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Othello Racism Essay Questions

  • 1

    How is Othello's race a factor in the play?

    Othello ascends to the rank of the Venetian military, a city - much like Elizabethan England when the play was written - rife with racism. A general in the army, Othello holds a distinguished place in the Duke's court due to his victories in battle, but not an equal one. He suffers barbs and preconceived notions, yet Othello is esteemed and wins the love of the daughter of a nobleman. However, Brabantio is enraged by Othello's marriage to Desdemona and claims Othello used magic to compel her to run to his "sooty bosom". Race is a factor in the tragedy both in those who seek to destroy Othello, and the victims of the schemes - Othello and Desdemona. Perhaps the most pernicious form of race as an instrument of division is Othello's own view of himself as an outsider, which makes him more susceptible to Iago's plan.

  • 2

    How does Shakespeare's use of language reveal character?

    Often Shakespeare uses verse lines written in iambic pentameter to illustrate nobility. It is illustrative of Iago's duplicitous nature that he tends to speak in verse when he is with Othello and in prose for his soliloquies. One way in which Iago is a master in manipulation is his tendency to use Othello's own words to disguise his active role of instigator and make it seem that any dark thought came not from him but Othello's own mind. Othello's speech is very sophisticated at the beginning of the play, and in his soliloquy at the close of Act V, but when he is consumed with jealous rage, his eloquence falters. Shakespeare uses dialogue to convey the innerworkings of his characters.

  • 3

    Othello is often called a tragic hero. Discuss his heroic qualities as well as his flaws which lead to his demise.

    At the beginning of the play Othello is presented as an honorable man of noble stature and high position. In the end it is his misguided attempt to maintain that honor which brings about his, and Desdemona's, demise. However, Othello is not simply the victim of a plot. Iago is able to engineer Othello's downfall in part because of Othello's own insecurities. His pride blinds him to his weaknesses, and he puts his faith in Iago over the word of his love, Desdemona. Othello is obsessed with his reputation, and ends up killing his wife to save face. Only to a flawed man would murder seem like a solution to a problem of reputation. Othello is spurred on by lies and misrepresentations, but he brings about his own undoing.

  • 4

    What motives, stated and implied does Iago have for taking revenge on Othello?

    Iago's stated reason for taking revenge on Othello is that he has been passed over for Cassio's post. But is this enough for him to "hate the Moor"? It is clear that he is jealous of Othello's ascension in the court and successful wooing of Desdemona. Othello's race and status as an outsider also seems to fuel this rage, as well as the rumor that Othello has slept with Iago's wife, Emilia. None of these motivations, however, seem to add up to inspire the violence that unfolds. Iago remains one of the most purely evil of Shakespeare's villains.

  • 5

    Discuss how loyalty is presented as a positive and a negative quality throughout the play.

    Othello's lack of loyalty is what incites Iago's plan for revenge. Iago's ability to fool Othello that he is loyal while secretly plotting his demise is what makes his revenge effective. It is Othello's belief in Desdemona's lack of loyalty that seals their fates. In these ways loyalty, when misconstrued, can be dangerous. However Desdemona's loyalty to Othello even in her death and Othello's loyalty to her once his mistake is revealed are seen as ennobling aspects of their characters.

  • 6

    Compare and contrast the jealousy of Othello to that of Iago.

    One major theme in Othello is revenge - Iago's revenge on Othello and Othello's revenge on Desdemona. They both believe death will bring justice. Iago's revenge is cooler, plotted out over time where Othello's is an act of heartbroken passion. Iago wears his lack of morals as a badge of honor where it is Othello's moral code that leads to his tragic end.

  • 7

    Although Othello is the title character in what way is Iago the main character?

    Often in Shakespeare's plays such as Hamlet or King Lear, the title character is the main character and protagonist. In Othello this is not the case. Iago has almost 20% more lines than Othello, and has more asides with the audience. While it is Othello's decisions and actions that provide the dramatic structure for the play, it is Iago who sets in motion those decisions and spurs him to action. Othello is the tragic figure of the play, along with Desdemona, and it his characteristics that lend itself to most of the themes - jealousy, race, trust. However, Iago is the character who drives the plot.

  • 8

    How does Desdemona's dying assertion that she killed herself effect how you see her character?

    From a modern feminist viewpoint Desdemona may be judged harshly for answering Emilia, when she asked who has mortally attacked her, "nobody; I myself. Farewell." Furthermore, she seemed resigned to her fate at the hands of her husband. While contemporary audiences may interpret these actions as unfathomable, they highlight the goodness of her character. Desdemona is described by others in the play with words that symbolize goodness - light, white, fair, delicate, alabaster. By the end of the play, Desdemona begins to symbolize goodness itself, so her reaction to her murder becomes another element in Othello's tragic end. Desdemona still loves Othello, though he is mistaken, and she goes to her death professing her husband's reputation. A modern audience may wish for a response that is less melodramatic, but that is not the world that Shakespeare has created in this play.

  • 9

    In what ways do Othello's suicide strengthen or undermine his heroism?

    Though suicide is not usually the chosen end for a heroic figure, it is Othello's only escape from the crimes he has committed. Though the victim of Iago's trickery, Othello is still the author of his own demise. For Desdemona's death to be answered by anything less than his own would have felt false.

