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Shakespeares Othello

The Venetian society that Othello is set in is representative of the writers context. The attitudes and values that Shakespeare reveals through the text are those same attitudes and values of Elizabethan society in England in the sixteenth-century. Although Othello is set in Venice and Cyprus, the attitudes and values shared in the text are probably reflective of the attitudes and values of Shakespeare’s own society. It is difficult to assess the attitudes and values of people in sixteenth-century Britain to the relatively few blacks living amongst them.

We are given an insight into those attitudes and values through the representation of race and gender in the text of Othello. These attitudes and values are indicative of what a culture believes in and supports. By the time Othello was written the English were becoming more and more aware of the existence of other races in the world besides themselves. There had been a lot of travelling and blacks were beginning to be used in Europe for the slave trade.

During the time the play was written, the Queen of England had banned all blacks from entering the city. She spoke of them as “Negars and Moors which are crept into the realm, of which kind of people there are already here too many”. It seems that Shakespeare is almost mocking the Queen by characterising Othello as a black man who has a high ranking position in the Army and who marries a white aristocratic women, against her fathers will. Ruth Cowlig suggests that the presentation of Othello as the hero must have been startling for Elizabethan audiences.

This may have been the case, but through the representation of Othello we are able to see that some members of society such as the Duke, looked over his colour to assign him his position whereas, others such as Iago, look on his colour as a way to mock him. Hostility is shown to Othello by characters such as Iago and Roderigo. This attitude may have been encouraged by the widespread belief in the legend that blacks were descendants of Ham in the Genesis story, punished for sexual excess by their blackness. The Elizabethan’s discussed at length whether this skin colour was due to life in a hot climate or whether it was a punishment for sin.

To the Elizabethan’s, who thought hierarchically, fair skin was the epitome of beauty and therefore dark skin ranked below it. The term black was used in a variety of texts to stand for sin, filth, ugliness, evil, and the Devil. This value is ascribed to Iago when he describes Othello as the “black moor” hinting at something other than just colour. Attitudes to race aren’t the only attitudes revealed in the text though. Attitudes and values about gender are also revealed in the portrayal of women and their actions in the text.

A prime example of this is when Desdemona elopes with Othello without her father’s permission, which during that time would have been socially unacceptable. This is revealed to us through Brabantio’s reaction as Shakespeare uses Brabantio as a vehicle for the representation of higher society’s views on matters. Another value revealed in the text is that of marriage. In the Elizabethan era marriage was not just a spiritual union but also a property transaction; the bride brought a dowry from her father and the groom’s father (or the groom if he had already inherited his estate) had to settle lands on her in return, as a jointure.

Therefore, to marry without the bride’s father’s permission could be seen as an act of theft. This may explain why Brabantio reacted so strongly to the union of Othello and Desdemona. These attitudes and values contrast quite drastically to those ascribed to society today. Nowadays coloured skin is a common occurrence and a character such as Othello would be quite socially accepted. Race is both more accepted and more abused than in Shakespeare’s time. With the feminist movement values given to women have also changed quite drastically.

This is because women are now seen less as property and more of an equal. Marriage has also changed. In the sixteenth century girls tended to be married off rather young in their teens and to have their husbands chosen for them by their fathers. Now girls tend to get married in their late twenties and are free to choose their own partner. These attitudes and values that are revealed in the text are done so through the representation of race and gender. Race and gender are revealed in the text by the uses of imagery, characterisation, plot, stylistic techniques, and language.

Race is represented in many different ways to allow the attitudes and values of Elizabethan society to be revealed through it. The way race is portrayed allows us to have access to these attitudes and values. Race is portrayed by the character Othello, who is a moor, and by what is said about him, and how he’s reacted to. Othello is presented initially as a dangerous beast by Iago, before he reveals himself to be of noble, human, status, only to degenerate later to the condition of a bloodthirsty and irrational animal. He is the hero of the play and this is achieved by his last speech(V. . 340-356) where he rights himself at the end of the play. “I kissed thee ere I killed thee: no way but this, Killing myself, to die upon a kiss” (V. ii. 359). By showing us these contrasting images of the moor, Shakespeare is revealing the two different attitudes to race.

The one of acceptance, as shown through characters such as Montano. And the one of hatred, as shown through characters such as Iago. Iago and Roderigo are full of racial antipathy in the first scene. The animal images “you’ll have your daughter covered with a Barbary horse” (I. i. 2) convey the ideas of someone less than human. The way race is portrayed reflects Shakespeare’s and his society’s attitudes to race. Earlier Shakespeare created two other moors.

