Enduring Value – Othello
Shakespeare’s masterpiece Othello has actually remained appropriate beyond its original context not merely because of its universal styles of love and betrayal, however rather, due to its textual integrity, and the long-lasting value which is improved through the exploration of such concerns, as marginalisation and the psychology of villainy. Shakespeare’s portrayal of Othello as being an outsider, and being “othered” by the Venetian society due to his different race, reflects traditional Elizabethan values and principles concerning racial prejudice and inequality.
These repeating problems, of social intolerance and racial bias are common concerns in our modern society. Shakespeare’s expresses the nature of villainy through his antagonist, Iago, as he explores problems of betrayal and deceit. These problems, focusing on Othello’s passion, battle and vulnerability, as an outsider, are representative of the human condition, hence making it pivotal, of why “Othello” has stayed relevant in a various context.
Shakespeare positions us to view the marginalisation and dehumanisation of Othello, from various viewpoints, initially through physical functions, the notion of racial contempt is communicated via Rodrigo’s, “Thick Lips”, Iago’s “Old Black Ram”, and Brabantio’s “fall for what she fear ‘d to search”.
This vilification, based upon physical appearance enhances traditional Elizabethan views, and to a degree, views held by groups in society today. Though, Othello’s physical look was simply one aspect. Othello was named “devil” by Iago, from a spiritual perspective, stereotyping those of African descent who were connected with witchcraft, this metaphor enhances stereotypical racism, causing the reader to concern, what has actually initiated such hatred from Iago to Othello, this allows the reader to a link on an emotional level with Othello, as it creates empathy. Furthermore the readers perspective of Othello is contrasted due to other members of Venetian society, “your child in law is much more fair than black”, this binary opposition from the Duke, contrasts between black and white, and their symbolic values.
Othello’s “blackness” is associated with impurity and inhuman values, exemplified via “making the beast with two backs”, dehumanising Othello, and reinforcing how the Venetian society has ostracised him. Ostracism, based on spiritual backgrounds and physical appearance, is common even in a modern context, as bullying and racism is a common flaw in our society. Though, it is through these experiences, the reader can further empathise and have a better understanding of Othello’s character, and his emotions. Shakespeare also challenges us to consider Othello’s cultural background, through his foreign and exotic tales that Othello retells to members of Venetian society, this is exemplified through, “Tis true, there’s magic in the web of it”, this is not merely foreign to the Venetians, who were predominantly Religious Christians and did not believe in such black magic and witchcraft, but this was also seen as a waste of time, and an insignificant matter, as Desdemona instantly replies with, “I pray, talk me of Cassio”, followed by, “You’ll never meet a more sufficient man”.
This repetition is implied to reinforce Desdemona’s lack of knowledge, as this is clearly making Othello enraged, but furthermore it expresses the carefree and uninterested approach Desdemona is taking in regards to Othello’s spiritual story of how he gained that handkerchief. Shakespeare, though, gives Othello a significantly high role in their Venetian society, positioning him as a General in the army, though Othello is granted a superior position, he would still be in a lower hierarchy, as the Venetian society could not overlook his outer “blackness”, reinforced through “you’ll have your nephew neigh to you”, this animalistic and sexual imagery, conveys to the reader, no matter how successful Othello becomes, the Venetian society will always regard him as less of a human.
This dehumanisation is mainly the cause of the opportunistic antagonist, Iago. Shakespeare positions us to view Iago as a Machiavellian character, conveyed through the recurring issue of betrayal as Othello is blinded by his “loyalty”, this is exemplified through “A man he is of honesty and trust”, stated by Othello as he willingly accepts Iago. Shakespeare’s characterisation of Iago advances the readers hatred towards the cunning villain, as his soliloquies emphasise his devious nature, “the moor is of a free and open nature… and will as tenderly be led by the nose as asses are” this animalistic imagery communicates Iago’s lack of respect towards Othello, reflecting the nature of evil.
This concept of the nature of evil is explored by F.R Leavis as he describes Othello as “overly aware of his nobility”, expressing Leavis’ distaste towards Othello. Furthermore, the motivation behind Iago’s evil is unknown, though Shakespeare positions us to see Iago as an opportunist through, “it is the green eyed monster which doth mock”, personifying jealousy to manipulate the emotions of the gullible Othello. Overall, Shakespeare’s deeply enthralling text “Othello”, has remained relevant beyond its original context, to suit a more modern audience, due to the text’s enduring values and textual integrity, enhanced through the common issue of marginalisation which is evident in both Elizabethan and 21st Century context.
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