Othello: Cultural Disapproval from Ancient Times to the Present

In Othello’s plays, we have already noticed the racial discrimination against Othello in the white society of Venice. However, it can be stated that Othello has the desire of cultural identity for the white society that discriminates against him. The cultural identity of Othello in white society, as well as his own psychological condition and behavior pattern will also be affected. ‘Although Shakespeare’s Othello learned to live in a strange society, he did not belong to this society.’ (G.M. Matthews, Othello and the dignity of man)

However, Othello himself never wants to isolate from the mainstream society. He always wants to belong to Venice. He is keen to identify with this Christian society culturally. Othello, who entered Venice for the first time, must have such a desire, because it involves the major issue of re determining his identity and fully realizing his self-worth in the alien society. Like immigrants at any time, he understood that the two most important ways of his cultural identity were to marry local women and convert to the religion of that society. Othello’s love is not only for Desdemona, but also for the latter’s race and culture. It wishes to express cultural identity in love.

On the contrary, Desdemona’s love has a strong cultural identity for him, and plays a major role in his psychological recognition of his value as a person in the white society. “I saw Othello’s true face when I saw his mind. I have my whole life to him because of his horn and brave”, (Act I, Scene 3) Desdemona denies the connection between skin color, race and the intrinsic value of human beings, and boldly announces that she has seen his spiritual beauty through Othello’s appearance and is deeply attracted by it. Her love of getting rid of racial prejudice greatly encouraged the confidence of Othello’s artistic identity. That is to say. Desdemona’s choice proves Othello’s value as a person in white society.

However, despite Othello’s considerable efforts in cultural identity, Venice refuses to treat him equally as a member of its own society: his different ethnic backgrounds and dark skin color is an unbridgeable gap between him and Venetian society. In the first act, there is a strong atmosphere of racial discrimination. In Iago’s eyes, Othello’s combination with Desdemona was ‘an animal like activity’. However, Brabantio treats Othello with courtesy.

Once Othello marries his daughter, he is unconventional, abusing Othello as an ugly black man and suspecting that he has bewildered Desdemona with an evil spell. In his opinion, a Venetian girl who fell in love with a black man who appeared to be frighten her must have been bewitched by magic. The Duke is the supreme ruler of Venice, and his views largely represent the opinions of the ruling class of this marriage. The Duke did not expect to find out some of Othello’s strengths (such as his brilliant achievements) to comfort the heartbroken Brabantio, so as to prove to him that Othello matched his daughter in some aspects, but to persuade him to endure this ‘misfortune’ – Yes, it’s a misfortune for them. In other words, the marriage of Othello and Desdemona not only brought disgrace to the whole Venetian society, but more importantly, an alien now further identified with the society through marriage, posing a potential threat to the white regime of the society.

Although Othello achieved great success in the war and was devoutly converted to Christianity, Brabantio and the Venetian ruling class stubbornly resisted Othello’s cultural identity with their own society, because in their eyes, Othello was always a slave and a heretic. So, the racial discrimination in the past is fundamentally from the non-identification, discrimination, non-acceptance and exclusion of different cultures.

As Grady pointed out in his article, ‘instead, it is to demonstrate that discussing early modern international relations finds important affinities with discussing today’s social concerns.’ Not only in the past Europe, but also in the present American society, race is still the main problem that plagues the American society. But no one dares to publicly discriminate against other races. People are unwilling to bear the stigma of racial discrimination. As far as the current situation in the United States is worried, traditional political forces are constantly involved in racial discrimination, and cultural hidden discrimination gradually replaces single racial discrimination.

Although we all are aware that there should be no racial discrimination, but always inadvertently expressed the feelings of racial discrimination. Racial discrimination in the United States is taking place in such a strange circle. The reason for discrimination is very simple. The foremost reason is that the white consciousness is deeply rooted. In the earliest and oldest western world, white is associated with all good things, including weddings, angels and so on. Europeans define their skin color as a symbol of purity, which is an expression of self-identity. As its opposite, black represents a completely contradictory moral, including evil, disaster, witchcraft and so on. When Europeans first came into contact with Africans, they were immediately rebellious.

Moreover, the material and cultural level of Africa is far behind that of Europe, and it is easy for white people to associate this distant guest with the negative black morality that they are lowly and savage. Over time, it solidified into white consciousness. After the spread of this solidified white consciousness, with the extension of time and space, there is little doubt that it has affected the United States as a young country.

Works Cited

  1. William Shakespeare, “Othello”, Act I, Sense 3.
  2. Kyle Grady, “Othello, Colin Powell, and Post-Racial Anachronisms”.
  3. G.M. Matthews, “Othello and the dignity of man, in Shakespeare in a changing world: Essays, edited by Amold kettle”, international publishers, 1964, p.123, p.130, p.133.