Shakespeare's Othello has been described as having a flimsy and unrealistic plot, which is only convincing if we think of Othello as "a savage". Do you agree?

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Noelle Matteson eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The plot of Othello has aspects that are difficult to reconcile. For example, how can Othello be such a noble, patient man, and then suddenly descend into a jealous rage? The story also plays on contemporary stereotypes about African men who were espoused to be honorable and brave but hot-tempered and naive. Othello arguably comes across as very foolish and even barbaric when he murders his innocent wife Desdemona because he is convinced she has committed adultery.

However, the play introduces a number of complications. For one, Othello defies racial stereotypes by being well-spoken, patient by nature (before succumbing to Iago’s lies), and decidedly not lascivious. He at first suspects Iago, but Iago has no apparent reason to lie and has served in the army with Othello for years. Iago plays on Othello’s hidden insecurities and prejudices, including internalized racism and misogyny. It is the uncertainty of Desdemona’s actions that drive Othello mad, as well as his pride and fear of being unworthy of her.

There is much racism in Othello, both blatant and subtle. Iago says that Othello “will as tenderly be led by the nose / As asses are,” comparing a man to an animal, and Othello calls upon “black vengeance, from thy hollow cell!” However, Othello’s inability to separate his violent military life from his increasingly fraught domestic life is a recurring theme in Shakespeare’s plays, no matter the race or origin of the soldier. In conclusion, seeing Othello as a “savage” is one way to interpret the plot, but it is by no means the only way to make sense of the story and the character’s complex motivations.

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