The following academic paper highlights the up-to-date issues and questions of Othello Prejudice. This sample provides just some ideas on how this topic can be analyzed and discussed.
Although Shakespeare does display the unusual trait of empathy towards society’s ‘outcasts’; most of society at that time was plagued by ‘social prejudice’. However, prejudice in itself is a loose term for it simply refers to bigotry. Thus, it provides a rather extensive category to examine, for instance, in ‘Othello’ racism is the most prevalent form of prejudice, yet misogyny and intellectual prejudice is also apparent.
Instead, it’s the ‘social’ aspect of the phrase that narrows the focus down a little as now it is apparent that the prejudice is not confined to any particular person, the problem being of course, that the only way for Shakespeare to portray such prejudices is through the medium of individuals. Those with a higher status within society are generally perceived to be those who are the most cautious with their views, yet Brabantio demonstrates no notion of restraint when Othello ‘enchants’ Desdemona and marries her.
In fact, Brabantio’s prejudices are conveyed in quite a brazen and passionate manner as he contrasts the “thief” of Othello with the “delicate youth” of Desdemona. Through this contrasting imagery, Shakespeare highlights that Brabantio believes Othello to be at fault and given rational mind, Desdemona would never have opted for marriage. This is quite an emphatic demonstration of racism, as Brabantio clearly believes that Othello stole Desdemona as opposed to Desdemona mutually agreeing to the marriage, a concept that is further emphasised by the constant references to the “chains of magic” that were used be Othello to capture his victim.
In Shakespearian times, it was feared that Africans held the power of black magic and had the ability to manipulate the world around them, therefore Shakespeare here just utilises a common stereotype to engage the audience (at that time) with Brabantio’s viewpoint. Brabantio even goes as far as labelling Othello as an “abuser of the world” thus implicating him with crimes beyond what he has apparently committed towards his daughter.
This perception is of course, completely irrational and perhaps fuelled slightly by the abruptness of the marriage, although that is not really an excuse given the fact that Brabantio, “loved me [Othello], oft invited me”, which shows that Brabantio has no qualms with Othello’s personality, meaning that the only true reasoning behind his abhorrence towards the marriage is the colour of Othello’s skin.
However, Brabantio takes the racism one step beyond the realms of stereotypical racism, he actually denounces Othello’s status in full: “Of such a thing as thou” Brabantio goes from despising the values that Othello’s skin colour stands for, to not even perceiving Othello as human. Whilst Desdemona is placed on a pedestal as a “maid so tender, fair, and happy”, Othello is no longer recognised as being in the same world as Desdemona.
Instead, by being dehumanised, Othello is released of all the characteristics present in a human and thus, capable of even greater evil. This of course, suits Brabantio’s bigoted view of Othello and provides Brabantio with an excuse to further condemn the sham of a marriage and disregard it as the iniquitous works of a sub-human being as opposed to a human capable of caring for his daughter. Shakespeare further embellishes this already extreme prejudice by the tone of Brabantio.
The contrast between the calm and measured style of Othello and the angry hysterics of Brabantio is striking, and effectively portrays Othello as the rational and approachable character, whilst highlighting the lunacy that can so often accompany prejudice through the depiction of Brabantio and his frenzied speech. Christopher Wilson wrote how the use of commas in fact serves to increase the pace of Brabantio’s speech and thus, intensify the passion and anger that guides him through his thought processes. “I therefore apprehend and do attach thee… ”
Brabantio has now taken it upon himself to act as the judge and the jury. Here the ‘social’ aspect of ‘social prejudice’ is being shown as it could be construed as a subtle dig by Shakespeare towards how society’s governed by the prejudice. Considering the rational judgement of the Duke later though, this seems rather unlikely. Instead, Shakespeare could merely be emphasising how these views are unfortunately representative of society as a whole at that time, and thus, the prejudice becomes a ‘social prejudice’ as opposed to just the execrable bigotry of an individual.
To vouch this is no proof” The Duke, who is the true figure of authority, puts Brabantio in his place by establishing the need for proof. This shows the Duke as an impartial and deliberative man, someone who is not swayed by emotional propaganda, but bases his views on the facts that are put in front of him. Consequently, he is able to detach himself from the emotional mania that is fuelled by Brabantio and delivers a verdict that is free of prejudice (free of his own prejudice and the prejudice that has been encouraged by other characters).
The fact that the Duke is the figure of authority could also be argued as demonstrating the lack of ‘social prejudice’ for in the end, society (epitomised by the Duke) acts in a rational and composed manner, proving that the prejudices of the individual is ultimately futile. In addition to all this, there is another form of prejudice present in the scene besides that of racism. Misogyny is highlighted by the absence of a woman’s voice, in other words, the absence of Desdemona.
It is perhaps little surprise to find that the person who does eventually ask for a woman’s input is that of the accused, the man who is the actual victim of prejudice in Othello. “I do beseech you send for the lady to the Sagittary”, up until this point, the notion of asking for Desdemona’s version of events has not even been considered. This is perhaps indicative of the role of women in society back then, where they were secondary to men and thus, were not considered to be useful when dealing with issues such as this one, despite being involved.