Aaron in “Titus Andronicus”, and Marocco in “The Merchant in Venice”. The most negative way, and the main way race is portrayed is through Iago’s references to Othello and what he says about him, such as; “old black ram,” and “Barbary horse. ”(I. i. 89-112) A more positive way that race is portrayed is through the character of Othello himself. He is described as “noble Othello”, and Valiant Othello”.

He has secured the love of an aristocratic women, he has a high position and is regarded well in society. Even after his degeneration he is still able to right himself in the eyes of the people, and dies as the hero of the play. Perhaps the most reflective view of race in Elizabethan society is demonstrated in the character of Brabantio who, as I said before is a vehicle for the representation of higher society’s views on matters. Brabantio accepted Othello as a member of society……. , and he respected his position. He even invited him to dinner……. But to have him marry his daughter was getting a little too much.

To Brabantio the union between Desdemona and Othello is “a treason of the blood” (I.. i. 160) and he feels that society’s acceptance of Othello will reduce Venetian statesman to “bond slaves and pagans” (I. ii. 99). He also believes that Desdemona could not love “the sooty bosom of such a thing” (I. ii. 70). One who she feared “To fall in love with what she feared to look on”(I. iii. 98). The idea of race developed as a way to explain social divisions in a society that thought it believed in equality. And what constitutes race has changed quite dramatically since then.

Othello is neither a racist text or a non-racist text but is merely showing the representation of race in a sixteenth-century society. I suppose one could argue that Iago isn’t racist, as the plot would no doubt stand the same if you remove all the racist remarks, but I can’t imagine approaching the play or the role from that perspective. For one thing, the Venetian world is somewhat racist, and Othello is widely considered the token exception to the rule. More specifically , Iago knows how to fuel the racist fires in both Brabantio and Roderigo showing that those racist views were existent.

This indicates to me that he has a pretty personal knowledge of those feelings. With Brabantio, he uses the imagery of a black ram tupping your white ewe(I. i. 90) – not just that Desdemona has run off with anyone, but with a BLACK anyone. And Iago, as usual, reduces the romance and love in the situation into blatant sexual terms. Roderigo maintains that Desdemona’s infatuation with Othello cannot possibly last very long because it defies nature for her to be attracted to a man of Othello’s complexion. And Roderigo has his share of racist remarks (calling Othello the thick-lips, etc. ).

Even more, there is no evidence in the play that Othello and Emilia have had an affair, yet Iago suspects it. But the attitudes and values of Elizabethan society are not only revealed in how race is represented, but also in how gender is represented. The way the attitudes and values of Elizabethan England are represented through gender is based on the portrayal of women in the text. The three women in the text are Desdemona, Emilia, and Bianca. And together they construct a well rounded view of women in society. From Angel through realist to whore. The other way women are portrayed is through the portrayal of them by other characters.

The characters who offer the most notable portrayals are Iago, Brabantio, and Emilia. Act II scene i shows Iago’s strongest views on women. Iago makes generalisations of women, when he says “you are pictures out of doors, bells in your parlours, wildcats in your kitchens; saints in your injuries, devils being offended; players in your housewifery, and hussies in your beds. ” (II. i. 109-112). He also presents a common view of that era when he says “You rise to play, and go to bed to work”. (II. i. 115) This presents the sixteenth-century view of women being held to be unstable, potentially or actually unchaste, and morally frail.

Their sexual desires were represented as unnatural appetites. They were also thought to be “unstable sexual creatures, likely to betray men” with “Appetites never satisfied” . The history of the handkerchief also suggests the power of female sexuality over men: “That handkerchief Did an Egyptian to my mother give; She was a charmer, and could almost read The thoughts of people: she told her, while she kept it, ‘Twould make her amiable and subdue my father Entirely to her love…. ”(III. iv. 55-60) . Brabantio who represents higher society’s views of women has an idealised view of them.

To him daughters have to be subservient, and obedient, by making her own decisions in marriage, Desdemona represents betrayal in his eyes. To the people of Elizabethan times it would probably seem that Desdemona undermines her position in society and changes gender politics by marrying without her father’s consent. Emilia is a dramatic contrast to Desdemona, and she is the only character who seems to offer a different view of women. She herself is quite a strong character as a woman as she is realistic, pragmatic, capable of courage, loyal and self sacrificing. In act IV scene iii she delivers a feminist speech that questions society.

