Critical Study Essay: Othello

Question: The challenge in this unit has been to evaluate the play after considering what others think. How has your view on Othello been augmented by other views? Discuss with close reference to Shakespeare’s original text and at least 2 different ways of considering Othello.

The preserved textual integrity of William Shakespeare’s Elizabethan tragedy Othello allows for critical study and evaluation as the issues addressed within Shakespeare’s play transcend time and still resonate with audiences of all contexts. Shakespeare accentuates pertinent issues throughout his play including the marginalisation of ethnic groups, and also explores the intricate nature of humanity. Hence, through a close study of Shakespeare’s original text, in conjunction with a consideration of what others have said, we are able to develop a personal response to the play and an enriched understanding of the play Othello , the characterisation of Othello and the issue of racism.
Within the play Othello Shakespeare explores the concept of marginalisation and racism through his characterisation of the protagonist Othello, a moor within the hegemonic Venetian society in the Elizabethan era. On the surface, Othello is othered due to his “thick lips” and darker skin tone, an obvious physical contrast to the rest of society. Othello himself states “for I am black”, symbolising his awareness of his racial difference, and mirrored through other characters who subject Othello to racist comments and marginalisation throughout the play: “the gross clasps of a lascivious Moor”. The racism within the text becomes particularly evident in Iago’s constant refusal to refer to Othello by his name, addressing him instead through racial labelling as “the Moor”, combined with sexually crude animalistic imagery often associated with the stereotypical views of Moors as savage and brutes: “an old black ram is tupping your white ewe”. Juxtaposition of the black ram and white ewe expresses the racial difference between Desdemona and Othello, emphasizing the allegory of black effacement within Othello. Moreover racism is explicit in Brabantio’s reasoning towards the miscegenation of his daughter and Othello through Othello being a “practiser of arts inhibited” which emphasises the stereotypical ideology of black people, in the Elizabethan era, as being demonic. Furthermore use of the polysemous word ‘black’ accentuates the physical aspect of Othello yet it is also symbolic of the negative connotations of the word ‘black’ that are semiotic of evil and the devil within the Christianised society of Venice of Shakespeare’s context. Synonymous to this view contemporary critic Ana María

falls to the ground and the foaming of the lips is a literal interpretation of “he foams at mouth”. that would not have view Othelloas a play exploring racism. an outsider. the characterisation of Othello can be observed where. Thus.” However. where his stage directions state that Othello “falls in a trance” is both a literal and metaphorical representation of Othello’s demise. by interpreting the play through my own personal context and consideration of modern day critics it has led to racism being a quintessential element of my understanding of Shakespeare’s play Othello. Shakespeare’s use of dramatic techniques. The literal fall of Othello is emphasised in a modern filmic adaptation ‘Othello’ directed by Oliver Parker (1995) where Othello. and the men whose heads/ Do grow beneath their shoulders”. Additionally.” Shakespeare’s use of monosyllabic words of ‘nose. Othello can be viewed as the typical embodiment of the stereotypical Moor.confessions. violent and animalistic. uneducated. as Homi K Bhabha states. / the Anthropophagi. ears and lips’ is additionally symbolic of Othello’s deep mental disturbance and destabilisation highlighting Othello’s embodiment of the violent and aggressive nature often characterised by Moors in Venetian society. increases my understanding of this issue. Othello is the “ideological construction of otherness”. ears and lips” effacing his original eloquence conveyed through “will a round unvarnish’d tale deliver/ Of my whole course of love. reflected in their egocentrism. due to the differing perspectives of Shakespeare’s original audience. as she puts forth the notion that “black was already a partisan colour before the 16th century. This is accentuated throughout Shakespeare’s play as Othello’s fragmented speech of “Handkerchief. from Shakespeare’s context in the Elizabethan era. The falling of Othello can also be a metaphorical representation of Othello’s demise and foreboding of Othello’s regression to violence. Such a representation of the character Othello is evident throughout the course of the play as peripeteia of Othello leads to his demise from nobility and elegance to a reversion back to the stereotypical depictions of a ‘Black man’. and his fall . reinstated when Desdemona paradoxically states that “my lord is not my lord” since Othello no longer embodies the characteristics of compassion and tranquility towards Desdemona. where imagery within Othello’s speech reinforces the perceived bestiality the Venetians often associated with ‘moors’ exemplifying their towards other ethnicities. compared to a contemporary view on the play. It’s meaning included having dark or deadly purpose” and hence “racial prejudice is the centre around which Iago articulates Othello’s fall. Othello would have been seen as the typical ‘moor’. characterised as “the Cannibals that each others eat. Such a filmic adaptation reinforces the nature of Elizabethan audience’s view on Othello as demonic as epilepsy was not understood as a medical problem and deemed as a characteristic of demonism. Within Elizabethan society of Shakespeare’s context.handkerchief! …Pish! Noses.Manzanas Calvo.

Conversely. fighting on the Christian side against the Islamic Turks. from observing Othello. asking ‘Have you prayed tonight. Othello’s coalesce of ethics is additionally evident in his religion. This hybrid character can be seen through Shakespeare’s use of colour connotations when the Duke states that Othello is “far more fair than black” highlighting that Othello possesses the more virtuous characteristics that are often associated with ‘white’ people compared to the stereotypical ‘black’ traits of bestiality and violence. to a contemporary audience the character of Othello can be seen as a hybrid character or a ‘token white’ who embraces the religious aspects of the state. hybridity within humans and the play Othello. and yet is still an ‘other’ due to his differing ethnicity and culture. which is denied by the other characters within the play. from within Shakespeare’s context. As a result. Desdemon?’ Shakespeare’s manipulation of Desdemona’s name into ‘Desdemon’ is furthermore indicative of Othello’s changing outlook of Desdemona as now exhibiting traits of demonism due to her infidelity. The pertinence of racism as an issue and the character of the antagonist Othello has been predominant in my reading. an understanding of Othello’s true character can be interpreted as not only an othered moor. as it emphasises the importance of Othello to the Venetian State. we must straight employ you Against the general enemy Ottoman”. from a modern day perspective. Consequently. In addition. Hence. my personal interpretation of the play has come to include the significance racial prejudice and its effect on both the characterisation and ultimate downfall of Othello. . use of Othello’s name emancipates Othello from the general stereotypical views of moors in Venice. based on ethnic backgrounds. through his language as he uses Christian oaths of ‘Zounds’ and constantly refers to the repentance of sin. Othello as an amalgam is particularly evident in the Dukes use of high modality “Valiant Othello. As a result.necessitated by audiences’ expectations and racial stereotyping. my understanding of Shakespeare’s Othello has been augmented by a critical study of the text with reference to critics and modern day filmic adaptations. I have come to a greater understanding of the notion of marginalisation. but a hybrid which encompasses traits of the White Venetian society with the Elizabethan/Jacobean Era.