Would the Elizabethans have appreciated the racism of Iago?I have to write an essay on Iago. I want to discuss Iago's racist remarks about Othello as part of it, but I do not know whether the...

Would the Elizabethans have appreciated the racism of Iago?

I have to write an essay on Iago. I want to discuss Iago's racist remarks about Othello as part of it, but I do not know whether the Elizabethans would have appreciated the racism in the play. I don't want to waste words (it is restricted word count) speaking about something that would not actually be appreciated by the examiner!

Expert Answers
Lorraine Caplan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

There were few "black" people in Shakespeare's England, but there were a few, one being a visiting general who was most likely to be the basis for the play. My guess, based on a very general understanding of the times, is that such a person would have been considered an exotic curiosity, rather than the subject of racism. 

During these times, soldiers were what we would now consider mercenaries, for hire to the highest bidder.  Probably no entity was as concerned about origin or skin color nearly as much as with leadership and military skills.  Notice I said "entity," since nationalism had not yet appeared to any large degree in Europe.

The other aspect that you want to consider is that Europeans had not yet begun to colonize Africa to the degree that they did subsequently.  This means that there was no political point to prejudice or much opportunity for Europeans or Englishmen to have a basis for prejudice.

I suspect that if Othello had been Chinese, Iago would have resorted to an entirely different category of insults because he was Iago, one of the most Machievellian characters ever created.  He wanted to do evil, and it may not have mattered who or what Othello was.

Having said all of that, I must say that one of the most wonderful aspects of a Shakespeare play is that each age can view one through its own lens.  There is absolutely nothing wrong with discussing the impact of the play's racism on contemporary audiences and readers. 

Good luck!