Race and Identity in Shakespeare's Othello

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What is the significance of the story of Noah and his sons in the Old Testament in the context of Othello?

It perpetuates the arbitrary moral color coding of blackness as sinful

What is the primary reason for the Duke's interest in Othello?

Othello's military prowess and foreign status

What is the implied meaning of the juxtaposition between 'fair' and 'black' in the Duke's statement?

A distinction between good and competent versus ugly and unattractive

What is the purpose of Iago's comparison of Othello and Desdemona to sheep?

To degrade them and suggest that racial difference is not a distinguishing marker

What is the significance of the term 'Moor' in the play?

It highlights Othello's cultural and religious difference

What is the primary source of Othello's downfall in the play?

Iago's manipulation of Othello's crippling self-consciousness of being a racial outsider

What is the primary theme discussed in the video regarding Shakespeare's play Othello?

Race and social status

What concept did not exist during Shakespeare's time?

Racism

In what year was the play Othello written?

1603

Why were African and Arabic mercenaries contracted as foreign soldiers?

To fight on behalf of sovereign states during the Ottoman-Venetian War

What is Othello's profession in the play?

Mercenary

Why is it essential to consider contemporary realities when analyzing Shakespeare's plays?

To recognize the perceptions of Moors in Renaissance England

Study Notes

  • The concept of racism as we understand it today did not exist in Shakespeare's time, and people believed that social hierarchy was determined by factors like race, gender, class, rank, and religion.
  • The play Othello was written in 1603, but it is set against the backdrop of the Ottoman-Venetian War from 1517 to 1573, during which African and Arabic mercenaries were contracted as foreign soldiers to fight on behalf of sovereign states.
  • Othello, a mercenary, is contracted by Venice to fight against the Turks in Cyprus, which was a Venetian colony until it was seized by the Ottoman Empire in 1573.
  • The play's context and the author's context are different, with Shakespeare's own Elizabethan and Jacobean England being separate from the play's setting in 14th-century Denmark or 11th-century Scotland.
  • During the Elizabethan era, the English public had limited exposure to Moors, and their understanding of them was based on second-hand representations through written or theatrical documentation.
  • The symbolic association of blackness with sin had long been rooted in the cultural consciousness, leading to negative perceptions of black people as lustful, dirty, and immoral.
  • In the context of Othello, the play begins with the character holding a position of advantage as a political and social outsider, but he is ultimately undone by his own crippling self-consciousness of being a racial outsider.
  • The Venetian state doesn't care about Othello being a black man, as his military prowess and foreign status make him a valuable asset in their fight against the Turks.
  • The Duke's interest in Othello is practical, and he prioritizes the state's territorial interests over personal grievances, as seen in Act 1, Scene 3.
  • Iago's comparison of Othello and Desdemona to sheep suggests that he sees them in the same lowly light, degrading them to be no more than animals.
  • The term "Moor" is used to refer to Othello, which highlights his cultural and religious difference, and is not always used in a derogatory way.

Explore the theme of race in Shakespeare's Othello, analyzing Othello's status as an outsider in Venetian society and how his racial self-consciousness affects his judgment. Delve into the historical context of the play and its portrayal of racism and identity.

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