Racist Quotes In Othello: Unveiling the Controversial Language in Shakespeare’s Play

Racist Quotes In Othello: Unveiling the Controversial Language in Shakespeare's Play

Shakespeare’s works are often seen as timeless classics, capable of transcending time and cultural boundaries. However, when delving into the depths of his plays, we cannot ignore the presence of racially charged language. Othello, one of Shakespeare’s most renowned tragedies, is no exception. The use of racist quotes in Othello not only highlights the prevailing belief systems of the Renaissance-era society in which the play is set, but also raises crucial questions about the themes of racism and otherness.

One must bear in mind that the ideology behind racism during the Renaissance era was deeply ingrained in society’s belief system. The belief in the inherent superiority of the white race was reinforced through laws and societal norms. Othello as a black man in a position of power challenges this belief, creating an emotional and argumentative response from the characters within the play, as well as from the audience who witnesses the unfolding of the tragic events.

Shakespeare’s use of racist language can be seen as a strategic choice to explore the themes of racism and otherness within the play. By addressing these uncomfortable topics head-on, he forces the audience to confront their own preconceived notions and reflect on the implications of their own beliefs. The racist quotes in Othello become a tool for analysis, prompting discussions about the societal impact of racism, both within the Renaissance era and in our present-day society.

It is worth noting that Shakespeare’s works have evolved over time, adapting to different cultural contexts and changing interpretations. Although some argue that the racist elements in Othello should be censored or removed, eliminating these passages would not only disregard the impact of racism on the characters and the plot, but also diminish the historical context of the play. Instead, we should view it as an opportunity to engage in a critical dialogue about the racist language Shakespeare employs and the implications it has on the characters’ actions and relationships.

Overview of Othello and its Cultural Significance

Othello, the play’s protagonist, is a Moor who falls in love with Desdemona, a white woman. This interracial relationship becomes a central plot point, as it challenges societal norms and raises questions about the treatment of those who are different. Shakespeare’s Othello is often misunderstood, with some passages leading to racist interpretations due to their language and characters’ dialogues.

The character of Iago, for example, frequently refers to Othello as a “black ram” and “the devil.” These quotes suggest a racial hierarchy, where white people are considered superior, and black people are viewed as “other.” This theme of otherness is a trademark of Shakespeare’s work, as he often explores the idea of the outsider in his plays.

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One of the most infamous quotes from Othello is when Iago says, “I will wear my heart upon my sleeve for daws to peck at; I am not what I am.” This line emphasizes the complex nature of identity and the idea of having to hide oneself due to racial prejudice.

Another significant passage in the play is when the Duke of Venice admits that he has never seen Othello before and only imagines him based on descriptions. He says, “If virtue no delighted beauty lack, your son-in-law is far more fair than black.” This line highlights the ignorance and prejudice that can arise from judging someone solely based on appearance.

Othello’s father-in-law, Brabantio, also exhibits racist attitudes when he accuses Othello of using witchcraft to steal away his daughter. He refers to Othello as “the black ram” and condemns their marriage as a breach of societal norms.

Shakespeare’s inclusion of racist language and characters in Othello does not necessarily mean that he held racist beliefs himself. Instead, his incorporation of these themes serves to highlight the prejudice and ignorance prevalent in his society. By bringing these issues to the forefront, Shakespeare challenges his audience to confront their own biases and misconceptions.

Othello’s tragic downfall can be attributed, in part, to the internalized racism he experiences throughout the play. Despite his accomplishments and honorable qualities, Othello is ultimately driven to kill his wife due to the manipulations and lies fed to him by Iago.

Othello’s story is a powerful exploration of the destructive effects of racism and the impact it can have on individuals’ lives. It serves as a reminder of the lifelong consequences of racial prejudice and the need to address and dismantle such ideologies.

Racist Quotes in OthelloThemes Explored
“O, beware, my lord, of jealousy; It is the green-eyed monster which doth mock The meat it feeds on.”Racial Otherness
“I kissed thee ere I killed thee, no way but this, Killing myself, to die upon a kiss.”Love and Betrayal
“I hate the Moor, And it is thought abroad that ‘twixt my sheets He has done my office.”Racial Jealousy

While Othello is undeniably a racially charged play, it is important to approach it with an understanding of the cultural context in which it was written. Shakespeare’s portrayal of racism and its devastating effects prompts critical discussions about race and power both in his time and today.

Examining the Racist Themes in Othello

Shakespeare’s portrayal of Othello as a black character, a “black Moor” (1.2.87), further fuels the racist ideology of the time, emphasizing the whiteness as a trademark of superiority. Moreover, the misperception of Othello as an “other” is related to his African origins and exacerbates the prejudice against him. This misconception is easily seen by Desdemona’s father and others in the play.

The racism directed towards Othello is not limited to Brabantio’s quotes; it is also present in the way other characters view Othello. Iago, the villain of the play, refers to Othello as an “old black ram” (1.1.90) and speaks negatively about his marriage to Desdemona, suggesting that Othello is not good enough for her due to his race. This mindset is shared by other characters in the play as well.

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In the analysis of Othello’s character and his relationships, we see that his blackness plays a significant role in the story. Othello is constantly reminded of his race as a source of his downfall and is portrayed as a victim of the racial prejudice prevalent in the society of the time.

It is important to note that Shakespeare was writing within the context of his time, where racial stereotypes and discrimination were deeply ingrained. However, it is also necessary to critically examine the portrayal of race in “Othello” and consider how it perpetuates harmful stereotypes.

