Shakespeare is one of the classic worlds play writers, who discussed various subjects of social relationships merged into historicalal contexts. His plays are an excellent example of masterpieces, which remain interesting despite the past time. The reason for such admiration and acceptance of the public is the themes and the places, which Shakespeare used as the basis of the plot. Thus, settings of his tragedies and comedies often relate to different historical situations making them samples of a real life of the past. At the same time, his talent for depicting characters allowed demonstrating difficult characters explained through various situations throughout the plot of his stories. Therefore, one of his classic masterpieces is Othello, the Moor of Venice, which discusses a story of heroism, trust, love, jaundice, and vengeance. Apparently, the name Othello has become a speaking name describing jealous males, which express rage towards their beloved ones. It is evident that the play had enormous cultural influence, which resulted in dozens of films and plays based on the original story. Its popularity might be expressed with the complex plot and deep characters, which got trapped in difficult relationship. Therefore, the paper discusses the issues of gender and race in Othello, the Moor of Venice analyzing the peculiarities of these aspects addressed by the author. Shakespeare vividly depicted a story of the past in which gender and race issues intensify the conflict of the tragedy. Therefore, the research question of the paper is What is the role of gender and race characteristics in the tragedy Othello, the Moor of Venice?
General Characteristics and the Context of the Plot
First, before addressing the issues of gender and race, the paper discusses the general characteristics and historical and social context of the play. This measure is advised because it enhances the understanding of the actions expressed by the protagonists as well as their characters. Thus, By the King's Majesty's Players. Hallowmas Day, being the first of November, a play in the banqueting house at Whitehall called The Moor of Venice was presented in 1604. The peculiar characteristic of this tragedy, as well as plenty of other artworks by Shakespeare, is that they discussed various historical periods instead of modern life. This peculiar feature enhanced the degree of romanticism, which is characterized with nostalgia for the past, symbolic characters, and intensification of emotions. One presumes that these features influenced and enormous popularity of Othello and preserved it throughout several centuries since the first presentation. Thus, scholars argue that it was one of the most popular plays in the 17th century as well as increasingly popular throughout the 18th and 19th centuries. In this respect, the critiques argued that In his rage of jealousy, fire streamed from his eyes, and the emotions of his body were so great that he shook the spangles from off his silk tunic. Therefore, it was the character of the protagonist, which grasped the publics attention and caused speechless observation of the events of the tragedy.
Furthermore, there is a need to characterize the plot and the setting of Othello, the Moor of Venice. Thus, the tragedy consists of five acts the majority of which include three scenes. The story is set mostly in Venice and Cyprus whereas the historical background of it is the war with the Ottoman Empire. It can be understood because in Act I Turkish fleet attempts invading the island of Cyprus, which forces the protagonists to move to Venice. At the same time, the setting has only partial reference to historical events since Shakespeare focused on peoples characters, unlike historical accuracy. That is why some military references serve as indicators of the time of action without involving the discussion of combats. For instance, Scene 1 in Act II involves the discussion of a segregation of the Turkish fleet and its drowning afterward without any other references to the war.
Moreover, one has to indicate that the English society at the times of Shakespeare was influenced by the Renaissance. One of the peculiar features of it was an accent on the racial homogeneity of the society, which neglected the presence of the Blacks from Africa in Western Europe. They were mostly associated with barbarians, which caused the emergence of racial stereotyping and prejudices. Regarding this perspective, Othello, depicted as the Moor was generally associated with barbaric character due to stereotyping. As a result, Shakespeares portrayal of the protagonist as the man of extreme emotions raised admiration of the public since it approved its expectations. At the same time, the influence of Renaissance caused another type of associations regarding women. Thus, women were viewed as objects of admiration but this assumption went along with the fact of their depravity and dependence from men. Therefore, the historical and social context of the tragedy suited realities of the Shakespeares time despite their temporal differences. Consequently, the public accepted the concepts of race and gender presented in the tragedy because they met its expectations. At the same time, the historical shift enhanced the popularity of the artwork because it enriched the atmosphere of the setting and the characters of the protagonists.
