Enduring Value – Othello Essay
Shakespeare’s masterpiece Othello has remained relevant beyond its original context not merely because of its universal themes of love and betrayal, but rather, due to its textual integrity, and the enduring value which is enhanced through the exploration of such issues, as marginalisation and the psychology of villainy. Shakespeare’s portrayal of Othello as being an outsider, and being “othered” by the Venetian society due to his different race, reflects traditional Elizabethan values and ethics regarding racial prejudice and inequality. These recurring issues, of social intolerance and racial bias are prevalent concerns in our modern society. Shakespeare’s expresses the nature of villainy through his antagonist, Iago, as he explores issues of betrayal and deceit. These issues, revolving around Othello’s passion, struggle and vulnerability, as an outsider, are representative of the human condition, hence making it pivotal, of why “Othello” has remained relevant in a different context.
Shakespeare positions us to view the marginalisation and dehumanisation of Othello, from various perspectives, initially through physical features, the notion of racial contempt is conveyed via Rodrigo’s, “Thick Lips”, Iago’s “Old Black Ram”, and Brabantio’s “fall in love with what she fear’d to look on”. This vilification, based on physical appearance reinforces traditional Elizabethan views, and to an extent, views held by groups in society today. Though, Othello’s physical appearance was just one factor. Othello was named “devil” by Iago, from a spiritual perspective, stereotyping those of African descent who were associated with witchcraft, this metaphor reinforces stereotypical racism, causing the reader to question, what has initiated such hatred from Iago to Othello, this allows the reader to a connect on an emotional level with Othello, as it generates empathy. Furthermore the readers perspective of Othello is conflicted due to other members of Venetian society, “your son in law is far more fair than black”, this binary opposition from the Duke, contrasts between black and white, and their symbolic values.
Othello’s “blackness” is associated with impurity and inhuman values, exemplified via “making the beast with two backs”, dehumanising Othello, and reinforcing how the Venetian society has ostracised him. Ostracism, based on spiritual backgrounds and physical appearance, is common even in a modern context, as bullying and racism is a common flaw in our society. Though, it is through these experiences, the reader can further empathise and have a better understanding of Othello’s character, and his emotions. Shakespeare also challenges us to consider Othello’s cultural background, through his foreign and exotic tales that Othello retells to members of Venetian society, this is exemplified through, “Tis true, there’s magic in the web of it”, this is not merely foreign to the Venetians, who were predominantly Religious Christians and did not believe in such black magic and witchcraft, but this was also seen as a waste of time, and an insignificant matter, as Desdemona instantly replies with, “I pray, talk me of Cassio”, followed by, “You’ll never meet a more sufficient man”.
This repetition is implied to reinforce Desdemona’s lack of knowledge, as this is clearly making Othello enraged, but furthermore it expresses the carefree and uninterested approach Desdemona is taking in regards to Othello’s spiritual story of how he gained that handkerchief. Shakespeare, though, gives Othello a significantly high role in their Venetian society, positioning him as a General in the army, though Othello is granted a superior position, he would still be in a lower hierarchy, as the Venetian society could not overlook his outer “blackness”, reinforced through “you’ll have your nephew neigh to you”, this animalistic and sexual imagery, conveys to the reader, no matter how successful Othello becomes, the Venetian society will always regard him as less of a human.
This dehumanisation is mainly the cause of the opportunistic antagonist, Iago. Shakespeare positions us to view Iago as a Machiavellian character, conveyed through the recurring issue of betrayal as Othello is blinded by his “loyalty”, this is exemplified through “A man he is of honesty and trust”, stated by Othello as he willingly accepts Iago. Shakespeare’s characterisation of Iago advances the readers hatred towards the cunning villain, as his soliloquies emphasise his devious nature, “the moor is of a free and open nature… and will as tenderly be led by the nose as asses are” this animalistic imagery communicates Iago’s lack of respect towards Othello, reflecting the nature of evil.
This concept of the nature of evil is explored by F.R Leavis as he describes Othello as “overly aware of his nobility”, expressing Leavis’ distaste towards Othello. Furthermore, the motivation behind Iago’s evil is unknown, though Shakespeare positions us to see Iago as an opportunist through, “it is the green eyed monster which doth mock”, personifying jealousy to manipulate the emotions of the gullible Othello. Overall, Shakespeare’s deeply enthralling text “Othello”, has remained relevant beyond its original context, to suit a more modern audience, due to the text’s enduring values and textual integrity, enhanced through the common issue of marginalisation which is evident in both Elizabethan and 21st Century context.