How much of Othello's downfall can be attributed to his racial origins?

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

It seems to me that Shakespeare is a bit too crafty to hang all of Othello's downfall on race.  There are a variety of elements at play in why Othello suffers the fate he does.  The most basic of these is that Othello feels self- conscious at being an outsider.  In all levels of his being, Othello is an "outsider," someone that is not represented in the stratification of power.  He is a soldier, a warrior, and not one of a legislator.  He is not one from landed and established wealth.  Adding to this is that he is not White, or of the same ethnic background as those in the position of power in Venetian society.  Iago is able to recognize these seeds of doubt and insecurity that exist within Othello and use them to his advantage.  In this, race is a part of his strategy.  From the opening moments, when Iago invokes the "old black ram / Is tupping your white ewe," there is a clear usage of the issue of race and ethnic differences to foster even greater discomfort within Othello's sense of self.  The labels of "sooty bosom" or the claims that Othello has used some type of "black magic" in manipulating Desdemona to go with him add into this narrative.  Race is not the only reason why Othello suffers what he does.  Yet, I think that some of the genius of Shakespeare's work is that it does delve into how race feeds a larger vision or paradigm in which one sees themselves, the world, and their place within it.  Race becomes part of this, something that Shakespeare is keenly astute in suggesting is a reason why individuals might suffer from doubt and a sense of questioning about their own sense of identity.  It is for this reason that race does play a role in Othello's downfall as much as any other reason.