Haply for I am Black": The Issue of Race in Othello

Essay by kiyaHigh School, 12th grade May 2004

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Othello's race does not greatly impact his downfall in the play. He maintains that while Shakespeare touches upon the issue of race, the cause of Othello's demise lies elsewhere.1 However, the implications of race in the play directly lead to its tragic ending; it is this issue that impels the characters to set the tragedy in motion. Brabantio would agree to the union of Othello and Desdemona if it were not for Othello's blackness. Roderigo could never be motivated to pursue Desdemona were it not for his belief that their relationship is unnatural. By far the most significant racism is Othello's own, racism that Iago brings to the surface by playing upon Othello's racial insecurities. Finally, it is racism that serves as Iago's primary cause in his destruction of Othello.

Brabantio is very selective about suitors for Desdemona. When Roderigo comes to his window, Brabantio tells him, "The worser welcome! / ...

In honest plainness thou hast heard me say / My daughter is not for thee" (1.1.92-95).2 Although Roderigo is a wealthy native Venetian, in Brabantio's eyes he is not worthy of Desdemona.. it seems that brabantio could approve of othello; he holds a high position as the general of the army, he is born of a noble background, and he has the respect of the State. In addition, Brabantio has an affinity for Othello, as he explains, "[he] loved [Othello]; oft invited [him]; / Still questioned [him] the story of [his] life" (1.3.128-29). There is no reason for Brabantio to disapprove of Desdemona's union with Othello--apart from his race.

Yet Brabantio begins to take Roderigo seriously only when he informs him, in racist fashion, that Desdemona has fallen "To the gross clasps of a lascivious Moor" (1.1.123). he finds the thought of his daughter eloping with a...