Racism and Other Themes in Othello – British Library
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“Anyone who doubts that Shakespeare’s greatest tragedies were written from an imaginative standpoint far ahead of his time need only think of Othello. The basic idea of the play is so well known that it’s easy to forget the startling boldness of Shakespeare’s decision to take Cinthio’s brief tale of a doomed mixed-race marriage and transform it into a heart-breaking tragedy. In a country where few people outside London would ever have seen a black person, and centuries before the problems that fuel the tragedy became as ubiquitous and pressing as they are today, Shakespeare produced in Othello a searing critique of racial and sexual injustice, which is more powerful now in the 21st century than it could ever have been at the dawn of the 17th.
The tragic sequence of events is triggered by the elopement of Othello and Desdemona. The fact that they are obliged to elope makes the illicit nature of their relationship in the eyes of Venice immediately clear. But in their eyes and in Shakespeare’s there’s nothing illicit about their love, to which they regard themselves, and the play regards them, as fully entitled. Undeterred by the paternal wrath and widespread disapproval they are bound to incur, Othello and Desdemona act as if a black man from Africa and an upper-class white woman from Venice have every right to fall in love, marry and be left to live happily together. They act, in other words, as if they were already free citizens of a truly civilized future, instead of prisoners of a time when racial prejudice and sexual inequality are so ingrained that even their heroic hearts are tainted by them.”
Article from the British Library exploring the themes of racism and misogyny in Shakespeare’s well-known and ahead-of-its-time play, Othello. This article discusses how much of a force racism was in Othello as well as the society and time it is set in, as well as discussing how progressive Shakespeare was in presenting the love between an interracial couple at that time.
Racism, misogyny and ‘motiveless malignity’ in Othello
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