Was Othello of African or Arabic descent? In the famous play Othello by William Shakespeare the topic of Othello’s ethnic background is an extremely commonly talked about subject. Many people get to the, in my opinion, incorrect conclusion that Othello was of sub-Sahara African descent (black). The opposing point of view’s position is that he was of Arabic, or North African descent, which as I will try to discuss throughout this paper is, in my opinion, appropriate.
The bottom lines people who believe that he was black use is that rather merely throughout the play he is called black a number of times, and he is also called thick lipped when, and moors don’t have thick lips. He discusses he was a servant, and at the people who were servants were the West Africans not the Arabs. A little prior to Shakespeare’s time queen Elisabeth had begun to make the difference in between the fair Europeans and the “blackmoors” which was expected to be a way to categorize the people from North Africa but it was really just a method to classify anyone from throughout Africa.
She started trading these “blackmoors” as servants. And we know for sure that at least one of these shipments of “blackmoors” was composed completely of people from West Africa, in reality they were Spanish slaves taken by England. So the term black began being used for the “blackmoors” in addition to the West Africans (due to the fact that of their skin color). All this went on while England traded goods and interacted with the Moroccans or North Africans (Bartels, pg 148-150).
So even though the moors clearly had a better standing in Europe than the West Africans they still might have been captured and sold as slaves. So Othello might completely have actually been a servant at some point in his life. And it only makes good sense that he would have the ability to walk away after fleing if he was a moor, due to the fact that a black individual would not be able to stroll free, only a moor would. Moors were able to stroll free in Europe and this is why Queen Elisabeth felt she needed to put this barrier of color between Europeans and the rest of the darker world. Bartels 148-150). The last problem that I currently presented was that Othello was called thick lipped, and North Africans do not have thick lips. And this too belongs to individuals’s ignorance; the term “black” is just a way to separate those who are not European (Neill, pg 368). Proof of this lack of knowledge is that individuals actually believed the wild stories about Africa to be true. Stories like some including people whose heads grew under their shoulders and others like that (Neill, pg 362).
This ignorance was not in the least the people’s fault, the only ways they had of understanding what was beyond their city is to hear the stories of individuals who originated from outside the city. These were the stories they brought, however if they were puzzled about individuals with heads growing under their shoulders they definitely did not know the difference between a moor and a thick lipped black from West Africa. And as we can see from the stories of people with no heads which Othello tells Desdemona about, we can see that Shakespeare knows of the people’s ignorance and utilizes it to get their interest.
For that reason “thick lipped” is simply another one of the lots of things Shakespeare utilizes to catch the audiences attention without much regard for it in fact being accurate given that individuals were really oblivious and they did not understand about it anyhow. To support this we might also say that the only ones who call Othello black are the ones that are attempting to put him down and himself at the end when he is feeling even worse every 2nd about himself. Blackness in Othello in general represents evil and bad things in general.
At that time black individuals were also considered less; to tell somebody that he is black is to deteriorate him. When Othello is called thick lipped it is just an extremely well known function that people from West Africa have, and to call him that is the exact same as calling him black simply stronger, and with more weight, since it resembles you simply observed that he has thick lips, and you are simply saying it (whether it was said in a degrading manner or not) and we understand that only West African individuals have lips like that, rather than the skin color which could be extremely quickly confused for some other shade of a darker skin.
So by not referring directly to his skin color Iago is able to insult Othello about his blackness in a much higher level than he would have had the ability to had he merely described him as black. Some people who think that he was black think that those who state that he was a moor believe so considering that he is called a moor and a Turk throughout the play, and actually those 2 names were used throughout all of Africa and part of India at different times going back and forth. These individuals for that reason believe that this is enough evidence for the reality that a moor or a Turk isn’t necessarily an Arab or North African.
The problem with that reasoning is that at that very same time when the names were going back and forth throughout Africa and India is the exact same time when the Ottoman Empire was again getting and losing power and conquering and pulling back from other nations. And that was why people from various locations looked being called moors and Turks, due to the fact that they were moors and Turks or at least they were governed by them (Neill, pg 364-365) Some might try to claim that Othello being called a moor is simply symbolism, similar to the Jew in The Jew of Malta; it is utilized for significance, as some sort of ironical humor.
Because the Jew because play is agent of a scattered country he can not really be from Malta. So too stating that he is the Moor of Venice is simply for the same sort of ironical humor. If he is a moor he can not be from Venice. He might like the Jew in the Jew of Malta he lives in Malta, but that is just short-term, he is not so much of Malta as he remains in Malta, much like his fellow Jews in Portugal, Italy, Bairseth, and France. They are all just in those places they are not actually “of” any of those locations; they are all on the run.
It is the same here in Othello, a moor can not be “of” Venice he might reside there but he is not from there. So the subtitle The Moor of Venice is in fact just for some ironical humor. And for that reason all the referrals to him being a moor are simply part of this humor and they aren’t in fact describing his race or to in fact explain him, as he is described as black throughout the rest of the play (Neill pg 363). There are a couple of problems with this theory. The very first is that we have actually currently established that it was when he was being called black that it wasn’t defining his race, and we will develop it even more later in the post.
Second of all in the Jew of Malta the character remained in truth a Jew. Nobody thought of saying that he isn’t a Jew because the term Jew was only utilized for the humor. The very same need to hold true here, that although the term moor might be utilized for humor, it is clearly being likewise used for humor, and not only for that purpose. You can not make individuals call a person a moor and a person describe himself as a moor just for one ironical subtitle. If he was actually from West Africa he would never ever call himself a moor because he is not one. And besides for all of that he is a fictional character, Shakespeare made him up.
