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Examining Races Symbolism In Othello English Literature Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 1327 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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For Venetians a black person is usually seemed as someone who cannot be trusted, an outsider and evil person who represents darkness; while the white is seen as fair, perfect and good. Othello is a story in which race is a topic of great debate and discussion. Iago as well as other characters mention Othello’s race in many occasions. In fact, at the beginning of the play, we don’t even know Othello’s name yet but we are well aware that he is dark-skinned and different. In the play, however even though Othello’s race sets him apart, he’s able to work hard and gains its place on Venice.

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Iago representing the white’s view refers to Othello as “thick-lips” and “old black ram” suggesting that black men are animals and monstrous. Iago’s hatred may have started on a professional level when he was being passed up for a promotion, which went to a less experienced man. But in part due to Othello’s heritage, Iago quickly shows that he deteriorates racism. This brings the irony that while an extremely powerful man in a political context, his race makes him inferior in a white man’s society. Iago is able to trick Othello and manipulate him on a consistent basis.

Since Iago has no real foundation for this hatred, he needs to invent new reasons to hate Othello. He creates the idea in his own mind that Othello is sleeping with his wife. While this is obviously not true, it helps give Iago a reason to hate Othello for other than the color of his skin. His anger is obvious when he says “hell and night must bring this monstrous birth to the world’s light” (I. 3. 445-446). Not only does this anger show Iago’s dislike for Othello, it clearly shows the ironic switching of color. He refers to himself as hell and night, while Othello is the world’s light.

Othello’s character is shown as a hero of war and a man of great pride and courage. At the beginning of the play Othello is confident and has turned himself to being white. He is important and has a high position and honor in Venice. He defends himself against Brabantio’s accusations of witchcraft by saying, “yet, by your gracious patience, I will a round unvarnished tale deliver of my whole course of love” (I.3.104-107).  Othello will tell the truth of what happened, and the tale will be honest and straightforward.  He recognizes that the ideas related with his color are part of the problem, and he must defend himself against racist beliefs.  By telling an “unvarnished tale,” a tale with no touch of outside color in any way, he will prove himself to Brabantio as an honest man regardless of his color. 

            Once it is proven that Othello did not use magic on Desdemona, the Duke tries to remove the negative color imagery that is on Brabantio’s mind, so that he can accept Othello and Desdemona’s marriage.  The Duke tells Brabantio: “And, noble signior, If virtue no delighted beauty lack, Your son-in-law is far more fair than black” (I.3.328-331).  He compliments Othello’s virtue and also makes the statement that Othello is far more fair than black.  When he says “if” he is implying that if virtues have no connections to the way you look in the outside, and since virtue can be related with the white color, then because Othello has virtue, he is more fair, or white.  In other words, Othello so is light and honorable that he appears almost like a white person. Therefore, this image allows Othello to be accepted as Desdemona’s husband because the characters can view him as fair rather than black. The Duke’s point is that Brabantio would be much wiser to quit focusing on Othello’s color and start appreciating his virtue.

This connects to the ironic contrast between Othello and Iago. Othello is fair inside, and he even acknowledges his skin colour openly, saying “Haply, for I am black”. While Iago is white as the rest of the cast, has by far the blackest soul.

When Iago’s evil plan to destroy Othello starts, he plants a seed of jealousy through the last acts on the play. He influences Othello with color imagery. He causes Othello to think about his skin color and the differences between him and Desdemona. Otello starts realizing that his skin is dark, and falls into Iago’s trap. “My name, that was as fresh as Dian’s visage, is now begrimed and black as mine own face” (IV. 3. 438-443). Othello suggests that his name was pure and fresh as Diana (the goddess of chastity), but after Desdemona’s infidelity, his good name is now begrimed and black. He was pure and good on the inside even though he was seen as dark and evil by other Venetian characters like Brabantio. But now Othello sees himself as dirty and as a foolish husband. He allows Iago to change his thoughts; he turns his inside black like his outside. This helps to motivate Othello to kill Desdemona, and he becomes the violent animal, which he was meant to be according to those who dislike him.

Othello’s true color becomes a reality at the end. After he killed Desdemona Emilia enters in the room and sees Desdemona dying. Desdemona trying to protect Othello tells her that she killed herself, but Othello pretending to be innocent says “she’s like a liar gone to burning hell! ‘Twas I that killed her” (V. 2. 159-160). In a way he shows that black men are violent and to be feared. Emilia responded by saying “O, the more angel she, and you the blacker devil!” (V. 2. 161). It can be understood that in her view Othello’s principles and goodness have turned around; he thinks black is white, and white is black. Emilia sees a different Othello, an evil man who deceived a young girl to fall in love with him against his will.

After Othello realizes that he had been tricked by Iago’s lies, he couldn’t handle the pain of knowing that he killed out of jealousy rather than for justice. As result Othello’s character is damage, but brings back the strong and good soldier of Act I. Before killing himself, he said these last words:

“No more of that. I pray you in letters,/

When you shall these unlucky deeds relate,/

Speak of me as I am. Nothing extenuate,

Nor set down aught in malice. Then must you speak/

Of one that loved not wisely, but too well;/

Of one not easily jealous, but being wrought,/

Perplexed in the extreme; of one whose hand,/

Like the base Judean, threw a pearl away/

Richer than all his tribe; of one whose subdued/


Albeit unused to the melting mood,/

Drops tears as fast as the Arabian trees/

Their medicinal gum. Set you down this” (V. 2. 402-412)

There is a color change again as he sentences himself and transforms into his own judge. Othello’s love is restored again and his nobility as well, although a little too late because he “threw the pearl away” he had for no reasons. Most importantly, he is worried about what image others would have of him because he knows that his black skin color is always going to be a problem, and Venetians would taint him if he faces the law for his crime. God would be the only one who would judge him fairly, and that’s why he kills himself.

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The color imagery of Othello influences many characters. Some are influenced to hate or love Othello because of “black” and “white,” while Othello himself is driven to murder. . Shakespeare knew how to illustrate the change of personalities between Iago and Othello. While each color plays its own role throughout the text, they all contribute to the characters’ behaviors and actions, leading to the play’s tragic end.


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