Race complications are something we all face, even in Shakespeare’s time people had to face racial stereotypes. Shakespeare’s Othello is a play that both reinforces and contradicts conventional perceptions of race. Within the play, Othello lives in a white community as a high ranking officer, although some people don’t think well of Othello since he is a different color, but he is still greatly respected by nobles and most. Still even with all respect and honor he has, he still loses himself to anger and jealousy created by Iago and Othello is eventually destroyed by Iago. Many racial comments has been made in this play about Othello as well. This reinforces the perceptions of race. Othello shows that although one can fit the racial stereotypes, but they can also challenge it as well.
The play Othello famously begins not with Othello but with Iago, the white man who plans to destroy the Moor of Venice. Before we can even get a glimpse of Othello, Iago is already there discriminating Othello. For the first few minutes of the play, from what iago discussed with Roderigo we know that Othello has “thick lips” (1.1.66). From Iago’s complaints about how Othello did not promote him, we have a bad assumption about Othello already. As Iago goes and reports to Brabanito about Othello and Desdemona, Iago makes many racial comments about him such as: “Even now, very now, an old black ram / Is tupping your white ewe.” (1.1.88-89). Without Othello even appearing, Iago makes this stereotypical comment trying to make the point since Othello is a moor, he is not slightly worthy of someone like Desdemona who is kind, beautiful and pure. As the play progresses, Iago’s wits and intelligence and interpersonal skills are shown to be immensely greater than Othello’s. Iago is able to manipulate people such as Roderigo and Brabanito to obtain certain things. He is able to convince Roderigo to support him with money during their stay in Cyprus. “I’ll sell all my land/Go to, farewell, put money enough in your purse” (1.3.370-371). While Othello is clueless as Iago drives false ideas into Othello’s head, proving that whites are generally more powerful than blacks. “Look to your wife, observe her well with Cassio”(3.3.200). After a series of unfortunate events, the once great general is reduced to nothing more than an animal consumed with rage and jealous by the white man. Othello cannot think for his own due to being blinded by the false images and ironically he takes orders from Iago. After being tortured with the jealous thoughts and hatred, without any mercy or asking for any explanations, he smothers Desdemona. “It is too late. / He smothers her / He smothers her again.“ (5.2.84-91) Iago managed to turn Othello into some kind of creature, because not only does he smother Desdemona, he does it twice without any kind of regret. While in this state Othello strongly reinforces the conventional perceptions of race.
Before being reduced to rubble, Othello was once a great man who contradicted and challenged the perceptions of race. As Iago is complaining to Roderigo that inexperienced man called Cassio was promoted by Othello instead of him, we can tell that Othello – the moor is a high ranking officer in Venice. “‘I have already chosen my officer’“(1.1.16) As the play moves on, we find out that Othello is actually married to the daughter of a noble senator. Othello is so well respected that even the duke of Venice gives him credit for the wars and battles he has won. The duke did not even notice Brabanito as he entered the room, he only took notice of Othello. “Valiant Othello, we must straight employ you / I did not see you : welcome, gentle signor”(1.3.49-51) The duke respects Othello so greatly that he said that his tale would even win over his daughter. Othello’s bravery and courageousness leads him to say thing such as “I won his daughter”(1.3.93). From this he challenges the stereotype that white man has superiority over the black man. This is rare in the Shakespearean time, considering that during that time period there were still slaves. Othello has climbed from being an escaped slaves to being one of the most successful general in Venice that even the duke tells Brabanito that Othello is not just any moor, but he has become far more than that. “Your son-in-law is far more fair than black.” (1.3.288). Soon the play arrives to Othello’s darkest hour. He is manipulated, tortured and blinded by the jealously and anger that Iago has given him. Like a tower reduced to rubble, Othello begins his metamorphosis into a beast with no mercy. Eventually he kills his own beloved wife, Desdemona. After knowing the truth Othello regains some of the honor that he had lost. “I am not valiant neither, but ever puny whipster gets my sword. But why should honor outlive honesty? Let it go all”(5.2.257-260) Othello even calls himself an honorable murderer “An honorable murderer, if you will” (5.2.307). Othello admits to his mistakes rather than escaping from it. As Othello commits suicide he is much more honorable and has more dignity compared to when he was blinded by Iago and when he murdered Desdemona. Although it might seem that Othello is reinforcing the perceptions of race during the last scene, but at the same time he challenges these perceptions as well.
From Shakespeare’s Othello, hints to us that stereotypical perception can be both reinforced and challenged. Othello is a moor that is eventually turned into hatred and he even kills his wife, but on the contrary Othello rose up from the ashes as an escaped slave and became one of the greatest and most respected generals in Venice despite being black in a white community. Even in after his darkest hour he manages to still be quite honorable. With these examples of the character Othello, the play Othello reinforces and contradicts the conventional perceptions of race during that time.