The nature of alienation present in Othello resonates through, from the Jacobean age, to contemporary audiences as Shakespeare portrays racism to be an inescapable facet of society. A racial undertone is ever present throughout the play, from when Iago informs Brabanito of Desdemona’s miscegenation, using the crude animalistic metaphor and racial allusion, “the old, black ram is tupping your white ewe,” to the loving, naïve voice of Desdemona as she refers to her new husband as “the Moor, my lord,” objectifying and dehumanising Othello. Iago’s implications of Othello’s animal-like sexuality corrupting “fair” Desdemona is grounded in the idea within white Venetian society that coloured men are inhuman and beastly. Although Othello is seen as a “noble and valiant General,” and even complimented by the Duke to be “more fair than black,” the strong underlying belief of pigmented skin inducing a bestial and primordial nature, remains central to others judgement of Othello. Despite no longer having the same prejudices as the intended audience, racial intolerance remains a pervasive concern as it is a central concern in film adaptations seen by present day audiences. The miscegenation intended to entertain the Jacobean era, serves to condemn contemporary audiences, demonstrating Othello’s continuing yet shifted relevance.
To understand and lament the fall of a figure, a good character must be set up, and this is the case for Othello. “The Moor” is initially introduced to the audience as a respected and well-expressed General, who, it is implied, has saved Cyprus countless times from the threat of the Turks, deconstructing Venetian prejudices. But his adopted European cultures’ acceptance into political arenas does not extend into private familial affairs, as even his “most faithful” Venetian counterpart, Iago, continues to offer a racist diatribe against Othello’s marriage to Desdemona throughout the play. The crudity of Iago’s words contrasts with the self-assured, self-restrained and eloquent language of the “black” Othello, again challenging Jacobean society’s racial preconceptions. The “loss of his own origins and an embrace and perpetual reiteration of the norms of another culture,” says Stephen Greenblatt, elucidates how Othello strives in essence to repress his African past but eventually succumbs, as jealous outrage takes over, initiated by Iago’s manipulation. These white Venetian ideas of the vicious, demonic nature of blacks manifest within Othello as he refers to his jealousy as a “black vengeance,” where the colour ‘black’ is symbolic of an uncivil and barbaric nature. Although blackness no longer represents ugliness, poisonous lust, treachery or the demonic, the racial division evident in Jacobean times, forced Othello to internalise the black stereotypes of his adopted culture, signifying the failure to break free from the confinements placed on minorities in