Othello's theme - prejudice

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Shakespeare is considered as the most influential writer in the world throughout years, regions, and generations, his name can still be heard. His works are still widely covered, discussed, and used by many of literarian and art lovers. Learning Shakespeare however is not that easy. Although at this age, myriad of researches had been done about his works, still it is not that simple to reach the glory of understanding his works. Many of his plays, I must say most of his plays are made into films and being staged for thousands infinite of times during his era, 16th century and till now. The famous love tragedy like Romeo and Juliet is interpreted and adapted globally including the Oriental countries as well.

Shakespeare’s four major tragedies are Hamlet, Othello, King Lear and Macbeth. Tragedy by definition means a serious drama typically describing a conflict between the protagonist and a superior force (as destiny) and having a sorrowful or disastrous conclusion that elicits pity or terror, (Merriam Webster). In Othello, the tragedy is between the protagonists, Othello, who is depicted battling with the prejudice that is planted by his ancient, Iago. The conflict can be seen as power struggle between Othello, Iago, and Cassio, in which resulting the murder of Desdemona, Othello’s wife, and this is due to insecurity and jealousy. The main theme that I will touch on is prejudice.

From the very beginning of the play, Iago has crossed his heart by telling readers how he hates Othello. Realizing that his dream position was taking away by Cassio, Iago started to implant revenge and hatred to Othello by using other characters like Roderigo and Brabantio as decoys. Iago aggravates Othello’s mind, setting a fire in Othello’s heart by whispering the rumour of Desdemona infidelity with Cassio. The prejudice in the play can be further divided into racial prejudice and gender prejudice. As in racial prejudice, the fact that Othello is a moor and black has led many accusations by the Venetian about his true nature. Meanwhile, the gender prejudice can be seen in way of how the women in Venice being objectified by the men. Hence, these two underlings that lie under the theme of prejudice will be discussed further in this essay.

Othello, being a black and an outsider of Venice is thought as a threat to the Venetian. Although he is able to establish the trust of the senators and being a great successor in war, in the end he is consumed by the evil thoughts planted by Iago and followed the rage. As he is definitely not a Venetian he had drawn himself apart from the society and in order to raise respect among the Venetians he becomes self-conscious of his status and honour. Othello, as Iago has described in the very first act is described as animal, ‘black ram’, ‘Barbary horse’ and insulted his appearance, ‘thick lips’, ‘black’.

you'll have your daughter covered with a Barbary horse;
you'll have your nephews neigh to you

Not just that, Iago is able to convince Brabantio in blaming Othello of robbing his daughter, by accusing Othello has used the ‘foul charm and magic trick’ to Desdemona. In the play, the character of Othello is more likely to be thought as contagious disease that one should not be touching it. According to G. K. Hunter (1967), he reviews the notions Elizabethans held about foreigners in general and blacks in particular, finding that there existed a widespread association of blacks with sin, wickedness, and the devil. Even though, Othello is depicted differently than the other blacks, having power and knowledge, he at the end is ruined by the evil slander made by Iago. And his act of killing his wife acts like a proof how beastly he can turn to be, like many other blacks.

The gender prejudice in Othello is the depiction of women is thought as the sole property of father and husband. The Venetian women are expected to be obedience and lawful to the father and once they got married they will be under control of the husband. The most pertinent lines that support this view is when Roderigo and Iago make a chaos in front of Brabantio house by screaming out ‘robb’d’ and the robbery here refers to the thought of Desdemona is Brabantio’s belonging.

Look to her, Moor, if thou hast eyes to see:
She has deceived her father, and may thee. (1.3.10)

The excerpt above is said by Brabantio when they all had heard the long story of Othello. The very important line ‘she has deceived her father, and may thee’, can be deciphered as a warning to Othello that is to be caution of Desdemona. This line suggests that the Venetian women cannot be trusted, especially after they made some flaws. Hence, this can be linked to the notion that women are described as promiscuous in this play.

Look to your wife; observe her well with Cassio;
Wear your eye thus, not jealous nor secure:
I would not have your free and noble nature,
Out of self-bounty, be abused; look to't:
I know our country disposition well;
In Venice they do let heaven see the pranks
They dare not show their husbands; their best conscience
Is not to leave't undone, but keep't unknown. (3.3.17)

Iago implant the notion that women in Venice cannot all be trusted, as in ‘I know our country disposition well; In Venice they do let heaven see the pranks’ and by saying so, Iago has led Othello to think of Desdemona is being secretive and promiscuous. Besides that, Iago has also made a remark of condemning women in general which can be further looked in the excerpt below,;

Come on, come on; you are pictures out of doors,
Bells in your parlors, wild-cats in your kitchens,
Saints in your injuries, devils being offended,
Players in your huswifery, and huswives in your beds. (2.1.109-112)

To Iago, women are "pictures" because they paint make-up all over their faces. They are "bells" because their tongues ring constantly. They are saints in their injuries because when they do someone an injury they pretend they're doing it for a saintly reason, but they never give anyone else the benefit of the doubt, so they are devils when they are offended and finally, they only pretend to be housewives, but are really hussies, (Weller P.). Notice the words huswifery and huswives, both are the combination of hussy which means promiscuous.

Hence, it is best to say that the prejudice is actually the primary kill tool that has killed Desdemona. By implanting prejudice to Othello, Iago able to celebrate the excellency of his evil plan and therefore in the simplest view of prejudice, it is a contagious disease that can affect anyone and is easily spread through slanders and rumours.


Weller, P. (n.d.). Summary of Act 2, Scene1. In Othello Navigator. Retrieved February 11, 2011, from http://www.clicknotes.com/othello/S21.html.

Zott, M., L. (2002). Shakespearean Criticism. Othello (Vol. 68)- Introduction. Retrieved February 11, 2011 from http://www.enotes.com/shakespearean-criticism/othello-vol-68


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