Concerning Race

Is race really an issue in Othello?

1. Find all the examples you can concerning race in the play.

2. Split them amongst the group and consider their impact. Annotate and analyse the text surrounding.

3. Consider a response in light of this HMMM….

Why are there inconsistancies in Othello’s treatment due to his race? Why are characters so racist and demeaning behind his back, but friendly to his face?

4. Read the article on Different Types of Racism

5. Choose 1 example in the text where the characters show racial bias or prejudice towards Othello.

6. Decide which “type” of racism is going on in the text

7. Write 1 or 2 paragraphs comparing the type of racism with the incident in the text.

Examples from the text:


1.3.70 – “sooty”

1.3.288 – “more fair than black”

“old black ram”

1.4.89-90 “is tupping your white ewe”

1.1.92 – “devil’

1.1.67 &112 – “thick lips” & “barbary horse”


Where Do They Stand?: Perspectives on Othello’s Marriage

1. Read aloud 1.3.56 – 448

First Senator

1. examine your characters’ speeches to discern attitudes towards Othello and his marriage to Desdemona.  Othello should examine his feelings about himself and his relationship with his wife. Each student must find one to three lines to illustrate his or her character’s attitudes. Lines do not have to come from one speech but should sound as though they fit together.

2. Choose an action (frozen) that epitomizes your characters feelings towards Othello and his actions to date

3. With Othello in the center of the picture we will perform the action.

4. Review the frieze we have created and the corresponding lines. Do you agree with the interpretation?


Choose one of the characters from 1.3 (not the one you played). Write a  response that examines the characters thoughts, feelings and opinions towards Othello and his marriage to Desdemona. You will (of course!) refer to the text. Additionally, examine the frieze we created and consider how your peer has portrayed these thoughts etc.

Frieze of Scene 1.3 Othello

3 Responses to “Concerning Race”

  1. Ashni K. November 14, 2010 at 2:19 PM #

    Barbantio’s hatred towards Othello develops as a result of Othello’s race and his marriage to Desdemona. Barbantio believes that his daughter could never have married a black man as implied by his words, “To fall in love with what she fear’d to look on?” (1.3.98). The use of such a rhetorical question in the presence of all the state members shows Barbantio’s confidence in the idea that Othello’s and Desdemona’s marriage could not have been a result of Desdemona’s sole choice. This led to him blaming Othello for using witchcraft in wooing Desdemona.

    Barbantio considers Othello to have practiced “cunning hell” (1.3.102) implying his opinions of Othello – a sly man who has conducted a marriage which Barbantio considers ‘hell’. Further Barbantio says, “Or with some dram conjur’d to this effect/ He wrought upon her” (1.3.105-106). By this Barbantio is accusing Othello of being unrighteous as he concocted a ‘dram’ or magic potion to work a spell on the innocent Desdemona. Additionally, Barbantio mocks Othello when he says, “So let the Turk of Cyprus us beguile” (1.3.208). Firstly, Barbantio calls Othello a Turk, although Othello was actually fighting on the side of Venice against the Ottomans, for control over Cyrpus. This shows Barbantio’s extent of hatred towards Othello as he associates him with a rival group. Furthermore, Othello is claimed to have ‘beguiled’ or cheated everyone by marrying Desdemona in such a secretive and unpermitted way. Lastly, when the Duke says to Barnatio, “Your son-in-law is far more fair than black” (1.3.287), the reader can understand that the Duke is trying to comfort Barbantio, who is probably disgraced most by the fact that Othello is black and thus belongs to a race he considers inferior to his own.

    Due to Othello’s colour and his unlawful (lacking father’s consent) marriage to Desdemona, it is expected that Barbantio will not have any positive or even tolerant feelings towards the marriage. Barbantio feels he has been betrayed by Desdemona because she “in spite of nature,/ Of years, of country, credit, everything”(1.3.96-97) fell in love with a black man and married him without even telling her father. The quote shows a few of the reasons why Barbantio is against the marriage; it appears to have ruined the supposed balance in nature and as per him, Desdemona has betrayed her country, his upbringing of the years and his reputation in Venice. Barbantio feels that Desdemona’s decision to marry Othello is “a judgement maim’d and most imperfect” (1.3.99). He is highly unsatisfied and feels that this marriage is defective because it disobeys the ‘laws of nature’, meaning that it lacks the harmony, beauty and sense of ‘perfect fit’ that nature apparently has. When Desdemona agrees that she was ‘half the wooer’, Barbantio says to the Moor, “I here do give thee that with all my heart/ Which, but thou hast already” (1.3.191-192). The sarcasm used in this dialogue when Barbantio says he gives Desdemona to Othello though he already has her, shows Barbantio’s annoyance and lost hope in this marriage. As a result of Desdemona’s partial betrayal to her father, Barbantio refuses to keep her at his house while Othello is away in Cyprus. Such a decision hints that Barbantio no longer claims ownership of his daughter and this is the extent of his anger towards the marriage.

    In our frieze, Barbantio is depicted just as described above. He is angry and has a fist held up – directed towards Othello. He has to be held back by the Duke to prevent direct confrontation. He is standing far away from his daughter Desdemona, showing the separation between them that is evident after the marriage. The way Barbantio is kneeling down not only shows him as an old man, but perhaps also implies that he has a lower intellect than the Duke and Othello (who are standing with heads raised high) because he is unable to accept his daughter’s marriage due to a superficial issue like race.

  2. Mul Kyel November 15, 2010 at 7:21 PM #

    Roderigo appears in Othello as a naive individual, easily, manipulated by Iago
    throughout the play. Roderigo seems to believe that he will be able to “enjoy”
    Desdemona, and follows Iago’s orders.

    In the beginning, Roderigo’s response to Desdemona’s marriage is depression:”I will incontinently drown myself..It is silliness to live, when to live is torment”(1.3.302)
    Here, the extremity of Roderigo’s feelings are shown, as he wants to commit suicide, just because his one-sided love could not be fulfilled. Moreover, he describes his
    state as “living in torment” and that it is “silliness” to live.
    However, as Iago enters the scene, his attitude towards the marriage changes drastically:
    “Will thou be fast to my hopes if I depend on the issue?” (1.3.356)
    Upon asking Iago whether or not he can trust him, Roderigo regains vitality, and makes a pact with Iago to bring down Othello. Thus, motivated by his thoughts of
    fulfilling his “lust” and “enjoy” Desdemona (1.3.330~352), Roderigo exits, claiming that he is “changed”(1.3.372).
    In a way, Othello’s marriage serves to motivate Roderigo towards his own demise.

    • Ashni K. November 15, 2010 at 7:26 PM #

      Mul Kyel, wrong place! Your response is for the deception bit, not the race part. Read the task on race and put that one here =)

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