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The Topic of Gender
This part of the paper discusses the aspects of gender addressed by Shakespeare through the actions and characteristics of the protagonists of the tragedy. Thus, women protagonists represent the minority in the story line since there are only three of them, Desdemona, Emilia, and Bianca. Moreover, they represent different parts of the society, where Desdemona is a respectful lady and wife, Emilia is wife and servant, and Bianca is a lover. They are in minor position regarding men, who are mainly military servants, fathers, brothers and governmental representatives. That is why the social position of men in the story is higher than the one of the women. This fact goes along with the realities of Shakespeares time which indicates that there is only time shift which separates the community of the playwright from the English one. Likewise, a romantic attitude towards women is created due to the fact of their admiration by men. For instance, Cassio describes Desdemona as having sense of beauty ... the divine Desdemona. Likewise, men treat women respectively and act as gentlemen, which is indicated with Cassios greeting of Emilia welcome, mistress ... Let it not gall your patience, good Iago, That I extend my manners. Thus, one may clearly see that men in the tragedy demonstrate their dominant position in various situations. Moreover, they allow their egos to persuade their decisions, attack their internal emotions, and demolish virtuous women who are forced to become victims of political intrigues and machinations. The indicated observations are supported with the scholars opinion that they fit the expectations of the society of the 16th century. Thus, they argue that Gender roles are clearly laid out in Othello and are relatively inline with gender expectations of the late 16th century, in that men hold positions of power and there are few representations of the female sex. At the same time, the authors wisdom is indicated in the description of the fact that in real-life situations women may have power over their husbands. For instance, Iago indicates that Our general's wife is now the general, which means that Desdemona may have the impact on the decisions of her husband. Likewise, the events in the tragedy indicate that there are certain social standards meaning that despite women are in a dependent position they are untouchable. For instance, when Iago wants to terrify Emilia, who disobeyed her husbands will, with the sword, he is criticized by Gratiano, who is Desdemonas uncle. Thus, Gratiano screams Fie! Your sword upon a woman?. At the same time, Bianca has the lowest social position being a lover and a prostitute. The events of the play regarding her indicate that Cassios affair with her does not harm his reputation unlike a drunken brawl. Moreover, the climax of the tragedy, which is Desdemonas death, is a vivid description of a passive woman. The motive for this suggestion is that even though Desdemona is not guilty in cheating she gives up and refuses to resist Othellos attempts in killing her. Likewise, her passive position is supported with her discussion of the associated reasons with Emilia. Thus, Desdemona says that no one killed her and it is her fault. Scholars interpret this acceptance of death as passiveness caused by the understanding of the implication of broken social norms by women. Additionally, they stress that Othello acted in legal parlance, with diminished responsibility owing to provocation of which she is not aware. At the same time, the paradox of the situation is that Desdemona attempts to remain the right wife even when being killed by her husband. Therefore, it is evident that Shakespeare presented gender relationship of England in the 16th century masking them with the help of the changed setting and historicalal context. Consequently, the public was attracted by depicted gender representations, which had gone beyond its needs and expectations. Moreover, the topic of gender in the tragedy mixes up with the topic of the race due to the fact that Othello is the Moor.
The Topic of Race
Furthermore, the paper has to explore the racial concepts of the tragedy because they have peculiar impact on the actions of the protagonist and the reaction of the public. Thus, the predominant quantity of protagonists is the Whites whereas the central person of action is the Moor. Consequently, it is evident that the public of the Shakespeares time expected some barbaric or at least unusual behavior of the protagonist. As it was discussed earlier, such expectations were justified by the tendency for the national authenticity of the English society of the 16th century. Shakespeare depicted Othello as a war veteran and a skillful commander. This idea can be supported with the words of Duke of Venice, Valiant Othello, we must straight employ you against the general enemy Ottoman. Thus, it becomes clear that the Moor is not a servant, but an honorable person serving ones country. However, his gradual build up of rage and jealousy towards Desdemona indicates that the author tends to see him as a barbarian deeply within. This feature allows grasping the attention of the public since they see a potentially dangerous black man, who is willing to kill either his wife or her lover. Therefore, the attitudes and expression of emotions of Othello regulate the tension of the tragedy throughout the course of events.
Moreover, the gender issue potentially caused a negative attitude of the public towards Othello and intensified his malicious deed. Thus, some literary critiques of the past were disgusted by the fact that the black man can even touch a white lady. For instance, Adams wrote I could not separate the African color from the man, nor prevent that disgust and horror which filled my mind every time I saw him touch the gentle Desdemona. At the same time, modern public differentiates the image of the Moor from the association with the Blacks. Likewise, modern critiques argue that there is a danger in interpreting Othellos actions as the actions of all black males meaning that they are not violent and sexually unrestrained. At the same time, the combination of race and male domination creates an exaggerated picture of the aggressor. Such blending delivers the message of dehumanization which is already at work in the culture. Therefore, the combination of the themes of gender and race in Shakespeares tragedy Othello, the Moor of Venice serves as the intensifier of the conflict. The mastery of the playwright resulted that both of the discussed issues significantly enrich the interest of the public towards the masterpiece. Likewise, they cause the publics increased attention throughout several centuries and make this tragedy a classic piece of art.
Summarizing the presented information, the paper comes to a conclusion that gender and race topics in the tragedy significantly intensified its impact on the public. Thus, Shakespeare blended gender and race stereotypes of England of the 16th century and shifted them in the past addressing the period of war with the Ottoman Empire. However, the historical context serves as a fading setting compared to the depicted characters and social integrations. Thus, the author managed to depict male domination and female passiveness and submission to the social norms throughout the play. The climax of the tragedy indicates that women should obey men even when they die, which went along with social norms of the 16th century. Likewise, Shakespeare met the expectations of the public by means of describing the Moor, who occasionally becomes violent regarding his wife. Such course of events supports social presumptions of those times associating the Blacks with barbarians and uncivilized people. Furthermore, the combination of gender and race issues served as the intensifier of the conflict of the tragedy. As a result, this feature caused an increased attention of the public to this artwork. Consequently, Shakespeares mastery of blending historical plot, gender and race issues resulted in the evolvement of the play, which has been popular throughout the ages.