Othello: the Other
Othello: The Other Race and faith appear to be very prevalent in Shakespeare’s Othello. From the beginning of the play the reader thinks that the protagonist, Othello the Moor, is considered an “other” in the Venetian society. Othello’s high military ranking provides him the respect of the characters in the play, but his race and religion are brought up a lot throughout the play in the speech of the characters in the play.
In spite of the characters in the text constant dehumanization of Othello due to the fact that of his racial and spiritual differences and the imposition of assimilation, Shakespeare challenged the stereotypes of the Moors and developed a hero that was more human than the remainder of the characters in the play. According to the Oxford Dictionary, a Moor is a “member of a Northwestern African Muslim of blended Berber and Arab descent,” (OD). At this point in time, the Moors were considered as savage-like and monstrous due to the fact that of their skin color and stature.
In Europe, Moors were viewed as the “other” because of their skin color and religion. An early recount of Spain’s view on the Moors was that “their faces were black as pitch, the handsomest among them was black as a cooking pot, and their eyes blazed like fire,” (Brann). The most intriguing aspect of the play Othello is how the other characters act around him. They never ever appear to resolve him by his name and when they are mentioning him, they describe him as the Moor. It appears as though they placed a substantial significance on his race and religion given that the two are so carefully linked.
According to Emily C. Bartels in her post Making more of the Moor: Aaron, Othello, and Renaissance Refashionings of Race, “the term ‘Moor’ was utilized interchangeably with such similarly unclear terms as ‘African,’ ‘Ethiopian,’ ‘Negro,’ and even ‘Indian’ to designate a figure from parts or the whole of Africa (or beyond) who was either black, Moslem, neither or both,” (Bartels 434). Despite the fact that Othello is defined as a Moor, the reader does not know anything about his religious background. All that we know as readers is that he was baptized at the start of the play and was now Christian.
There was never ever any reference to what religion he practiced prior to showing up to Venice. When Brabantio initially faces Othello after hearing that his daughter Desdemona had run off with him, he says, “Ay, to me. She is mistreated, stol ‘n from me, and corrupted by spells and medicines bought of mountebanks;” (I. III. 61-63). According to The Webster’s New World Dictionary, a mountebank is” an individual who mounted a bench or platform, in a public location and sold quack medicines, typically attracting an audience by techniques, stories, etc.” Othello told Desdemona many stories of his life which was the main reason why she fell for him.
So comparing Othello to a mountebank seems just fitting. Brabantio then advances to say, “For nature so preposterously to err, being not lacking, blind, or lame of sense, sans witchcraft could not,” (I. III. 64-66). Here Brabantio is saying that Desdemona’s love for Othello is totally unnatural. He declares that the only manner in which this might be natural is if nature was blind or ridiculous which might just be caused by witchcraft. By accusing Othello of witchcraft Brabantio is only making him look like more of an “other” to the rest of the characters in the play.
Witchcraft is thought about a sin in Christianity which was the universal faith of Europe at this time. Throughout the play the characters make comments about Othello regarding his race and faith. There appears to be more text on how others view him than how he views himself. In the beginning of the play, Roderigo and Iago are speaking about Othello’s being selected as the brand-new general for the Venetian army. Iago goes on to say that he had experienced Othello’s Christening or baptism which “his Moorship’s ancient,” (I. I. 34).
By reading this, one can presume that Othello’s Moorish background was an issue for the rest of the characters in the play. Whether it was to gain regard outside of the military or to be able to be with Desdemona, Othello converted to Christianity so that he would no longer be viewed as the other. Aside from what most of the characters said about Othello, Desdemona never ever seems to talk about Othello’s Moorship. She is the only character in the play that consistently reveals her genuine love for him without every saying anything about their racial and religious differences.
