Shakspeare’s Othello is a multifaceted piece of art that addresses numerous social issues. Othello is the first black-skinned character in English literature. Therefore, one of the most vivid themes of the play is racial prejudice.
One of the most famous Shakespeare’s plays, Othello, displays several critical social issues. Although the play was written several centuries ago, it is still relevant for modern readers. The pages of the book contain some problems that people encounter even nowadays.
The central theme concerns racial stereotypes that ruin the society and the relations within it. Shakespeare’s main character is a dark-skinned Moor. Thus, people consider him an outcast in society.
The very first act proves that racism is a key source of hatred. The secondary characters, Roderigo and Iago, humiliate Othello. They use various racial terms and call him “a Barbarian horse”. Treating Othello immorality, Iago and Roderigo make him feel like an outsider. Iago does not even hide his prejudice. He openly proclaims:
I hate the Moor:
And it is thought abroad, that ‘twixt my sheets
He has done my office: I know not if’t be true;
But I, for mere suspicion in that kind,
Will do as if for surety. He holds me well;
The better shall my purpose work on him.
(Act 1, Scene 3)
Such a disrespectful attitude turns Othello into an outcast of the white Venetian region. In the eyes of Roderigo and Iago, he is a non-worthy person who lacks anything human. However, Othello seems to be indifferent to such an attitude and accepts this prejudice. In some cases, he describes himself in equally unflattering racial terms. Later, Othello realizes that these assaults made him feel worthless. He even claims that he doesn’t deserve his wife.
The problem of racial inequality in Othello intersects with the Moor’s marriage with Desdemona. Back in time, interracial families were unacceptable in society. However, Othella and Desdemona ruin this norm. They secretly marry each other despite all the stereotypes. Unwilling to accept it, Desdemona’s father, Brabanito, rages at Othello. He accuses the Moor of his trickery, claiming that he charmed his daughter with a magic spirit.
The relationship between Othello and Desdemona is based on love and trust at the beginning of the play. However, Desdemona’s alleged betrayal made Othello believe that he lacks his manhood. Thus, he became the beast that the Venetians thought him to be, as the prejudice penetrated his personality.
Facing numerous assaults every day, Othello becomes incredibly vulnerable. He is unconfident in his actions and treats himself disrespectfully. Even before his death, he impresses the surrounders with his dynamic speech about his outsider status:
Of one not easily jealous, but being wrought
Perplex’d in the extreme; of one whose hand,
Like the base Indian, threw a pearl away
Richer than all his tribe; of one whose subdued eyes,
Albeit unused to the melting mood,
Drop tears as fast as the Arabian trees
Their medicinal gum.
(Act 5, Scene 2)
Overall, constant humiliation, assaults, and mockery made Othello feel insecure. After all, he became the creature people thought he was due to the inability to fight against these biases. All these people and circumstances made him believe he was a beast in a human body, which led him to hopelessness.