Race is central to the plot of Othello in several ways, both some that make the play distinctly of its period and some that make the play appear modern. It is important for readers to keep both in mind simultaneously, rather trying to read the play as a modern civil rights or post-colonial narrative.
Othello is a Moor. What that means is somewhat ambiguous. One common use of the term would have been to refer to Arabs in North Africa and Spain. It might also apply to people from sub-Saharan Africa, but that usage is somewhat less common. Moorish people in the sense of Arabs were well known in Europe, with a Moorish community actually present in London in Shakespeare's lifetime, and thus the likely referent.
Most literature in Shakespeare's period accepted the notion that different ethnic groups had different types of character, with Northern (white) Europeans being rational, self-controlled, and highly civilized but...
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