The reality that this was raised so early in the play makes it appear important. Before we are even introduced to Othello, we see that he had been baptized and left his Moorish identity behind. This also shows the influence Europe had on the remainder of the world. For the protagonist to not be viewed as the other, he converts to Christianity. At this time, Europeans were traveling around the world to proselytize. It is intriguing to see that to get somebody to convert to Christianity, they didn’t need to travel. Othello was given Venice to lead the Venetian army however he selected to convert in his own volition.
In Stephen Cohen’s I Am What I Am Not: Identifying with the Other in Othello, Cohen raises an extremely intriguing point. When an individual is baptized, their sins are gotten rid of instantly, however even with this, Othello would still be thought about an other since of his skin color. There is no way that he might be gotten rid of his skin pigmentation (Cohen 165). This brings up to question as to which is of more value in being accepted in the eyes of the characters in the play in addition to Europeans in general. An individual might quickly alter their spiritual identity but they can’t change their race.
This brings up the concern why. Why is race and religious beliefs so crucial not just in this play however in the Europe at this time? There was definitely a sense of superiority for Europe at this time. However one might argue that this may have come from a sensation of inferiority. Possibly the European view of the “others” at this time had a lot to do with fear. The Moors had darker skin and they were a lot larger than the Europeans. They also had a history of violence. The Moors were best known for their inhabiting of Spain for many years. In the beginning of the play, Iago states that Othello is “an old black ram,” (I.
I. 90). Rams are a rather frightening animal due to the fact that of their physical strength. Rams are “head-strong” and stubborn that makes this contrast extremely insulting but at the exact same time extremely precise. By not only attaching the color of his skin to the description of the animal, however likewise comparing him to an animal reveals just how Iago really thought about Othello. Despite the fact that he speaks so lowly of him, you can’t assist however to believe that this is just a defense reaction due to the fact that he feels so inferior to Othello. There likewise aren’t a lot of places in the text that give us insight to how Othello feels about himself.
According to Edward Berry in his short article entitled Othello’s Alienation, “Othello never ever safeguards his blackness; nor does he defend the faith or culture that lies behind him. The most rootless of Shakespeare’s tragic heroes, he has no geographical or cultural anchor to his being,” (Berry). The main scene that comes to mind when Othello mentions his racial identity is at completion of the play when he compares himself to the Turk: “Set you down this; And say besides that in Aleppo once, Where a deadly and a turbaned Turk Beat a Venetian and traduced the state, I took by th’ throat the circumcised dog
And smote him, hence.” (V. II. 361-366). Here Othello compares himself to the “other.” Throughout his time in Venice he did whatever as a true Venetian would do. Othello transformed to Christianity and fought to safeguard the Venetians. In this speech he states that he got the Turk and stabbed him in order to protect the Venetian. Just as he did to the Turk, he planned to do the exact same to himself. By comparing himself to the Turk here, he becomes the “other” when again, somebody who was his opponent. Devoting suicide broke whatever he had actually recently concerned believe.
In Christianity, among the worse things that you can do is devote suicide. It is considered a deadly sin, suggesting if you commit suicide you will be damned to hell. Suicide is a method of revealing God that you are more effective than Him. He is the one that is entirely in charge of our life, so taking our own lives breaks the belief that as soon as we are baptized we provide God complete control of our lives. When Othello eliminates himself, Lodovico compares him to a “Spartan dog,” (V. II. 372), which, according to Knapsack Literature, “Spartan pets were noted for their savagery and silence,” (BL 884).
As soon as once again we see the other characters in the play see Othello as nothing more than a savage-like animal. While the other characters in the play view Othello as a savage, Shakespeare shows him in a completely various light. The other characters in the play continuously dehumanize him, while Shakespeare humanizes him. Shakespeare makes Othello a hero and offers him human-like qualities like strengths and weak points (Butcher Othello’s Racial Identity 247). Prior to the reader is presented to Othello, the other characters in the play start to mention him in a negative light.
