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Racism Jealousy, and a Doomed Marriage in Othello

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Racism Jealousy, and a Doomed Marriage in Othello Almost everyone, in his or her lifetime, may experience alienation or racism at least one time. In the play Othello by William Shakespeare, Othello has done a considerable amount for the city of Venice in which he lives whether it is his military victories or other services he has for the city. However, during the time of the play, which is the very early 17th century, minorities were irrelevant and ignored by many on society. Despite the role of a minority in the time, Othello is a black man who rises to power as a general in the military and is respected by the other white people in power. However when he marries a young beautiful woman named Desdemona, who is the daughter of Senator Barbantio, the effects of racism are in full effect. Characters get jealous and use his race as a means of trying to break up the marriage of Othello and Desdemona. Othello is known as the Moor and is called the name by other characters in the play, which signal that he is from African decent. In Othello, the conflict of racism toward a minority ultimately ends up in the ending of the marriage in a tragic way. The play, Othello, is concerned with one of the major anticipated disgraces and embarrassments of Western Civilization and tradition, i.e. the martial union of a black man and a white woman of superior social status (Toker 31). Once the marriage between Desdemona and Othello was complete, the man who was once respected by everyone faces racism from those whom he thought was close to him. Such can be seen in the play when Roderigo and Iago are planning to go to Barabantio and telling him that Desdemona has run away with Othello. Setting him up and planning this accusation, Roderigo says, “What a full fortune does the Thick-lips owe, if he can carry’t thus!” (Shakespeare Act 1 Scene 1 68-69). Roderigo is referring to Othello and calls him “thick-lips” which a racial slur towards him, the Moor. It is a derogatory term used to describe the African people and point out something that makes them different from others. Though they call him these names throughout we never know where Othello is from. Othello relies upon a storehouse of widespread popular images and beliefs about Africa, rather than recollections of identifiable locations (Sousa 78). So, calling him these names that one would use to bash and African American is wrong. Right from the start we see how Othello is depicted and racist discourse is seen.
Racist discourse is seen in the play when others talk about Othello. Racist discourse is a discriminatory practice that shows up in the way people write, talk, and communicate with one another. Racist discourse contributes to the imitation of racism by those around it. Racist discourse is seen when Barabantio goes and confronts Othello and says, “Dammed as thou art, thou hast enchanted her!” (1.2.66) and “Run from her guardage to the sooty bosom, Of such a thing as thou—to fear, not to delight” (1.2.73-74). At first, Barbantio does not have anything wrong to say about Othello but as soon as Iago starts to call him names and say that Othello has run off with his daughter, the imitation of racism comes out in Barbantio. He says that the only way the Desdemona would run off with Othello is if she had been bewitched and that Othello had used witchcraft on her. Othello takes these comments very calmly and responds with cool, calm, and smart remarks to defend himself and show that he is not using witchcraft on his daughter.
Racism toward Othello is seen even more so when Iago calls out to Barabantio and tells him what happened to his daughter when he says, “Zounds, sir, you're robb'd; for shame, put on your gown; Your heart is burst, you have lost half your soul; 
Even now, now, very now, an old black ram
Is tupping your white ewe. Arise, arise; Awake the snorting citizens with the bell, or else the devil will make a grandsire of you: Arise, I say.” (1.1.91-98). Right there racism is seen because of the way that Iago describes Othello as an old black ram and even comparing him to the devil. Othello’s identity is being smashed as Iago describes him in this way. Iago calls Othello these names so that people know whom he is talking about. The names he calls Othello show how he feels about him. It shows that Iago has no respect for the Othello’s background even though Othello and Iago have a history together.
Iago wanting to destroy Othello mainly has nothing to do with race but the way he approaches the situation has implications of race by the way he calls him names such as the old black ram and the devil. Even though Iago does not say race is a factor in trying to destroy Othello’s marriage with Desdemona, the way he talks about Othello to others shows that race is a factor in hating him. Iago may feel it is right to treat Othello this way because his leading officer is a Moor. Othello’s relationship with Desdemona only shows his dissimilarity from her. A black skinned man being married to a white girl whose skin is compared the whiteness of snow. Despite all of Othello’s positive services he had done for Venice, he will never be accepted in this manor by Barbantio. Based on Othello’s account of recent events, Brabantio’s house seems to have represented stability and continuity and to fit almost perfectly the definition of the ideal home (Sousa 88). Race influences the ending of the marriage between Desdemona and Othello. Iago is a mole for Roderigo, who is in love with Desdemona. Iago and Roderigo plan to destroy Othello for Iago’s revenge and Roderigo’ love for Desdemona. Iago’s revenge has an influence of race and race is the premise in all of his arguments of Othello to others. Thus, making race a factor in the destruction of Othello and Desdemona’s marriage. The marital state of Othello and Desdemona causes hatred toward him to come about by Roderigo. The marriage of the two is mostly responsible for the alienation of Othello. A reason this alienates him is Barabantio once felt a way for Othello because of his services toward Venice. Once he gets the word about the marriage of his daughter and Othello, which changes the way he feels about him and starts using racist remarks. Barbantio’s racism toward Othello can be seen when he says, “Mine's not an idle cause: the duke himself, 