In summary, the racist themes in “Othello” are evident throughout the play, with characters using derogatory language to describe Othello, emphasizing his race as a negative attribute. The plot explores the consequences of interracial marriages and exposes the deep-seated racism and prejudice of society. It is within this context that we need to analyze Shakespeare’s work and recognize the harm that can be perpetuated through the portrayal of race and otherness in literature.

Impact of Racist Language on Character Development

Othello, being one of the few black characters in the play, has to navigate a society where he is seen as culturally and racially different. This constant reminder of his race makes it clear that he is an outsider and reinforces negative stereotypes about black people. The racial prejudice against Othello not only affects his interactions with other characters but also influences his own perception of himself.

The racist language used by characters like Iago and Brabantio is intended to dehumanize and marginalize Othello. These characters refer to Othello using derogatory terms such as “black ram” and “moor,” which imply savage and animalistic qualities. The repeated use of such language perpetuates the harmful idea that black people are inferior and dangerous.

Moreover, the racist language used in Othello is not limited to insults directed at Othello. It also extends to generalizations about black people. In one of the passages, Iago refers to black people as “thick lips” and “lascivious” beings. This language reinforces the negative stereotypes that were prevalent during the Renaissance era and continues to perpetuate misconceptions about black people.

The impact of racist language goes beyond the individual character of Othello. It also affects the relationships between characters and drives the plot forward. Racism becomes a driving force behind Iago’s manipulation of Othello, as he uses Othello’s insecurities about his race to fuel his jealousy and mistrust. The racist language used by Iago plants doubts in Othello’s mind, leading to tragic consequences.

It is worth noting that the use of racist language in Othello is not simply a reflection of the attitudes of the time but also a critique of those attitudes. Shakespeare uses the language to highlight the irrationality and ignorance behind racism. The racist language in the play serves as a commentary on the destructive power of prejudice and the harm it inflicts on individuals.

The racist language in Othello has a profound impact on the character development and overall themes of the play. It reinforces negative stereotypes about black people, affects Othello’s perception of himself, drives the plot forward, and serves as a critique of racism in Renaissance-era Europe. The use of racist language in this play is a powerful reminder of the harmful consequences of prejudice and the need for a more inclusive society.

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Addressing the Criticism: Contextualizing the Racist Quotes

The superiority complex evident in the racist language used by characters such as Iago and Brabantio breaches societal norms and perpetuates negative stereotypes. However, it is essential to analyze the characters’ motivations behind these derogatory remarks. For instance, Iago’s racist comments towards Othello may stem from his own jealousy and desire for revenge.

Shakespeare’s choice of language, while uncomfortable for modern audiences, reflects the attitudes and beliefs of society during the time the play was written. The use of racial slurs depicts the otherness of Othello, positioning him as a “black ram” and a “Barbary horse,” suggesting that he is inferior to the white characters.

It is worth noting that the racial prejudice in “Othello” is not limited to the antagonist characters. Othello himself internalizes these racist beliefs to some extent. Despite his status as a respected general, he believes Iago’s hints about Desdemona’s infidelity all too easily due to his fears of being an outsider.

While the play features racially charged language and themes, it is crucial to analyze it within the context of the time it was written. Shakespeare’s plays often explore complex human emotions and societal issues, and “Othello” is no exception.

One interpretation is that the racist quotes are used to demonstrate the destructive power of prejudice and the consequences it can have on both individuals and society as a whole. The tragedy that unfolds as a result of Othello’s misplaced beliefs serves as a cautionary tale against succumbing to baseless racial prejudices.

Furthermore, the play challenges societal expectations, as well as the idea of love and marriage. Othello and Desdemona’s relationship is a target for scrutiny due to the racial differences between them, highlighting society’s discomfort with interracial marriages.


What is the main theme of the article?

The main theme of the article is the exploration of racist quotes in Shakespeare’s play Othello and the controversy surrounding the language used.

Why is the language in Othello considered controversial?

The language in Othello is considered controversial because it includes racist quotes that perpetuate negative stereotypes and contribute to the oppression of black characters in the play.

How does racism play a role in Othello?

Racism plays a significant role in Othello as black characters, like Othello himself, are subjected to derogatory remarks and racial slurs that highlight the racism prevalent in the society depicted in the play.

Are there any redeeming qualities to Othello’s portrayal of race?

While Othello’s portrayal of race largely perpetuates negative stereotypes, it also presents a complex and multidimensional portrayal of the black protagonist, showcasing his intelligence, bravery, and capability for deep love and passion.

What impact does the racist language in Othello have on the overall play?

The racist language in Othello contributes to the overall tragic tone of the play, heightening the sense of injustice and highlighting the destructive power of racism on individuals and society as a whole.

What is the play “Othello” about?

The play “Othello” by William Shakespeare is a tragedy that tells the story of a Moorish general named Othello who is manipulated by his ensign, Iago, and becomes consumed with jealousy, leading to the tragic downfall of himself and those around him.

How does racism play a role in the play “Othello”?

Racism is a central theme in Shakespeare’s “Othello”. The play explores the prejudice and discrimination faced by Othello, the protagonist, who is a black man in a predominantly white society. The racist attitudes of characters like Iago, who refers to Othello as “The Moor” with derogatory intent, highlight the deep-rooted racism prevalent during that time.

Alex Koliada, PhD

By Alex Koliada, PhD

Alex Koliada, PhD, is a well-known doctor. He is famous for studying aging, genetics, and other medical conditions. He works at the Institute of Food Biotechnology and Genomics. His scientific research has been published in the most reputable international magazines. Alex holds a BA in English and Comparative Literature from the University of Southern California, and a TEFL certification from The Boston Language Institute.