Racism is not a new concept. Regardless of how far we believe we’ve come from it, it is still something that some people have to deal with today. Many people probably wouldn’t think that it was an issue in Shakespeare’s lifetime, but as he shows us in ‘Othello’, it was apparently an issue in those times as well. While Othello was in the Venetian Army that doesn’t mean he was easily accepted. He is of a different race and has a different cultural background than the army that surrounds him.
Anyone that’s experienced a culture different from their own can understand how he might have felt. Even when he wins the heart of the young and impressionable Desdemona through his stories of adventure and war, he is accused of using magic spells and charms to make her fall for him. Perhaps if he was of Venetian descent this would not have been the case. If Othello was Venetian, it’s easy to imagine that he would be one of the most well respected and well known citizens, not to mention one of the most powerful in the state.
Because he is not, however, he is simply tolerated and used for what he is good for; fighting, as seen through the senate sending multiple requests for him when Cyprus was in danger of attacks from the Turks. While he is a celebrated military leader, he is not necessarily considered an equal to those in the hierarchy. He is, however, trusted enough to be put in charge of Cyprus. Not everyone in the Venetian state believed Othello below them, or looked at him with judgmental eyes.
His wife, Desdemona, certainly didn’t. She was apparently drawn to him because of the fact that he was different, and he seemed to have a way with words. He could captivate the people that considered him a peer with his stories and the way he strung the words that built them together. This seemed to also be the elements that create a friendship between Othello and Brabanzio. It’s odd to think about race being an issue as far back as when this play was written.
It’s sad that because of his race, which pushed him into an outsider position, he was so easily manipulated by Iago. Maybe if Othello was a born and raised Venetian he would have been better connected and maybe have seen just how twisted of a person Iago truly was. Maybe he would have been given the true amount of respect and admiration that he deserved as a brave and valiant solider. Then again, sometimes success can put an even greater bounty on some one’s head. Perhaps as we saw last week in ‘Oedipus’, this was just Othello’s fate.