  • 10

    Describe how Othello's pride leads to his fall.

    At the beginning of the play Othello is proud of himself and his achievements, but when Iago looks to punish Othello for his perceived slight, it is his pride that he preys upon. The belief that Desdemona has tainted his honor ignites Othello's rage, but it is his pride that blinds him to the fact that the evidence of her acts are lies invented not by a loyal friend but an enemy bent on his destruction.

  • In Shakespeare’s play Othello the main character is Iago, although the play’s protagonist, at least during some points of the play is Othello. This paper will seek to examine the roles of Victorian stereotypes in the destruction of Othello’s character especially in the hoodwinking qualities of Iago in splitting up Desdemona and Othello The first scene of the play is set in the streets of Venice where Roderigo and Iago are in deep disagreement with what is later revealed to be a plot to destroy Othello’s marriage to Desdemona.

    Othello is the object of hatred of both Roderigo and Iago, as Iago states, “Your heart is burst, you have lost half your soul; Even now, now, very now, an old black ram Is topping your white ewe. ” (Shakespeare I, I 97-9) Roderigo is especially racist toward Othello in the company of Iago, as Orkin states, “Roderigo too is proficient at racist insult…and falling upon the racist stereotype of lust-ridden black man when he calls to Brabantino that his daughter has given himself to the ‘gross clasps of a lascivious Moor’ (Shakespeare I. i. 126, Orkin 168).

    The evil scheme is two-fold; one, to break up the marriage of Othello and Desdemona so that Roderigo can woo Desdemona and eventually make her fall in love with him, two, that Iago can finally have his revenge on Othello. Iago suspects that Othello has slept with his wife Emilia and he detests Othello for passing him over for a promotion that he felt he deserved more than the less experienced soldier Michael Cassio. In the first few scenes of the play, Othello’s name is never mentioned, emphasizing the secrecy in Roderigo and Iago’s dealings.

    Instead, Othello is referred to as “ the Moor” and descriptive phrases such as “ thick lips”, “ a Barbary horse” are used to refer to Othello’s person, which emphasizes Victorian stereotypes of the African race. While alone with Othello, Iago implies the possibility that Desdemona is having an affair with Cassio. Iago manages to persuade Othello to doubt Desdemona’s loyalty and love for him. He tells Othello to closely examine his wife’s actions when she is with Cassio, as Othello states, “She loved me for the dangers I had pass’d, And I loved her that she did pity them.

    This only is the witchcraft I have used: Here comes the lady; let her witness it.. (Shakespeare I, iii193-6). Othello’s first gift to Desdemona was a handkerchief, which is a very Victorian gift to give to a lady. This supposedly trivial object later becomes the piece of evidence that Iago uses to destroy Othello’s marriage, and as Othello laments at the close of the play, “I had been happy, if the general camp, Pioners and all, had tasted her sweet body, So I had nothing known. O, now, for ever Farewell the tranquil mind! farewell content!

    Farewell the plumed troop, and the big wars, That make ambition virtue! O, farewell! Farewell the neighing steed, and the shrill trump, The spirit-stirring drum, the ear-piercing fife, The royal banner, and all quality, Pride, pomp and circumstance of glorious war! And, O you mortal engines, whose rude throats The immortal Jove’s dead clamours counterfeit, Farewell! Othello’s occupation’s gone!. (Shakespeare III, iii, 397-409). One evening, as Desdemona and Emilia inform Othello that dinner is ready, Othello complains of a headache. Desdemona promptly offers her handkerchief to bind his head to relieve the pain.

    Othello comments that the handkerchief is too small and pushes it away. Desdemona unknowingly loses grip of the handkerchief as she and Othello walk out of the room. Emilia picks up the handkerchief, remembering that Iago had asked her a number of times to steal it, she is delighted at the prospect of surprising her husband. At the same time as Iago was to plant Desdemona’s handkerchief in Cassio’s room, Othello who discovers his plot is infuriated and exclaims that he’d rather witness deception first hand than assume infidelity without conclusive evidence.

    At this point, Iago, ever the manipulator, manages to get his way again by fabricating another story that Cassio once called out Desdemona’s name in his sleep and that Cassio acted as if he were kissing Desdemona. Iago reinforced his claim by claiming to have seen Cassio wipe his beard with the handkerchief. This enrages Othello and he vows to seek revenge on Cassio and Desdemona for the alleged infidelity. Once again, Iago succeeds and even manages to get promoted to lieutenant.

    In the play, Desdemona’s handkerchief is the symbol of faithfulness and later in the play the symbol of truth. It is the handkerchief which symbolizes Othello’s internalization of Victorian mores into his character which allow him to believe Iago’s tripe about Desdemona’s infedelity, and which ultimately leads to his downfall, his loss of love, and his shame. Work Cited Greenblatt, Stephen, et al. , eds. The Norton Shakespeare. New York: W. W. Norton, 1997. Orkin, Martin. Othello and the ‘Plain Face’ of Racism. Shakespeare Quarterly. Vol. 38, No. 2. (Summer 1987). Pp. 166-188.

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