Comparing ‘Othello’ and ‘The Hate Race’: Whether Identity Is a Source of Strength or Downfall

Both The Hate Race and Othello explore identity as a core facet of human nature by considering the consequences of a strong versus weak sense of identity. The idea of a society’s perception of an individual’s identity as opposed to the individual’s sense of their own identity is examined in both texts, and the way it can influence behaviour. Shakespeare and Clarke highlight the way in which a strong sense of individual identity can be an incredibly strong source of empowerment. On the other hand, the idea that a threat to identity can greatly weaken individuals is a prominent idea in both texts.

Clarke analyses the contrast between her own sense of identity as opposed to the way that the predominantly white society she grew up in identified her, based on perceptions about her skin colour. Likewise, Shakespeare also presents this juxtaposition of perception. Iago’s sense of identity, accepting his own ambition and deceitfulness, is completely different to other characters’ perception of him, of ‘honest Iago’; an endearing phrase repeated constantly throughout the play. The Hate Race discusses young Maxine’s confusion about the different perceptions of her identity, who as a child, not did understand why she was perceived as an ‘outsider’ due to her skin colour, when she identified as Australian. In her eyes, her heritage did not limit her talents and abilities, however society’s opinion did. This was evident in Maxine’s lack of victory in a teenage public speaking competition, where despite being ‘excellent’ she did not win. The winner was chosen because ‘her dad was somebody’, and she conformed to society’s expectations, a fact that ‘embarrassed’ the winner’s dad because he realised the injustice of it.

Shakespeare also examines this paradox of identity using dramatic irony. Iago’s manipulative, selfish ways were blatantly obvious to the audience throughout Othello, demonstrated by his demonic soliloquies, but the other characters were frustratingly blind to his true identity, perceiving him instead as a ‘loyal’ and ‘honest’ friend. His own sense of identity, and arguably his true identity, could not have been more different to the way society viewed him. Whilst both Maxine and Iago experienced differing public perceptions of their identity, they mirrored each other in that self identity can be completely different to public perception of identity.

A sense of empowerment can be sourced from a strong sense of identity, evident in both Othello and The Hate Race. Whilst this sense of empowerment and ability to take charge of one’s situation is utilised in different ways in both texts, the underlying idea that identity correlates with power is similar in both texts. Iago’s sense of identity is what motivates him to orchestrate complex, tragic schemes, ultimately for his own benefit. It was his own sense of identity that encouraged his ambition, and his willingness to hurt others intentionally. Whilst it came at the expense of other’s, Iago’s power to take charge of his own life cannot be ignored. Likewise, Emilia had a clear sense of her own feminine identity. The women of Shakespeare’s time and Clarke’s face extremely different obstacles. This is clear in the expectations of women to ‘submit’ and ‘obey’ their husbands. Ignoring these expectations, Emilia drew on her strength as an intelligent woman to stand up for herself and Maxine to both Iago and Othello, who’s perception of the identity of women in general produced a bias in which the opinion of women was not as important as their own. A parallel to this empowerment can be observed in The Hate Race. Maxine’s acceptance of her own identity, despite it isolating her from society, was a source of strength and power for her. She used her identity as a metaphorical armour, utilising the very thing for strength that others attempted to use to weaken her; her race. So whilst it was done in different ways, both texts explored the way that a strong sense of identity is a source of empowerment.

On the other hand, the weakness that a person can face when their identity has been threatened is apparent in both The Hate Race and Othello. Whilst not all the threats to identity faced by various characters in Othello were necessarily based on race, there were indisputable incidents of this, particularly shown by Brabantio and Iago. Brabantio chose to abandon his daughter and refused to recognise her love for the ‘Moor’; Othello. His objection to his daughter’s relationship; saying his house is not a ‘grange’; a farm/farmhouse, demonstrates his view that Othello was inferior to him due to his race. Similarly, Iago consistently described Othello using animal imagery, such as ‘an old black ram’ and an African ‘barbary horse’ to undermine his identity, dehumanising and animalising him. In this way, both Brabantio and Othello reduced Othello’s identity to that of a basic, savage animal.

Ultimately, this false perception of identity became a reality for Othello, who succumbed to his rage and jealousy over a false affair. Likewise, Clarke emphasised the effects of a threatened identity, specifically as a consequence of racism, on her psychological and emotional wellbeing. She discussed the poison of the ‘cumulative effect of these incidents’, destroying her ‘very essence of being’. The use of animal imagery in ‘The Hate Race’ mirrored Shakespeare in multiple incidents. The vicious teasing of her classmates who referred to her as a ‘dog’ because of her vitiligo; her ‘patchy’ black and white skin that apparently was similar to a young child’s dog, illustrated the way that one’s identity can be used against them. Maxine concluded at a young age, because of society’s attitude and treatment of foreigners, that there was undeniably ‘something wrong with being brown’. Confusing for her was that she identified as Australian, but also recognised her African heritage, and faced both celebration and discrimination for her identity.

Despite the stark contrast of setting in time and place of ‘Othello’ and ‘The Hate Race’, both the play and the memoir highlight the importance of identity, and in a strange paradox, can be both a source of strength or downfall. One’s perception of their own identity shown in both texts is the empowerment that comes from a strong sense of identity, but also the weakness associated with a threatened or vulnerable identity.