This is Shakespeare depicting prejudice subtly, for nothing is actually said that is specifically derogatory towards women, but the absence of women does highlight the arrogance of men in society as well as showing that the most objective people were often the victims of prejudice themselves, like Othello in this instance. “‘Tis such another fitchew! Marry a perfumed one. ” Another prejudice is present here as Bianca is regarded with contempt by Cassio, the very person who she sleeps with. Prostitutes have always had a lower status in society for the sordid lives that they lead.
No one in ‘Othello’ appears to be quite as poorly regarded as Bianca as highlighted by the fact that even Emilia berates Bianca. Bianca’s wish appears to be to marry Cassio, yet he does not even consider the possibility. Furthermore, Cassio refers to Bianca as a “fitchew”, which conjures up the image of a polecat, which is widely known for its rank odour and lechery. In addition to this, Cassio states how Bianca is “haunting” him, something which creates the unsavoury image of a stalker and compliments the bestial image of a “fitchew”.
This is clearly a blatant use of hyperbole on Cassio’s part, although it is successful in emphasising the derision that Bianca is regarded with, and thus accentuating the prejudice in society towards prostitutes. Unfortunately, this sort of prejudice has not improved by much throughout the years, although a modern audience is more likely to sympathise with Bianca than a Shakespearian audience. The most flagrant display of prejudices, somewhat ironically, comes from the subtlety of Iago’s persuasive approach.
The purveyor of the injustice in the play is unsurprisingly the centre of the prejudice too, yet unlike Brabantio, Cassio or the others, he usually demonstrates this in a far more subtle way (apart from when referring to Othello as a “barbary horse” and other equally detestable images that were created to convince Brabantio of Othello’s guilt). “I would not have your free and noble nature out of self-bounty, be abused. ” Although not a direct indication of prejudice as it as an example of Iago flattering Othello, it still shows the contempt with which Iago regards Othello.
Previously, Iago had alluded to Othello as “free and open”, in other words, gullible. Yet, he now uses it to flatter him and it allows him to lead on and remind Othello of his foreign heritage (“I know our country disposition well”. ) Othello obviously believes that Iago is doing this in his best interests, yet all these references have the undertones of prejudice. They all reflect what Iago had earlier said about Othello, albeit in a different context, and in my view, they thus represent a less blatant form of racism.
Of course, the clearest forms of prejudice come when Iago confronts Brabantio about the truth; however, Shakespeare draws many parallels in what Iago says in that encounter and what he now says to Othello (but in a more subtle way). The fact that Othello begins to speak in a similar fashion to Iago and occasionally resorts to bestial imagery shows that Iago’s prejudice is slightly contagious and could serve as a plague to ‘society’. Furthermore, Iago further displays prejudice views in his misogynistic attitude, which is especially displayed in his treatment of Emilia.
To have a foolish wife” is a hurtful enough comment to say in the privacy of the home, but to proclaim it in front of a small crowd is even more humiliating for Emilia. This unashamed display of deprecation is indicative of misogynistic views that Iago seemingly holds. Some critics actually support this interpretation as Iago is perceived by some in the literary community, to in fact be gay. There is no direct evidence to support this idea, but when, for example, Iago describes his dream about Cassio and Desdemona, there is some quite explicit images about Cassio, which perhaps suggest homosexual undertones.
The greatest victim in the play is not Othello, but Desdemona. After all, she is the victim of a maliciously devious plot from Iago to destroy her life and the man she holds dearest to her. If anyone could be excused for being prejudice, it is arguably Desdemona. However, even when her trust has been betrayed and she has been murdered by her own husband, she still refuses to implicate Othello in the crime: “Commend me to my kind lord”. She is offered the opportunity to ensure that justice is served, but such is the compassion and love of her heart, she instead absolves him of his crimes.
Of course, in reality such purity is an unrealistic expectation in life for no one can be that free of prejudice as to be able to forgive a person for such a large act of betrayal. Some critics have even interpreted this in a religious fashion by comparing Desdemona to Jesus as in death, Jesus forgives mankind for its sins, just as in death, Desdemona forgives Othello of his sins. Jesus is the only figure comparable to Desdemona for he too consistently acts in a caring manner, yet it could be argued that by preaching a doctrine that condemns sinners to hell, he is in effect, guilty of some form of prejudice.
Thus, although I find it a little tenuous, it could be construed that Desdemona epitomises purity in its absolute form, in its most religiously clean form (her only act of lying, which admittedly is a sin, is to cleanse the soul of another through forgiveness). However, this interpretation also highlights the uniqueness of Desdemona’s character. Due to her unparalleled lack of prejudice, Desdemona cannot be perceived as representing ‘social prejudices’ but instead acting as a beacon against it.
She is clearly an exception to society rather than the norm in society and by effectively symbolising the exact opposite of ‘social prejudices’, she highlights the fact that ‘social prejudice’ is in fact present. Overall, there is little doubting that prejudice is rife in ‘Othello’ and it is demonstrated by the language of several characters (Brabantio when speaking to Othello, Cassio when speaking about Bianca and Iago about almost every other character in the play).
The ‘social’ aspect of these prejudices is further emphasised by the use of common stereotypes at that time as well as the prevalence of prejudice in characters and also, the use of Brabantio’s status in society to show that the tendency of those in power to be driven by their attitudes. However, through the depiction of the Duke’s calm resolve, the union of two races, and also Desdemona’s incredible purity, Shakespeare does highlight that society is not solely governed by prejudice and also shows that it is possible for individuals to hold rational views separate from that of ‘social prejudices’.