But I do think it is their husbands faults if wives do fall”(IV. iii. 87) . She is a realist and accepts humans by seeing their faults but still accepting them. She also has a feminist view of men “They are all but stomachs and we all but food; They eat us hungerly, and when they are full they belch us” (III. iv. 108-110). How society felt about women is shown by their influences on Othello’s behaviour and who he believes about Desdemona’s infidelity. Othello believes Iago over Desdemona, who is his wife. The women in this play don’t seem to possess very much power, but in fact they have much more power and control than most people think.

They hold the play together like glue to paper. If Desdemona never had the power to commit adultery then it would never have been thought of and Othello would never have fallen. Each of the women in the play are abused by men and a victim of the green eyed monster which doth mock the meat it feeds on(III. iii. 168-169). Othello is a perfect example of where the women are made to seem inferior to the men through the use of stylistic techniques, plot, and use of language. But why is this so important? It is important because women in Othello make up the backbone of the play.

Without them there to antagonise the men and generate intense feelings of love, hatred and jealousy, the play could not and would not exist. The supposed inferiority of women follows from the fact that human societies have been dominated by men. This may not be so true now, but in Elizabethan times which is the “particular time and place” that the attitudes and values are revealed from it was especially true. How these representations reflect the attitudes and values of Elizabethan society is through the way that women are portrayed in the text as I have discussed earlier.

In Elizabethan society there was a myth of women’s insatiable lustfulness and women were seen as voracious monsters. It was thought that female sexuality was a threat to the patriarchal society, and must be safely contained. In the Encyclopaedia of World Mythology it says “Women in male eyes, are supposed to be contrary and mysterious creatures, bewilderingly combining all sorts of characteristics, as changeable as chameleons, and yet somehow vexingly in touch with reality through intuition.

Brabantio is a vehicle for society’s views on gender and he shows how society at the time of Othello would have thought of women. In conclusion, values and attitudes of a particular time and place are revealed in Othello through the representation of race and gender. How these attitudes and values are revealed is through the the way they are portrayed, the character construction, the stylistic techniques, the language, the content of speech and the symbolism.

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StudyBoss » Shakespeares Othello

Shakespeare’s Othello

If one reads Shakespeare’s Othello, they can come to the conclusion that it might be one of the his most tragic plays ever written by Shakespeare. Romeo and Juliet, is probably the most famous of his tragic plays, but Othello, has characteristics that, I think make it even more tragic then his other plays, and therefore for that reason, you can say that Othello is the most tragic hero. Othello is a noble man, one who has grace with the ladies but also possesses all the virtues of a military leader that he is. He is a general that is experienced in battle. He has shown that he is reliable and well known in the military and s well respected.

His valiant personality, is what draws people to him, as it does for Desdemona. The senators value him and hear what he says when he speaks. This is shown here by one of the senators. “Here comes Barbantio and the valiant Moor”, (Act I scene 3, 47) . This is an example of the many comments which shows Othello’s character and personality as a person and an officer. They say he is one of the great leaders. Not only does he posses great character and courage, but also dignity. He keeps his control even when he is being accused of witchcraft during the first encounter with the senators when

Desdemona’s father confronts him about see his daughter. “Most potent, grave, and reverend signors, My very noble and approved good masters; That I have ta’en away this old man’s daughter, It is most true; true I have married her. The very head and front of my offending Hath the extent, no more. Rude I am in my speech, And little blessed with the soft phrase of peace;” (I, iii, 91) This is an example of how Othello deals with style and grace under fire, when he is accused of witch craft, by marrying Desdemona. He neither, yells or screams, but explains in a manner that captivates his audience, and draws them n to listen.

A major sign that Othello shows his rage and jealousy occurs in Act III, scene 3, when Iago is talking with Othello and tells him that Desdemona is a whore. Othello’s breakdown, almost to choke Iago, simply asks Iago “Villain, be sure thou prove my love a whore, Be sure if it. Give me the ocular proof. Or by the worth of mine eternal soul, thou hadst been better have been born a dog. Than answer my waked wrath. ” (Act III, scene 3) This a point in the play where Iago starts unveil his malicious plan. It makes Othello react, in a manner that he usually does not.

