Racism In Othello By William Shakespeare
It was an exciting time in the 1600s as the famous tragedy Othello was written by William Shakespeare was introduced to the world. Since then, many appropriations of the famous tragedy have been created. A Tim Nelson appropriation of the play Othello into a film from 2001 took a modern-day approach, allowing the play to suit the audience of the 21st century. Although both texts show significant differences being the time frames, many similarities are also evident, exemplified through two main values being race and Appearance vs Reality. The texts continue to transcend time as the themes within still relate to modern-day issues expressing the importance and relevance of the narrative to changing times. Both play and film represent Othello as a Tragic Hero. A tragic hero is a literary character who makes a judgment error that inevitably leads to his/her own destruction.
Othello & ‘O’ features a tragic hero whose fatal flaws result in their demise. Shakespeare extensively uses dramatic irony to highlight the fact that Othello evidently has a fatal flaw which regards his appearance vs reality. Tim Nelson has also effectively encapsulated the same universally significant theme of Race throughout his film ‘O’ through the use of various language and film techniques.
Racism is a major issue that exists in both our modern-day society and in the Elizabethan society where the play took place. However, Shakespeare and Nelson choose to use different techniques to explore this issue. Shakespeare uses poetic and dramatic techniques as English literature was the main sole enjoyment during the Elizabethan time period. Whereas Nelson uses cinematic techniques as the majority of his audiences are teenagers and movies are the most popular enjoyment in modern-day.
In Othello, Othello is being labeled as “the Moor,” which according to the collins dictionary “the term ‘Moor’ referred to dark-skinned people in general, used interchangeably with similarly ambiguous terms as ‘African’, ‘Ethiopian’, ‘Negro’, and even ‘Indian’ to designate a figure from Africa.” Similarly in O, Nelson uses many different symbolisms to explore racial tension between the white and the black. One of which is to have a black character to play the “drug dealer” to reinforce the racial stereotype of most drug dealers are black and upholding Shakespeare hallmark technique of Appearance vs Reality.
Another reason he chooses to play with a black personality is perhaps merely because of how color is interpreted. The color black often provides us the impression that it is dirty and unclean and illegal drugs give us the same picture. Another is a black hawk that juxtaposes the white pigeons. During the film when it starts, the hawks can be defined as dark, powerful, and proud. However, when the hawk, a black person, is caged up and separated from the white pigeon, white person, the image of a black person does not fit into the white society. This proves that the idea of racism continues to transcend in time, allowing the changing audiences to relate to the problems within.
There are themes, concepts, values, attitudes, and symbolism put forward in both texts. The topics cover love, jealousy, tragedy, deceit, tragedy, friendship, manipulation, violence, racism. The topics are heavily depicted in both texts and some more than others, for example, friendship is seen more in O because the protagonists are adolescents, and friendship in those years is essential. The idea seen in both texts is the’ hero concept,’ which is to portray Othello and Odin as a hero in both army and basketball conquests. In both texts, symbolism is seen in the same way as the themes, the white/black contrast symbolizes the fight between good and evil, with the difference being that Othello is physically black but inwardly white, while Iago is physically white but inwardly black. In O, this is symbolized by the comparison between the dove and the hawk and can also be seen as a sign of racism (an instance of racism in Othello, when Iago defines Othello as an ‘ancient black ram’).
Racism in O is also demonstrated by the fact that Odin is the only black student in the college and is heard in the film through contemporary hip-hop and rap music that represents the essence of racism in modern culture. Also used as a sign is the handkerchief or scarf; it is a motif for the love of Othello / Odin for Desdemona / Desi. The values that can be picked out in the texts are the values of Othello from the beginning of the play to the end. Othello values honesty, his reputation, his power, his high status in society and his love for Desdemona, Othello loses much of his values at the end of the play, particularly his reputation, power and high status. He lost all feelings of reality and lost his own love for Desdemona because of Iago’s ongoing manipulation and deception.
The race is undoubtedly one of the most widely explored topics apparent in both film and play. The race is a recurring worldwide problem that has resulted in discrimination and exclusion for many decades. A black-skinned guy, the protagonist Othello is depicted as an outsider. Because of racist suggestions, the barriers Othello’s faces show the insecurities Othello experiences later. it’s not ironic when we think of the moment when Othello is set back in the 1600s and reflects on how poorly dark-skinned people were treated? How strong roles were provided to Othello, a dark-skinned guy. Othello was seen as more than just his color in both the play and the film. He was nearly camouflaged behind the abilities he depicted in governance. At the beginning of the play, Othello had not yet experienced discrimination because he was black. He is unaware of existing racism or the power of such thoughtless hate.
However, Othello’s behavior started to change when Iago notified Othello about the suspicion that Desdemona was having an affair. Anyone who first discovered this information would have a comparable response, but as quickly as Othello’s behavior started to alter it was presumed that the way he acted was due to the color of his skin, implying that colored people exhibited unacceptable behaviors. The importance of the dark skin of Othello can be shown in in the play with many racist comments called names like ‘the moor’ and referred to as ‘dirt’ The meaning of his skin is also expressed in the film using the various techniques, extreme close-up illustrating the detail of Odin’s appearance and drawing knowledge of the reality that he is distinct from the other characters in the play. These racist comments and prejudice of unjust behavior, remain as an issue today stereotyping ‘the same’ all colored people. This is unpacked earlier on in the film when several white doves surrounded a black Hawk and outnumbered it.
In Act 5, Scene 2 Othello ends up being corrupted and confused about his position and ends up submitting to his own life. That’s the same thing in O. Hugo values his connection with his dad, and so when he saw Odin gaining more attention than his dad gave him, it made him jealous and compelled him to conspire against Odin. At the end of the film, Hugo’s quote tells us that he envied and hated Odin for getting all the attention from everyone, especially his father, and that he wanted that attention: ‘even though all the other birds want to be hawks, they hate him for what they can’t be. Proud, powerful, determined, dark. Odin is a hawk, he soars above us, he’s can fly. One of these days’ everyone is gonna pay attention to me because I’m gonna fly too”. The characters ‘ activities represent their attitudes. This is shown in particular by Hugo’s behavior; his deceit, manipulation, and premeditated betrayal behavior represent his spiteful attitude towards Odin.
Othello and Odin are tragic heroes because they are noble, and both suffer from a fatal tragic flaw and go through tragic downfalls. All these traits that they both exhibit lead them to be known as one of the most well-known tragic heroes in all of literature.
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