Race in Othello and Theme of Love
Shakespeare’s Othello is a Moor, a black man –indeed, one of the first black heroes in English literature. Shakespeare’s Othello addresses interracial marriage, an aspect which most characters are against. However, Othello and Desdemona are happily in love. Othello commands a valuable power and influence position in the Veteran society since he is a brave soldier. In the start of the play, Othello is comfortable and experiences no racial discrimination. However, Iago succeeds in convincing Othello together with Desdemona that racism exists. Iago manipulates Othello’s mind when he harbours racists- fueled resentment. In the end of the play, people start using Othello’s black skin in condemning his erratic behaviour. The aim of this analytical essay is examining race in Shakespeare’s Othello in relation to the theme of love.
In Shakespeare’s Othello, Brabantio, the father of Desdemona, is undoubtedly unhappy with her daughters love choice, due to Othello’s race. It is ironical how Brabantio admires Othello’s bravery, but when it comes to him loving Desdemona, he feels that Othello is not the right suitor to love her daughter. To show his hatred on Othello as a black man, Brabantio holds that Othello must have used trickery to win Desdemona; “O thou damned thief, where hast thou stowed my daughter?” (Act 1, Scene ii. Line 62). Also, Brabantio proceeds to state that black men must not marry with the whites. Racial bias is evidently witnessed in him when he further refers Othello as “more fair than black”. Brabantio is reckless in his language and considers the black colour as a negative race that is unworthy and backward to be associated with his family. Othello’s race turns out to be a significant issue when it comes to love, and Brabantio’s family rejects him openly due to the African nature and race he has.
Iago reveals racial ideas to Othello in an attempt to compromise his non-discriminative behaviour. In this context, Iago uses Othello’s race to ridicule and belittle him by calling him “thick lips”. Such insecurities surrounding Othello black colour makes him believe that Desdemona, his wife is having an affair with Casio. Due to his black race, Othello undermines himself and feels unworthy of Desdemona’s attention. Reluctantly, Othello believed Iago but finally gets convinced of Desdemona’s betrayal. The love between Desdemona and Othello now turns as a vehicle of destruction. There is no doubt Iago is focused on ruining the relationship between Othello and Desdemona. In the play, Iago keeps on following Othello. However, he does not follow Othello out of duty, but purely because he is focused on destroying the loving relationship he has with Desdemona. As a result of their romantic love and fights from external forces, Desdemona severs from her family, and Othello kills her.
Also, the society believes that black men contaminate white women when they have a sexual affair. Iago feels that Othello does not match Desdemona’s class and that Desdemona is not Othello’s perfect match since this was not natural and was “against nature itself”. The society considered the blacks are animalistic and more backwards in nature. Brabantio believes that Othello was primitive whose bread could not be accepted in his family and the society at large. In his insecurity, Othello desired to conform to the whites’ nature; and this made the society believe that he had soiled Desdemona. As a result, Othello is now considered an enemy to the society and Brabantio does not welcome him into his house. It is here where Othello understands that he is not fully accepted and treated equally to other Veterans. The fact that Brabantio stereotyped the blacks, he could not have given Othello consent to marry her daughter even if he requested the permission.
Additionally, the view of love by the society is warped by racial stereotypes. Othello’s relationship with Desdemona has been distorted in various instances in the play. The fact that the society views this love as unnatural, they go ahead to label sexual relationship between Othello and Desdemona as an act of rape. All black men are proclaimed to be rapists, and that white women have no sexual desires. However, Desdemona loves Othello and is seen to differ from the Brabantio’s perception when she says, “I did love the Moor to live with him’ (Act 1, Scene iii, Line 249). However, Brabantio considers the Moor as a member of the disposed race of the time period. Brabantio’s hatred to Othello due to his black race makes him disapprove Desdemona’s decision to fall in love with Othello. Further, Brabantio affirms that Desdemona deserves to be loved and married to a high born white Veteran man and not a black Moor like Othello.
Further, the atmosphere of racism is displayed in Shakespeare’s Othello when Brabantio confronts Othello for marrying Desdemona. To Brabantio, this was a taboo and even forced Othello to show him where Desdemona was. On discovery that Desdemona married Othello willingly, Brabantio was full of fury and could not stand this anymore. He even was unable to believe that Desdemona was on her senses when accepting to fall in love with a black man, and feels that Othello must have used witchcraft on her daughter. Brabantio thinks that Desdemona is a noble white woman who has nothing to gain from falling in love and getting married to backward, cursed, and uneducated black African, Othello. This is very ironical of Brabantio calling Othello uneducated and yet he respected him as a Veteran leader in the military. Associating love with witchcraft simply because Desdemona marries a black man shows how Brabantio is bound to racial thoughts and barbaric ideas to the extent of ruining this love.
In the play, Iago tells Brabantio to “arise and watch an old black man top his white ewe”. Further, Othello is termed as a devil, and the society calls Brabantio to awake the sleeping white men with a bell before Othello succeeds in falling in love with Desdemona. Brabantio openly states that the presence of Blacks in England was threatening their girls, this referred to Othello. Other than leadership position, Brabantio felt that Othello deserved nothing more in the Veteran society and that he had no right to even interact with white girls as far as love affairs were concerned. When Othello marries Desdemona, Brabantio discards this marriage and refers Othello as a black man strapped by lust and cruelty. Also, he says that Othello’s skin colour makes him look ugly and exactly like devils cousin.
In conclusion, Shakespeare’s Othello theme of race greatly relates to the theme of love throughout the play. Othello is radicalised as a black man who does not deserve to love Desdemona. The issue of race makes Brabantio uncomfortable with her daughter marrying a black man and feels that Othello is not worth loving the girl. Iago also is focused on ensuring that the love relationship between Othello and Desdemona fails. Further, the society has racial stereotypes on the blacks and views them as contaminated and unworthy to love the white women. The issue of race in relationship to the theme of love is significantly manifested in Othello, Brabantio, Desdemona, and Iago as the main characters.
William Shakespeare, Othello, ed. Gerald Eades Bentley (Ney York: Penguin, 1958). p.1-217