Critical Response

Posted on: 12th May 2023


Support G.K. Hunter’s claim that “[t]he dramatic function of Iago is to reduce the white ‘reality’ of Othello to the black ‘appearance’ of his face” nicely captures the sense in which Othello’s action continually moves between concealment and revelation (258). As I will go on to demonstrate, concealment and revelation also govern the play’s sexual dynamics. [And so on.] Summarizing a Relevant Chunk As G.K. Hunter has argued, Shakespeare presents a “traditional” view of unpleasant “Moorish” qualities (“gross, disgusting, inferior” and so on). He gains his audience’s assent only to undermine that presentation with the actual appearance of Othello, a dignified and glamorous hero. Accordingly, Hunter argues, Othello appears as a man “that we have wronged.” Our initial belief in Iago’s mischaracterization of Othello makes “us” both complicit with Iago and Iago’s victims (255). Using Counter-Argument and Counter-Evidence While G.K. Hunter argues that Shakespeare presents (and then undermines) a traditionally negative view of Moors, [Scholar X] argues that Moors were not, in fact, the victims of the kind of prejudicial thinking Hunter describes (Hunter 255, X 312). Logic If Othello is, as Hunter argues, “a play which manipulates our sympathies, supposing that we will have brought to the theatre a set of careless assumptions about Moors,” (256) then it is not clear how Othello has continued to enthrall modern audiences in an age when the term “Moor” signifies virtually nothing. The continuing success of Othello suggests that Hunter’s emphasis on the prejudicial mindset of Shakespeare’s audience, and Shakespeare’s manipulation of that mindset, requires reappraisa

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How an audience in Shakespeare’s time might have understood Othello’s race and what racial difference might have signified

A critical look at the play Othello depicts it partly as a tragedy of racism. Throughout the dialog within the play, it is certain that racism was an issue at the time. In the play, most of the racism critics have been directed to Othello who is a character in which the play has been named after. Othello is a brave soldier who is from Africa but is currently the supreme commander of the Venetian army. Nearly all the characters have used a racial slur that has been aimed to insult Othello at an instance within the play. Numerous articles have been written evaluating the use of race within the play Othello. However, there have been minimal studies that have been conducted to examine whether the depiction of race during the setting of the play Othello is still the same with the modern world. On the other hand, there have been articles that have been published asserting that how people in early modern Europe attributed significance to the skin is not the same way as people perceive racial difference within the contemporary society. Therefore, this particular essay takes an in-depth study and analysis to explore and address how an audience in Shakespeare’s time might have understood Othello’s race and what racial difference signified at the time.

Basing on how Othello relates with Lago in the play, it can be asserted that during the time in which the play was written, the audience in Shakespeare’s time understood racial difference in terms of appearance and reality. G.K. Hunter claims that “Othello may be ‘the devil’ in appearance but it is the ‘fair ‘ago who gives birth to the dark realities of sin and death in the play” (282). The author goes on to explain that the relationship between Othello and Lago has been developed basing on the notions of appearance and reality. In most instances within the play, it is seen that Othello tries to be more concerned about the reality of things while on the other hand, Lago is more interested in the appearance of things. Therefore, it can be said that the audience in Shakespeare’s time evaluated Othello’s race and racial difference, in general, basing on the appearance and realities of their surroundings. This means that black people defended their race by using the realities within their surroundings to showcase that they were better and deserved to be treated like others while the whites judged everything that was done by black people basing on their appearance. Contrarily, the race is differently perceived in the contemporary society. Within the contemporary society, a racial difference emerges through isolation whereby those who perceive their race to be superior isolate themselves from the others. This was not a typical thing during the time of Shakespeare as they frequently interacted but the difference was in how they talked.

Michael Neill asserts that “Since Coleridge, arguments about race in Othello have almost invariably been entangled, more or less explicitly, with arguments about culture in which gradations of color stand for gradations of “barbarity,” “animality” and primitive emotion.”  (393). This view though different from Hunter’s perception, it also insinuates that there were varying racial perceptions during Shakespeare’s time. According to Neill, the race was being judged based on culture, and this insinuates that the audiences during Shakespeare’s time have perceived a racial difference regarding individual’s personality whether calm or barbaric, humane or animalistic and primitive. According to Neill, what the contemporary society perceives as a race might not have been perceived the same. Deducing from his description, there was no class difference among different races Shakespeare’s time as it is perceived today.

Shakespeare presents a racialist view of his characters during the time. Kwame Anthony also supports this notion asserting that “racialists believed that the racial essence accounted for more than the obvious visible characteristics-skin color, hair on the basis of which we decide whether people are, say, Asian-Americans or African-Americans. However, Hunter argues that black people might be bad in appearance but in reality they are far much better than the people of color. Appiah goes on to support his notion asserting that “For  a racialist, then, to say someone is “Negro” is not just to say that they have inherited a black skin or a curly hair: it is to say that their skin color goes along with other important inherited characteristics” (276). From Appiah’s depiction, it is evident that people during shakespeare’s time were stereotyped regarding black people. They believed that black people were evil and bad and nothing good can come from them since their evil characters had been inherited and not acquired (Orkin 170).

In conclusion, the issue of racism was there since the time of Shakespeare. However, the manner in which people during Shakespeare’s time perceived race and racial differences is not the way in which race is being viewed currently. However, there are several similarities since the color is as a result of inheritance and this was the same thing even during Shakespeare's time. However, the hatred and primitiveness that was associated with race during Shakespeare's time do not exist in the contemporary society.


Works Cited

Hunter, George Kirkpatrick. Othello and colour prejudice. Oxford University Press, 1967.

Lentricchia, Frank, and Thomas McLaughlin, eds. Critical terms for literary study. University of Chicago Press, 2010.

Neill, Michael. "Unproper Beds: Race, Adultery, and the Hideous in Othello." Shakespeare Quarterly 40.4 (1989): 383-412.

Orkin, Martin. "Othello and the" plain face" Of Racism." Shakespeare Quarterly 38.2 (1987): 166-188.

Jordan Barney

Jordan Barney

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