How do you respond to the presentation of racial and sexual issues in Othello in Act I scene III? Essay

Othello is a play by Shakespeare which is said to be written in the first quarto of 1622, according to William Rolfe. There are several ideas explored through the play: Sex and violence, Love and Hate, Honour and Dishonesty, Loyalty and Betrayal, Trust and Suspicion. There are also many themes in this play, some of these are: pride, jealousy and racism. However the main theme throughout the play is the love between Othello and Desdemona. William Rolfe in his book of A life of William Shakespeare explains that stokes were written in the quarto of 1622, the oath ‘S’ blood while this is omitted in folio.

In 1622, Othello was first put into print by Thomas Walkley which was the last edition of single play before collected edition. Othello was Shakespeare’s best plays during the seventeenth century. Othello had made the transition from stage to film over twenty times and from stage to TV at least 5 times. The most recent adaptation was by Laurence Fishborne and Kenneth Brannagh, which was open in 1995. Othello was set at the end of the sixteenth century in the backdrop of wars between Venice and Turkey.Venice was the opening scene in both The Merchant of Venice and Othello, to set the theme of thriving commercial society in which inhabitants pursue luxury and see world in Mercantile terms. Venice has a duke and council of Senators but no king therefore the final authority is customary and there is a written law. Shakespeare shows us through the Duke in Othello that laws can be twisted by political leaders.

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He is willing to hear Brabantio’s complaint, but when he hears it is about Othello, who is essential to the interests of the state, he twists the law on the Moor’s behalf.For the last four acts Shakespeare moves the characters to the relative remote location of Cyprus. The characters move from effects of civil society as a consequence of shift from Venice to Mediterranean Island. In Act IV Scene I, Othello strikes Desdemona, and Lodovico says ‘this would not be believ’d in Venice’. Shakespeare moves the characters to Cyprus so he could underscore Othello’s immaturity for while Moor is an outstanding military leader, he is a poor administrator. Philip Brockbank says that Venice is a good background for money ‘where money can be made by ruthless exploitation..

.Venice supplies good theatrical model for the acquisitive society, devoted to the sanctities of Gold..

. ‘ This shows that it is the perfect setting for greed. Greed in Othello is displayed through Iago as he has the greed for professional jealousy; Cassio gets the promotion he wants. He is also jealous of ‘daily beauty’ in the moor’s life so he is greedy for her ‘beauty’.

Othello is greedy as he wants to have COMPLETE control over her but he should not use his masculinity towards his wife like the ‘absolutist demands’.Iago reasserts Othello’s masculinity and makes him aware of his masculine powers. However Brockbank says that Venice is a society where people come away and say they are not going to that.

I think that this is true because it is ‘devoted to the sanctities of gold’ therefore no one should be greedy. However this is not what happens when Othello was set in Venice, perhaps Shakespeare had set part of the play in Venice to make a point that it doesn’t matter where you are or the atmosphere there is, the feelings will not change.Othello is greedy but he will continue throughout the whole play. The main source for Othello was The Hecatommithi which was written by Cinthio, an Italian author.

A minor source was Pliny the elder’s Naturalis Historia, (Latin) was translated in 1601 by Philemon Hollod. The descriptions of the conquest in Act I Scene iii may have come from Pliny’s work. We are presented with a picture of powerful womanhood; Desdemona has asserted her independence by choosing her own husband.

Brabantio refers to Desdemona as she is his possession “O heaven, how she got out?…

Fathers from hence trust not your daughters’ minds” This shows that he thinks daughters should not be given independence. This is sexist in today’s society as it shows that Desdemona is treated as an object who was expected to be Brabantio’s possession, this is reinforced again in Act I scene ii “Where hast thou stowed my daughter? ” and again in Act I scene iii where she is “stolen from me”. In Act I Scene I he says to Roderigo that “my daughter is not for thee”, so the audience knows that he looks upon his offspring as his possession.Brabantio assumes that daughters cannot make sensible decisions “corrupted” and “trust not your daughters”.

Throughout this scene Brabantio refuses to believe that Desdemona could be “half the wooer”, however when she speaks to Brabantio he realises that she saw “Othello’s visage in his mind”. She explains how she is “bound” to her father for her “life and education” and therefore she is her daughter, but “Here’s my husband” and “Due to the Moor my Lord”, this shows that she is now Othello’s possession.This relationship between Othello and Desdemona is the locus of conflict in the play, as it is about opposition and power. Desdemona leaves her father to go to Othello her “Lord” which reinforces the idea of her independence. Lawrence Danson believes “Masculine anxiety about female self possession is one result of tragic protagonist, a general desire for knowledge” he thinks that this power cannot be used to control a wife like the “absolutist demands”. I personally agree to this opinion as it is wrong for an “absolutist” to have knowledge and control over their wife.

