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Nicoară Maria-Magdalena

IIIrd year, A, Group 1

Blackness in Othello

One of the most disputed plays of Shakespeare, ”Othello” was probably performed for
the first time at Globe between 1601 and 1604 . Even though critics such as Thomas Rymer have
noticed the ”implausibility of its characterization and plotting” 1, the play was highly appreciated
at Court where it was performed for the first time on I November 1604.(Neill 3) The play tackles
a wide variety of themes: racism, love, jealousy, betrayal, each of them receiving the accurate
attention both from the literary critics and the auditory . In this essay I aim at discussing
”blackness” in ”Othello with reference to Orson Welles’s and Oliver Parker’s film.
In ”Othello”, ”Black” is used to define the hero’s descent: Othello is ”a Moor, a Negro,
one of African origin”2. Even though, at the time Shakespeare wrote the play, the term ”Moor”
might designate both North Africans and the Negroes from the African regions south of the
Sahara desert, or it could be applied to all Muslims, Iago and Roderigo’s insults indicate that
Shakespeare meant Othello as a black Moor. (Neill 45)
In the beginning of the play, Othello is introduced to the audience through their
conversation about him. The two characters does not mention his name but they constantly refer
to him as ”the Moor”, which in Shakespeare’s time was a pejorative term. They portray Othello
by using animal imagery which hints at the the old belief that black people have more in
common with animals than with humans (Smith 1): In Act I, Scene I, Iago tells Barbantio,
Desdemona’s father : „you’ll have your daughter coverd with a Barbary horse/ You’ll have your
nephews neigh to you” (Shakespeare 123-124). He emphasizes the opposition between
Desdemona’s origin (she is a young Venetian) and Othello’s lineage through the following
statement: „Even now, now, very now, an old black ram/ Is topping your white ewe”
(Shakespeare 97-98).
1 Neill, Michael (ed). Othello, the Moor of Venice, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 3.
Print.
2 Adler, Doris. The Rhetoric of Black and White in Othello. Folger Shakespeare
Library, 248-249. Web. 15 Nov 2015.

Group 1 The film directed by Orson Welles does not preserve all the lines from this scene.Nicoară Maria-Magdalena IIIrd year. Othello is present from the very beginning. in Shakespeare’s work. as he was portrayed by his ensign in the beginning of the play.”(Shakespeare) This scene is also preserved by both Orson Welles and Oliver Parker in their films. Scene I. as he is filmed from behind. scene which cannot be found in Shakespeare’s play. His face is revealed for the first time in the scene in which he marries Desdemona. the director stages his account about Desdemona’s wooing. Unlike in the film directed by Orson Welles. Desdemona. more precisely. for the dew will rust them. At the same time. Another significant difference between the play and the book is that. while./ Good signior. He understands that violence is not a solution for his situation and chooses comunication over it. Parker’s Othello is also a lightskinned African. Barbantio together with his people look for Othello in order to confont him. in Oliver Parker’s film. After he finds out about Desdemona’s elopement. through which Roderigo and Iago portray Othello as a barbarian. Parker uses a more modern technique and instead of lightening Othello’s skin while he utters his discourse. A. In Act I. To sum it up. the color of his skin becomes incresingly lighter as he explains the means by which he managed to gain Desdemona’s love. but the fight is avoided due to Othello’s wisdom. Scene II can be found another evidence of Othello’s cultivation which changes the perception of the auditory upon him. even though the public cannot see his face. through Othello’s portrayal (he is a responsible commander who is accustomed with all the conventions of the Venetian society). as it is relevant for defining Othello’s personality. is very clear in the moment in which he puts the wedding ring on her finger. racism becomes . in the film he appears togheter with Desdemona in a gondola. telling them: ”Keep up your bright swords. but the opposition between him and his wife. you shall more command with years/ Than with your weapons. Shakespeare’s play manages to destroy the myth that black people are naturally savage and uncultivated. Parker preserves most of the lines from Act I. At the same time. Othello’s face is revealed for the first time in the Senate scene where he is presented as a relatively lightskinned African. Moreoves. the director chooses to leave aside those lines which contain animal imagery. Othello’s discourse in the Senate reveals his true identity: he is a civilized and respected commander rather than a barbarian. In creating the Senate scene. Othello is absent from the first scene. Thus.

edu/othello/full. 7 Nov 2015.articlemyriad. the Moor of Venice. the Moor of Venice.pdf>  Neill.mit. Web.html> Secundary Sources:  Adler. ”the interracial love affair [being] at the centre of the action” (Neill 1). irrespective of race. Othello.  Smith. Folger Shakespeare Library.com/f/the%20rhetoric%20of %20black%20and%20white%20in%20othello. suggesting that love and jealousy are common to human nature. Dec 6. 2011. Oxford. ”Othello” is an accurate image of the daily life of all times. Perceptions of Race in Othello by Shakespeare. Print. <http://www. <http://wikidshakespeare. The Rhetoric of Black and White in Othello. 07 Nov 2015. education or social status. Web. < http://shakespeare. William. Doris. Group 1 a sub-theme of the play. Othello.Nicoară Maria-Magdalena IIIrd year.pbworks. Web.com/perceptions-race-othello-shakespeare/> . Nicole. ethnicity. Oxford University Press. 15 Nov 2015. Work Cited: Primary Source:  Shakespeare. A. Michael (ed).