The Importance Of Race In Othello

702 Words3 Pages
In William Shakespeare’s play Othello, an African general named Othello is tricked by one of his officers, Iago, into thinking that his wife, Desdemona, is cheating on him with his lieutenant, Cassio. Iago continues to insert jealous and distrustful thoughts about Desdemona in Othello’s mind, ultimately leading to Othello murdering his wife. Because blacks during Shakespeare’s time were viewed as being quick to anger and jealous, many people believe that Othello’s somewhat sudden acceptance of Iago’s claims and jealousy towards Desdemona and Cassio was due to Shakespeare making Othello a stereotypical black man. Michael Hays, in his article Othello is Not About Race, argues that race does not play any major role in Othello’s demise; instead, he argues that the courtly love system made Othello suspicious of Cassio.
Hays’ first claim is that if Shakespeare had intended for Othello to be about race, then he would have made Othello act like what Africans were stereotypically portrayed as; moreover, he would have made the characters discuss ethnicity more frequently. He brings up two stories which influenced Othello, Gli Hecatommithi by Giraldi
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He claims that because “[m]odern audiences have little or no knowledge of the tradition of chivalric romances, particularly of courtly love or the role of intermediaries,” most people are unable to fully understand why Othello is so quick to believe Iago (Hays 9). Because people don’t understand courtly love, they blame his jealousy on race, for it is “a matter obvious in itself and particularly important in America because of its history long stained by … racism” (Hays 9). Hays claims that people don’t blame courtly love as the cause of Othello’s jealousy because they don’t completely understand it; instead, they blame jealousy on racism because it’s something that’s relevant in today’s culture and in recent history, especially in
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