Discuss the presentation of post-colonial ideas in Shakespeare's Othello.

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The post-colonial read of Othello rests with the examination of the "insider/ outsider" dynamic. In this particular case, it would be done on the grounds of race.  The post-colonial issue of racial identity is of vital concern in "Othello."  This could take many forms.  One such idea would be how Shakespeare actually depicts the Black hero of his drama.  Is he making a point to say that the "Black moor" of Othello would never be accepted into Venetian society because he is incapable of being a part of it or because he would be denied admittance to it?  Putting this debate in another way, is Shakespeare critiquing the notions of race that are in Elizabethan society is or is reflecting them?  Is this a statement of what is in the hopes of what should be, or an apologist for what is?  Othello is shown to be an individual who cannot handle the demands of being an "insider."  Certainly, the post- colonial analysis of Shakespeare's language in describing Othello ("black ewe" or "thick lips") would be a poart of this discussion.  The post- colonial element of his racial composition becomes an immediate idea present.

From a broader point of view, the Age of Exploration that had no doubt begun to settle over England and all of Europe would become another element that is discussed in a post- coloniali reading of Othello.  The entire establishment of the "insider/ outsider" status occupies greater importance when seeing Othello in this context.  For the post-colonial thinker, the establishment of "insider" vs. "outsider" stratification only developed as a result of colonialism and in the drama, there might be a clear statement being asserted about how "the other" needs to be subjugated and controlled.  The fact that Othello is black and Desdemona is white only adds to this.  The Venetian society is happy to keep Othello as an outsider, a soldier and someone who is on the fringe of their world.  Brabantio's objection to Othello could be seen in a post- colonial context as racial as much as anything else.  The idea of "the other" moving closer to the insider status becomes a thought too horrifying for him to bear.  In addition to this, post- colonial thinkers would focus on how Othello, himself, is not entirely an individual in his own control.  It might be very well due to the insecurity and doubt that he holds himself, having internalized the very social order through which he permeates.  The self- doubt and misunderstanding of self, again, could be seen as Shakespeare's critique of the social system or his condoning it.  It is this discussion of race and how it impacts the characters, the narrative style, and its thematic development that reveals the post- colonial elements of the drama.

iandavidclark3 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

As the other answer to this question suggests, postcolonial theory in Othello has much to do with the central race relations of the play. One way of approaching a postcolonial critique of the play is to consider how the European perception of Othello forces him into fulfilling racial stereotypes.

For instance, throughout the play there is the subtle suggestion that Othello, despite his high status, is considered dangerous by his European counterparts. Brabantio is scandalized when he learns of Othello's relationship with Desdemona, and this revelation almost leads to Othello's arrest and accusations that Othello has kidnapped or stolen his future wife. It's as if the citizens of Venice can't imagine a white woman would have a consensual relationship with a black man, or as if Othello's race poses a threat to the European familial order. Othello continuously subverts this perception, comporting himself with dignity despite European mistrust.

However, in being manipulated by Iago into killing Desdemona, Othello unconsciously becomes the dangerous stereotype that he has resisted throughout the narrative. One interpretation of this development could be that, as an outsider in a white society, Othello is ultimately forced to accept the identity that the insiders give him, no matter its prejudiced roots. For me, it is this fact that makes the play tragic. A heroic figure, Othello is vanquished by the racist stereotypes that he struggles time and again to overcome.