Othello has many qualities that ontribute to his overall worth. One being his trustfulness. At this point in time, Othello, says that Iago is a man of honor and trust, and therefore has no reason not to distrust him. Many times Othello does not see the fake and malicious acts of Iago. This is done to extend the play and also add to Othello’s tragic flaws. Othello trusts too easily. Othello is used to dealing with military people and on the battle field, a place where you put your life in the hands of others and trust is very important. Iago reputation on the battle field is well known and is not tarnished.

With Othello being a military leader or most of his life, trusting another military friend, is not uncommon, and therefore, Othello has no reason not to believe or trust Iago. So it can be said that Othello has a number of tragic flaws, one being trust worthy. It is not to say that being trust worthy is a bad characteristic, but to not trust your own wife? Othello, tragically, in Act III, scene 3, is thoroughly corrupted by Iago, says that he believes that Desdemona is honest, but yet he thinks that she is not. This is a part that Othello’s “innocence” is torn to bits, because he does not know what to believe anymore.

This is also where he comes to Iago for advice, which is what Iago has been waiting for. Othello is seen as a confused man without direction and does know what to do. “By the world, I think that my wife be honest and think that she is not. I think that thou art just and think she is not. Othello then says to Iago: “Damn her, lewd minx, damn her, damn her! Come, go with me apart. I will withdraw To furnish me with some swift means of death Far that fair devil. Now art thou my lieutenant. ” (Act 3, scene 4, 540) Here it shows that Othello is now starting to believe Iago.

Another time that Iago starts to make Othello believe even more that is wife is unfaithful is when he tells Othello that he has overheard Cassio talking in his sleep about Desdemona and that he has also noticed Cassio wiping his face with the strawberry-embroidered handkerchief, that Othello had given to Desdemona for his first present. This now where Othello is convinced that Desdemona has been unfaithful, and vows revenge against Cassio and Desdemona. It is in this scene that Iago implants the suspicions and jealousy in Othello’s head, which tragically bring about the events in the play.

It is also here, where Desdemona tries to reconcile the differences between Othello and Cassio, in which Othello sees them together and reinforces the allegations that Iago has made to Othello. Iago helps by adding the gasoline to the fire when he tells Othello about how Cassio and Desdemona have known each other for some time. Othello is upset and vows revenge. “Not with vain thanks but with acceptance bounteous, And will upon the instant pit thee to’t Within these three days let me hear thee say That Cassio’s not alive. (Act III, scene 4)

Iago also reminds Othello that Desdemona has also deceived her father, her own flesh an blood, why not then lie to her husband. Othello then tells Iago that he is bound to him forever for all that he has done for him. It is made clear in this scene that Iago is honest and true man. A man of his word, and for that Othello is forever indebted. After the events of the loss of the handkerchief, shown clearly is the anger of Othello when he asks Desdemona to produce the handkerchief. When she can not, it is set in his mind that she has been deceitful.

It does not help the situation in any way that Desdemona lies about having the handkerchief, it only adds to the fire hat burns within Othello’s eyes. Othello’s jealousy is the one flaw that brings him down the most. It is not to say that with out Iago instigating all that he has that the situation would have been better. But one can see that jealousy is the knife that stabs himself. Othello is jealous of Desdemona and Cassio, which can be somewhat understandable. It is known that Desdemona and Cassio have known each other for sometime. It is known that Cassio has had a crush on Desdemona for awhile.

When Othello asks to see the handkerchief and she can’t show it to him, it makes him wonder. When Iago is talking to Cassio about Desdemona, while Othello is listening, he makes him wonder. When Cassio is caught with the handkerchief, it makes Othello wonder. With all of these attributes and events, one can only be jealous of Cassio and Desdemona. Othello has been manipulated in such a way by Iago though, that he won’t even believe is own wife. Desdemona pleads with Othello that she has been faithful and has done nothing wrong. It is Othello’s jealousy and Iago’s malicious manipulating that leads to the death of all of them.

Even though Iago is the villain of all villains, Othello’s tragic law of jealousy, leads to his downfall. Iago manipulates the characters and enrages Othello’s fire of jealousy within himself. One can not only look at the villainous plots of Iago, but also look at Othello’s impractical train of thought and jealousy. Othello does not reason with anyone except Iago. This is why Iago is the villain of all villains. This is why Othello’s jealousy can be said to be his greatest downfall. Over the entire play, not only does Iago become the antogonist that he is, but also Othello’s tragic flaw of jealousy leads to his, Iago’s and innocent Desdemona.

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