Discuss the presentation of race, gender and class in Act 1 of Othello Essay

Race, gender and class are three of the most important criteria that individuals are judged by in Othello. In the opening pages of Othello we hear the first of many racist slurs made by Iago in relation towards Othello, “his Moorship’s Ancient.” However the audience does not know who is being referred to when Iago says the “moor.” We do know nevertheless that Iago and Roderigo have a mutual dislike for the “moor.” Both characters are used by Shakespeare to paint an unflattering portrait of Othello.

In line 67 we see Othello’s race and physical characteristics the subject of Roderigo’s prejudice. “What a full fortune does the thick-lips owe if he can carry’t thus!” Once both have awakened Brabantio, Iago uses animal imagery to convey that Othello is involved with the senator’s daughter, Desdemona. He refers to Othello as the “black ram” who has “robbed” Brabantio’s only daughter, to rally supporters to his cause. Iago does not believe that the marriage of Othello and Desdemona will stand the test of time; on the other hand he could be saying this to Roderigo to reassure him that he is still in with a chance of wooing Desdemona. Thus Iago once again is looking out for his best interests, as Roderigo will keep paying him money if he still believes he can marry Desdemona. Iago and Roderigo seem to perceive the view that Othello is of a lower class as he is of a different ethnic origin and therefore inferior.

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Social classes were a very important part of Venetian society and Othello represents this very well. Social class is often represented by the way characters address each other. For example when a lower class person such as Iago address a senator he must speak differently to someone of equal or lower class than himself. He will address them as thou instead of you. Iago is driven by class and a thirst to prove himself worthy. He feels that as Othello is of a different race that he is weaker and of a lower status even though Othello is a General.

He also believes that Othello cannot be civilised and consumed in the art of war, calling him a Barbarian. In Scene 1 when Iago and Roderigo awaken Brabantio, there is a fluctuation in class. Roderigo is very respectful as he would like to marry Desdemona and therefore must impress her father to stand a chance. He informs Brabantio that Othello has “robbed” his daughter from him. Once Brabantio realises this is true his tone towards the pair transforms. He almost becomes desperate begging to know where he could find his daughter.

“Call up my brother – O would you had had her!

Some one way, some another. Do you know

Where we may apprehend her and the Moor?”

Even Brabantio is lowered to the standards of Iago referring to Othello as the “moor”. Throughout the play Iago manipulates most characters to a lower standard from what they started as at the beginning of the play.

In many Shakespearean plays and around the Jacobean and Elizabethan eras, women were seen to be mild and submissive. However the first women we are presented with in Othello is Desdemona. She is seen to be a powerful woman with her own mind and very independent, I feel this is because she had deceived her father to marry Othello without his consent. However women generally don’t seem to be individuals, each are defined in terms of her male partner. Women are a possession of a man throughout their life, whether she is her father’s daughter or her husband’s wife. Brabantio is very over protective of Desdemona and na�ve of his views of her. He refers to her as a possession that has been stolen from him. I think that in Othello, women are represented in a very stereotypical way, which is in-keeping with typical women of that era.


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