 Or any of my brothers of the state, 
Cannot but feel this wrong as 'twere their own; For if such actions may have passage free, 
Bond-slaves and pagans shall our statesmen be” (1.2.97-101). The last line means that he lets crimes like this happen, slaves and will be the rulers. Meaning, he thinks of Othello as a slave. Barbantio is also presenting racism here because he feels that the duke will take his side because both he and the duke are white and Othello is black.
Since the duke and senators are white and Othello is black this screams racism when they try to accuse Othello of anyting. Being a Moor in Venice surrounded by white people and discriminators is a reason for Othello’s otherness and isolation. Nobody really connects with him or even tries to understand him making him an outcast. He cannot even trust his own wife, (in her defense she did nothing wrong), with anything anymore. The racial and jealous thoughts of Iago and Cassio lead to the ending of Othello’s trust for anyone except Iago who is ultimately alienating him from everyone and tragically ending his marriage. While Othello should trust his wife over anyone else, he trusts Iago more than anyone. Barbantio acting this way toward Othello is very odd and influenced by Iago. Barbantio treated Othello a different way at a time and is seen when Othello says, “Her father loved me, oft invited me; Still questioned me the story of my life, From year to year—the battles, sieges, fortunes that I have passed” (1.3.128–31). Barbantio did have respect for Othello at a point and did in fact care for him. It is when he get fed lies he changes on Othello and is convinced to hate him.
Othello believes Iago over Desdemona because of the evidence Iago has to support his “beliefs” such as Desdemona and Cassio talking and her defending him and the planting of the handkerchief. Desdemona begs Othello to forgive Cassio for what he has done even when she knows why Othello is upset when she said, “This is a trick to put me from my suit: Pray you let Cassio be received again” (3.4.83-84). The “proof” Iago has is not actually true for he set it up for this to happen. It is for these reasons that Othello trusts Iago rather than his wife Desdemona. Little by little the marriage between the two is shattering before Othello’s eyes and it is coming from the one he trusts more than anyone in his life and whom he thought was a friend. Iago, who is connected to Roderigo, is racist toward Othello, which then makes Roderigo’s motives racist as well. Iago is the mastermind behind it all, and he is after all a racist. From the very beginning of the play, Othello is depicted as an alien and an outsider. Iago and Roderigo ambiguously address to him as “he” or ‘him” for a greater part of the first scene and when they clearly indicate just who they are referring to, they only use racially defamatory words, but not to mention his name (Toker 41). They do not use Othello’s name when they speak about him signals alienation from the play’s start. The comments made about Othello separate him from the rest of Venice. Being treated like he is an animal is what makes the assumption that Othello feels isolated. Being the only African in all of 17th century Venice can have an affect on a person. Othello may even already feel that people are out to get him, which is already true. Othello has not done wrong to deserve this alienation, but it is how the time was and that is how the people in his life will see Othello.
The lack of trust in his relationship with Desdemona is ruined by the racism and jealousy of Iago and Roderigo. This ultimately leads to the death of Desdemona by Othello because he feels betrayed. Othello trusted Desdemona with his handkerchief that was given to him by his father. Though she did not steal the handkerchief, Othello believes she did and that she was with Cassio in his house. Desdemona tries to defend herself by saying, “Kill me tomorrow; let me live tonight!” (5.2.80). This well could have been Desdemona’s chance to prove to Othello what had really happened. Choosing to speak to Desdemona in a mystifying manner, Othello, even as he prematurely decides her guilt, prevents open communications with her, further shutting down any her opportunities to defend herself (Langis 55).
Othello told Desdemona that the handkerchief is a token of his love and she indeed lost his love, not by losing the handkerchief but Iago taking it away. This set Othello over the edge, which resulted in the wrongful death of Desdemona. Despite his cry of despair at the loss of love, he is more consumed by the loss of his mental peace. His anguish is so great that he buys this peace at the cost of bewhoring Desdemona (Langis 54). Emilia later comes and says that she stole the handkerchief for Iago, which at that very moment unveiled Iago’s entire plan for basically ruining Othello’s entire life. Othello lost his peace of mind from all of this. Now the isolation is in full effect. He has murdered the one person who had actually cared for him. At this point, Othello is now totally isolated from everyone and everyone is against him.
In Othello the conflict of racism toward a minority ultimately ends up in the ending of the marriage in a tragic way. Jealousy and racism cause tragic endings to loves that should not have been lost. Othello gets treated the way he does because of the color of his skin and that he has been successful in the military. The two-faced acts in the play show how jealousy and racism are never the answers to any dilemma and that both result in outcomes that nobody intended to happen in the first place.

Works Cited

DiYanni, Robert. "William Shakespeare. Othello. Pages 1455-1542." Literature: Reading Fiction, Poetry, and Drama. 6th ed. Boston: McGraw-Hill, 2007. N. pag. Print.

Langis, Unhae. “Marriage, The Violent Traverse From Two to One in the Taming of the Shrew and Othello.” Journal of the Wooden O Symposium 8.(2008): 45-63. Academic Search Complete. Web. 5 May 2014.

Sousa, Geraldo U. de. At Home In Shakespeare’s Tragedies. Farnham, England: Ashgate, 2010. eBook Collection (EBSCOhost). Web. 5 May 2014.

Toker, Alpaslan. “Othello: Alien in Venice.” Journal of Academic Studies 15.60 (2014): 29-51.
Academic Search Complete. Web. 28 April 2014.

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