How does Othello's position in a mostly white society mean his fall from grace is more tragic in Othello?

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pohnpei397's profile pic

pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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It seems to me that Othello's position makes his fall more tragic because it is a wonder that he made it as far as he did in the first place.  Because he must have had to work so hard to get to where he was, it is sad to see him fall, especially when he does not really deserve to fall.

Think about our own society.  If someone is born rich and didn't really work for it, we would not feel so bad for them if they somehow lost out on everything they had.  We would feel like they didn't really deserve what they had anyway.

But when someone works their way up from the bottom, we admire them.  If someone does this and then gets thrown back down by evil people, we would think it was a tragedy.

It's the same with Othello.  He has made his way, against the odds, to the top.  So it's sad to see him get cast back down.

mstultz72's profile pic

mstultz72 | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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The white European world (of Shakespeare's England and Othello's Venice) was victim of two great fears: Christianity being overrun by Islam; black men seducing their white women.  Both are front and center in Othello, man and play.

Othello is a stranger in a white world.  He is black.  He is a former Muslim who converted to Christianity.  He is a former slave who is converting to white civilization.  He is a military man trying to convert to civilian life.  He is an old bachelor who is trying to finally marry.  He is Brabantio's age, marrying a white woman half his age.  Needless to say, he is a threat to the establish white society (represented by Brabantio and Iago).

What's more, Othello buys in to the white "color code."  He wants to be white, like Cassio.  That's why he's so jealous of him.  He wants a white woman; she's a trophy wife, a status symbol that shows he's made it in white society.

Remember, the play was staged in 1600, the beginning of the slave trade.  It is the first play to have a "bedroom scene."  That the consummation of the scene is theros (death) instead of eros (love) foreshadows the tragedy of black slaves for the next four hundred years.

 

akannan's profile pic

Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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The inclusion of race or ethnicity in the question is a very interesting one.  Shakespeare's language might have lacked the specific conditions of racial or ethnic identity, but perhaps a larger statement is being made about someone who is perceived to be "an outsider" trying to be accepted by those deemed "insiders."  In this scope of trying to move from margin to center, Othello's predicament is a challenging one.  The Moor general given the position of governor carries with it the burden of being a minority with a title of such power.  To a large extent, Othello does suffer more because of it for he carries not only his own name, but the label of an outsider trying to be accepted by the power establishment.  While a fall from grace carries its own pain, there is a level of added hurt when trying to accept the fact that Othello's path, had it been successful, could have helped alleviate the crisis of representation in the kingdom.  While this might not have been the primary intent behind Shakespeare's depiction of Othello's predicament, it is one aspect that has to figure to have some relevance in the overall calculations.

mkcapen1's profile pic

mkcapen1 | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Valedictorian

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In the play by William Shakespeare Othello's race makes him stand out from the others.  He has succeeded among men of a different color and shown himself to be a good soldier and commander.  Roderigo demonstrates racism by referring to Othello's "Thick lips."  In truth he is jealous that Othello has succeeded and become greater than him when he sees him as a "Lascivious Moor."  Othello even gets the girl, Desdemona, whom others have sought.  Roderigo and Brabantio want what Othello has; one wants a higher appointment in his career and the other wants Desdemona.

Othello has risen to the level that few Moors could rise to in a white society.  He has it all in his hands.  Yet, it slips away from him because he goes into a jealous rage over rumors started by the people who envy him. 

 

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