Shakespeare’s Condemnation of Prejudice in Othello
American history is a cornucopia of racial tension, beginning with the slave trade and spanning the centuries to the Ku Klux Klan and to the days of Martin Luther King. There is evidence that racial prejudice was just as prevalent in sixteenth century England as in modern day America. Othello can be seen as Shakespeare’s condemnation of racial prejudice.
The character of Iago uses racial stereotypes both to disparage Othello and to plant the seeds of jealousy in him. Iago calls to Brabantio "an old black ram / is tupping your white ewe." (I,i,96-7) He uses this image to enrage the old man and to denigrate Othello. Later in the scene, Iago refers to Othello as a "Barbary horse," indicating his North African heritage and at the same time conveying a sense of inferiority. (I,i,124) He continues this insulting metaphor by referring to Othello and Desdemona’s future progeny as "gennets," a term for Spanish horses. (I,i,126) This opening scene sets the stage for not only Iago’s hatred of Othello, but for his prejudice against him. In his consolation of Roderigo, Iago calls Othello "an / erring barbarian" whom Desdemona will leave when she is tired of him. (I,iii,377-8) Again to Roderigo, Iago queries "what delight shall" Desdemona "have to look upon the devil?" (II,i,258) While drinking with the men of the watch in Cyprus, Iago raises a toast "to the health of black Othello." (II,iii,30) These remarks eventually are turned on Othello himself as Iago suggests that Desdemona would not love a Moor. Iago claims that all Venetian women are prone to infidelity in his speech:
I know our country disposition well:
In Venice they do let heaven see the pranks
They dare not show their husbands; their best conscience
Is not to leave’t undone, but keep’t unknown. (III,iii,229-32)
Iago continues to insinuate that Othello’s race may be a barrier to Desdemona’s love. He suggests that since Othello is not "of her own clime, complexion and degree" perhaps she "may fall to match" Othello "with her country forms / and happily repent." (III,iii,263, 270-1)
The men of the Sagittary also make reference to Othello’s...