enotes | Student

Both Shylock and Aaron are dark-skinned, but there are two other characters in Shakespeare's works who are explicitly black. The more important one is Othello, a Moor, who is not-white but not necessarily black and may be taken as an Arab. Othello is an outsider in Venice. He enjoys a privileged position in that White city-state, but his status and his social identity is conditional upon his continuing service to Venice. Iago attempts to enflame Desdemona's father by saying that "an old black ram" is having sex with his "white ewe" (I, i, ll.89-90). Race is an inflammatory issue, but it is Othello's emotional immaturity, his insecurity upon which the play turns, not his skin color or racial background. Moreover, in The Merchant of Venice, the "fair" Portia of Belmont allows the "dark-skinned" Prince of Morocco the chance to choose among the chests and, with it, to become her husband. Again, we have nothing to suggest that Shakespeare was a racist according to the lights of his (or our) era.

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