemona. Thus, the spouses demonstrate their protest against racial prejudice and social norms.
Brabantio, Desdemona’s father, becomes one of Othello’s haters as he learns about the marriage. Initially, he admires the Moor for his military achievements. However, he is unwilling to accept that his daughter created a family with a black-skinned man. Being furious, he blames Othello for charming Desdemona by his mysterious Moorish spirits:
“O thou foul thief, where hast thou stow’d my daughter?
Damn’d as thou art, thou hast enchanted her;
For I’ll refer me to all things of sense,
If she in chains of magic were not bound.”
(Act 1, scene 2)
Shakespeare does an outstanding job of bringing up the topics of racism. Being a well-known and respected general, Othello still experiences racism in subtle form. What creates a greater problem is Othello’s weakness. Facing numerous offenses, he accepts his outsider status and mistreats himself.