They refer to his appearances by speaking of his “thick-lips” (I. I. 67), calling him “an old black ram” (I. I. 90), and just paint him to be a dreadful beast. As soon as Othello starts to speak the readers are presented to a significant male with a mild soul. Iago, Roderigo, and Brabantio’s responses to and speech about Othello resemble what was expected of the Europeans at that time. But having Shakespeare create a character like this appears like he was attempting to make a declaration about how despite a person’s race or faith, they are still human.
Although Othello is easily manipulated to the point where he eliminates his partner and then himself, the reader can somewhat sympathize with him. Shakespeare provides Othello strengths and weak points that the reader can relate to, which in turn makes the reader see him as one of them instead of the other. Throughout the play the reader sees the number of the characters speak so negatively about Othello due to the fact that of his racial and spiritual differences, there are still a few characters that see Othello in a favorable light.
The primary character that consistently sees Othello in a favorable light is, obviously, his other half Desdemona. Even prior to Othello was going to eliminate her she continued to defend his character. Another character in the play that saw Othello in a positive light was the Duke. In the start of the play when Brabantio implicates Othello of witchcraft and tries to keep Desdemona from going through with the marriage, the Duke is the only character, aside from Desdemona, that defended him. At the end of the scene after all of the accusations, the Duke says, “Let it be so. Excellent night to everyone. To Brabantio.] And noble signor, if virtue no pleased appeal lack, your son-in-law is even more fair than black,” (I. III. 288-291). Othello: The Moor of Venice offers value to race and religion. At the time that the play was written, Europeans were out proselytizing and those who weren’t Christian or had reasonable skin was viewed as the “other.” Considering that Moor is a term utilized to explain somebody who is African and or Muslim and most Europeans were Christian at the time, the reader gets a sense that race and religious beliefs are intertwined. It appears as though you can’t have one without the other.
Despite the fact that Othello had such a high ranking in the military, the other characters in the play still disrespected him with their speech and their actions. From the beginning of the play the reader is torn in between how Othello is described by the other characters in the play and how Shakespeare represents him. As essential as military ranking was at this time, race and religion were of higher value. Othello had to absorb to the European culture upon arrival to Venice. The something that stayed consistent throughout the play was the negative views the other main characters had of him.
From being compared to animal various times and remarks about his physical look, it is apparent that Othello’s race and religion foregrounded his interactions with the other characters throughout the play. The method the characters communicated with and treated him can be viewed as how the Europeans treated all of the people of the New World while they began to check out and dominate. With their speech and actions toward him, the characters constantly make Othello appear like he is less than human because of his racial and religious distinctions. Shakespeare created a character who was a military hero that was totally relatable.
Although his defects accompanied the stereotypes of his culture at the time, the reader gets a sense that he remains in reality human. Works Cited Adelman, Janet. “Iago’s Alter Ego: Race As Projection In Othello.” Shakespeare Quarterly 48. 2 (1997 ): 125-144. Academic Browse Premier. Web. 28 Apr. 2012. Agnes, M., and D. B. Guralnik. Webster’s New World College dictionary. Fourth. Cleveland, Ohio: Wiley Publishing, Inc., 1998. 942. Print. Bartels, Emily C. “Making more of the Moor: Aaron, Othello, and Renaissance Refashionings of Race.” Shakespeare Quarterly 41. 4 (1990 ): 433-454. Academic Browse Premier.
Web. 28 April 2012. Berry, Edward. “Othello’s Alienation.” Research Studies In English Literature (Rice) 30. 2 (1990 ): 315. Academic Browse Premier. Web. 28 Apr. 2012. Brann, Ross. “The Moors?.” Middle ages Encounters 15. 2-4 (2009 ): 307-318. Academic Browse Premier. Web. 1 May 2012. Butcher, Philip. “Othello’s Racial Identity.” Shakespeare Quarterly 3. 3. (1952 ): 243-247. Academic Search Premier. Web. 28 April 2012. Cohen, Stephen. “I Am What I Am Not: Identifying With The Other In Othello.” Shakespeare Study 64. (2011 ): 163-179. Academic Search Premier. Web. 28 April 2012.