William Shakespeare ‘s play The Tragedy of Othello, The Moor of Venice was written in 1603 to 1604 during the Early Modern Era. There are many reoccurring themes in this tragedy and one theme that is very prevalent is Race. Many speculate that Shakespeare “suffered from colour prejudice,” (Berry, 316) and that this can be proven through his repeated use of racial slurs towards Othello. However, William Shakespeare also portrays Othello as a thoughtful, romantic, troubled and tragic person who is commonly associated with degrading misconceptions towards his ethnicity. During the Early Modern Era, many were not accepting of Moors into the English society. From the English disapproval, Shakespeare imposed a sympathetic understanding of Moors than was customarily available, through the story of Othello (Berry). Through Shakespeare’s use of racial slurs in his tragedy, Othello, he aims to discredit them and prove that Othello is indeed an assimilated citizen of his society; while proving that the murder of Desdemona was an action that any jealous, Christian husband of the time may have committed.
Throughout the play, many racial slurs are made against the Moor, Othello. In the opening scene of the play Iago, Roderigo and Brabantio speak of a “Moor” who has married the fair Desdemona. In the first scene, the Moor is never referred to by his given name, Othello, which establishes a sense of his supposed inhumanity. Act 1, scene 1 provides the audience with a bias sense of who the Moor is, his features and origins, through the use of racial slurs. Roderigo and Iago use racial slurs when referring to the Moor as “the thicklips” (1.1.64), “an old black ram” (1.1.87), “the devil” (1.1.90), “a Barbary horse”(1.1.110) and “an extravagant and wheeling stranger” (1.1.134). These are all very racist connotations that were associated with Moors at the time. In implying to Brabantio that his daughter, Desdemona was partaking in a sexual act with Othello, they refer to this act as “making a beast with two backs” (1.1.115). Branbantio, who we later learn was a friend of Othello, is disgusted and infuriated with the news of his daughter’s marriage. Branbantio refers to Othello as a “foul thief” (1.2.62) “with foul charms” (1.2.72), implying that Othello has committed some witchcraft in order to win his daughter. However it is possible that Branbantio’s racial remarks were out of furry, since he felt betrayed by his friend Othello, that he did not ask for his daughters hand in marriage. These racial slurs not only give us an idea to who Othello may be, but also show the common misconceptions that were associated with Moors at the time. In every society and time period there will be a handful of people who carry strong prejudice towards people with cultural or ethnic differences. However, the prejudice that these people portray should not impact the rest of the societies view on them. Shakespeare uses the characters that are prejudice towards Othello, as examples of those few people who may not wish to accept everyone into their society. Shakespeare makes the point that even with these few discriminatory characters, the Venetian Society still wishes to accept Othello. Shakespeare was a very clever writer, who may have aimed to prove that even though not all of England was accepting of foreigners in their society, including Queen Elizabeth, that the rest of society should have the option to accept them as they see fit.
In attempting to discredit the common misconception of Moors in England, Shakespeare went against Queen Elizabeth’s belief of keeping Moors out of their society. William Shakespeare wrote Othello at the end of Queen Elizabeth’s reign and the beginning of King James IV reign of England. In 1601, at the end of her reign, the Queen “made her well-known edict for the expulsion of black people from England,” (Mafe 48) which stated population, religion and economy as the principle