A wife should be trusted and given freedom and it is wrong to be controlled by their husbands. Desdemona and Othello’s relationship is different from other relationships as both these characters are equal in their relationship, therefore there is no dissatisfaction with the two characters, and Iago leads this marriage to a breakdown. Marriage has made Emilia cynical about male-female relationships; she thinks she is just “food” for Iago as she is acceptable until she disobeys him and refuses to be silent and is then called a “Villainous whore”.This shows that in this relationship all the power is given to Iago and therefore she is unhappy. In comparison to Othello and Desdemona’s relationship where there is no dissatisfaction “That there be woman who abuse their husband/in such gross kind? ” Iago believes from the start that the relationship between Othello and Desdemona will not last, he is willing to put money on it “It cannot be that/Desdemona should long continue her love to the/ Moor -Put money in thy purse-nor he is to her”. It is clear that he thinks that Desdemona’s love for Othello is ‘fleeting’.It can be argued that Iago has fear that Desdemona has power and that Othello has married without his knowledge. Iago cannot bear the fact that a female can exert power and hates Othello for giving in to feminine emotions, like love “Whip me such honest knaves! ” he hates the idea that Desdemona has got power “general’s wife is now the general” Iago hatred of Othello leads him to use his masculine power in an overbearing way.

Act IV and V can be seen as an attempt from Othello to reassert his power over her.This reinforces the idea of patriarchy. Iago has reminded Othello about patriarchy and what expectations of wives are and therefore Othello uses violence, he goes to the extreme and murders her. However the masculine hierarchy has lost Desdemona and her “Valiant” husband.

Othello’s tragedy is the love which could have existed but was destroyed by Iago. Shakespeare gives women intelligence and their actions are justified, for example when Emilia slaps Iago, she slaps because she finds out what the true purpose was of the handkerchief for him.The women behave honourably and are vindicated unlike the men. Emilia is a loyal wife who tries to please her husband (gives Desdemona’s handkerchief to Iago), she shows that she is a faithful character to her husband but not too faithful as she also stops his evil plans.

Emilia speaks in a vulgar and practical tone, she is realistic. This is so that the audience can understand the irony through the use of ‘My husband! ‘ she is so down to earth and practical we understand that she is shocked that Iago is her husband and lies.Emilia is more truthful about male female relationships than Desdemona “tis not a year or two shows us a man/they are all but stomachs, and we all but food: /They eat us hungerly, and when they are full/They belch us”. Emilia’s rule becomes important in the second half of the play as she becomes an energetic defender; she voices the audience’s outrage at the treatment that Desdemona receives.

Emilia is wise as she becomes the voice of truth and stops the evil process of Iago. As a result of this the audience, Elizabethan audience would agree with her judgements of Iago ‘may his pernicious soul/Rot half a grain a day! (Act IV, Scene II). Shakespeare makes her speak against Iago at the last minute possibly so the audience knows that she only speaks against him when it is totally necessary.An Elizabethan audience would agree with her reasons of going against Iago. Bianca however is always in a vulnerable position throughout the play however she shares some of Othello’s and Desdemona’s qualities.

Her relationship with Cassio is less idealistic than their relationship but she is an affectionate and a genuine partner. Bianca is the least powerful out of the whole female characters but ironically she is the only female survivor.Desdemona is the most powerful female character in the play but she has contradictory positions, she is ‘half the wooer’ and she is the passive prey as she is abused by Brabantio, Roderigo, Iago and Othello. We can say that this play shows how a woman’s reputation can be destroyed by men.

Desdemona is different to the other characters because she is more independent as she leaves her father to get married to Othello. Black characters in Elizabethan drama were usually villains therefore the appearance of a noble Moor must mean something different.Some critics say that Shakespeare presents a black hero to show the idea of difference and tell society to not “judge a book by its cover”. Othello is accepted as a distinguished member in Venetian society as this suggests that the state is ‘colour blind’ when foreigners have a useful role to play for them. However Iago, Roderigo, Brabantio are terribly racist to Othello with the reference ‘sooty bosom’ ‘thicklips’ and ‘old black ram’ which suggests that he practices witchcraft to subdue a maiden, this constructs a negative stereotype of a noble hero.The Othello they describe does exist, but he appears in this perspective when he is persecuted by Iago and there is sudden change of language: “If there be cords or knives Poison, or fire, or suffocating or streams” Despite this, he is also presented as a noble character than any of the others in the play ‘And of the cannibals that each other eat’. Iago destroys the black white harmony there is in society and makes Othello behave in a way that is unnatural for him but is expected from him as a black character in an Elizabethan drama.

The black stereotype is created through Iago’s racist descriptions ‘an old black ram is tupping your white ewe’. Iago’s imagery is cruder than Brabantio, Roderigo with his reference to ‘an old black ram’ ‘a barbary horse’ and ‘the beast with two backs’. Stephen Greenblatt’s intro to Othello in Norton Shakespeare says that it doesn’t matter what skin you are what matters is the ‘existential situation of being an outsider scorned by society’s insiders’ I agree to this as well, I think that colour should not play a big part in this play but to an Elizabethan audience it really mattered.Iago is jealous of Othello because of his ‘daily beauty’ in the moor’s life. His motives for destroying Othello’s happiness are by negative impulses and his sexual jealousy. Othello has many racial issues and sexual issues in this play which are extreme in today’s society and no one would even consider thinking some of the things that Iago’s said ‘old black ram’.


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