He could have made him an Arab just as quickly as he might have made him Greek, or Asian. If Shakespeare wishes to make it ironical he could do so by in fact making him a moor. If they call him a moor but he is actually black, then it’s not truly sarcasm. There would be no point in making him be black and having this complicated and really controversial title spending time here and there if he could have simply as quickly made him a moor. There is one point which should really weigh a lot in this discussion, how was he played on stage black, moor?
According to Millicent Bell in his article Shakespeare’s Moor, Othello was played by a black person in Shakespeare’s day and for a century and a half after that (Bell, par 2). But according to Emily Bartels the part was played by a white guy who used an oil called the oil of hell which was made from charred cork and oil. This was utilized to darken the star’s skin (Bartels pg 140). With this details in mind we can realize that from this point we can not derive any conclusions, and even if we had the ability to figure out whether the star was Arabic or Black it does not mean that this is the character Shakespeare wanted.
Given that it is perfectly possible that either moors or blacks were not easily found to do these kinds of jobs, which the other were extremely common. We also understand that in those days they utilized kids to enact women so clearly they were not too emphatic in finding the precise star to match the role he was going to play. And lastly as I pointed out prior to individuals then were really oblivious about any culture beyond their own. For them anything outdoors England was the very same. Whether you were a moor, black or from India, they were all darker and were all of them fit into the classification of black.
So even though this need to have been the best evidence for us to find out whether Othello was black or a moor, we have actually just seen that absolutely nothing would have the ability to be shown from there. Diana Adesola Mafe writes that according to what we can see from the African literature in English during Shakespeare’s time and from this play the words moor and Negro were synonyms (Mafe, par 13). This whole essay we’ve been examining whether Othello was black or a moor, a terrific part of the proof used for in any case is using the words in the play.
I mentioned a way to state that when he was called black it wasn’t really speaking about him being from West Africa rather just explaining his skin color, and a method to state that when he was called a moor he wasn’t really being called a moor rather it was just a general term used to explain anyone from Africa. So certainly saying that we can see from this work that moor and Negro indicate the exact same thing is not possible. And as to the other literary works from Africa in English they may effectively be simply as bad an evidence as this one, you can never understand.
Besides for that the words she requires to suit are moor and Negro, and the words utilized here by Shakespeare are moor and black, he is not called a Negro. Mafe utilizes this conclusion as a basis to her short article which deals with comparing Othello and the Yoruba misconception. So she does not, because she has no requirement to, figure out whether both words imply Arab or black. For her it is enough to establish that they imply the same thing and even if they did indicate the very same thing we can not inform what it is that they suggest. So for our purposes we’ll simply say that it suggests Arab.
If we were to accept this we might simply state that really when he is called black and when he is called a moor they actually imply the very same thing. As I have actually simply explained the trustworthiness for this actually being true is not of the greatest requirements for that reason we may effectively still handle it as them having two various meanings. However even if we were to agree to her in this point we would still have our initial question which is whether Othello was a moor or black. There is also a method to see it with basic logic. There are two options; one is that Othello was a moor and the other that he was black.
In each one of these possibilities there is one unsolved question, why would Shakespeare make other individuals and have Othello himself say about himself things he was actually not. Let’s take the first option; we’ll say that actually Othello was a moor. So now we have the concern, why would Shakespeare make the other characters call him black? Well it is quite simple; to start with so that the audience understands that he was not a moor who might have passed undetected and thought of as an Englishman or another type of European, rather he was a black moor.
One that would be noticed at a glance and which would make the contrast of him and Desdemona, or him and his high rank, or just of him and any sort of routine European life much greater than if he would have been simply light skinned moor who might pass as an Englishman too. Because case most if not all of the issues concerning his race would cease to exist. Second of all it was the manner in which Iago and Rodrigo put him down. That is how they had the ability to look down at a basic in the army which is how Iago eventually ruined Othello’s morale. And last but not least it was there to signify the evil and Othello’s anxiety.
By the end of the play Othello starts calling himself black and putting himself down for that. The blackness in Othello is more obvious and has a higher presence every moment. In fact in an Othello film made in 1952 Othello’s skin varied from lighter to darker depending in Othello’s moral demeanor (Bartels, pg 148). The 2nd alternative would be that Othello was really black. Once again the question would be why would Shakespeare make the other characters call him a moor? No factor. There is absolutely no reason he should be called a moor if he is really from West Africa.
For that reason we can see with pure simple logic that Othello was undoubtedly a moor and not black. At those times England had actually just gone to West Africa a few times and had explained the location as unsafe and odd, loaded with unidentified lethal sicknesses, and they were simply beginning to trade the West Africans as servants. On the other hand they had currently been working with North Africa for a very long time already, and although they were likewise called barbarians they had the ability to circumnavigate throughout Europe because compared to the rest of Africa they were civilized (Bartels, pg 141-143).
If a moor wished to end up being a Christian and go to England to live there, he would absolutely be able to do so. They would be called Moriscos, much like a Jew who would transform would be called a Marrano, however they would be enabled and at numerous points in history required to transform to Christianity (Neill, pg 364). On the other hand a black male had no say in the matter, he was a servant and he would always be a slave. He was now his master’s for him to do as he pleased. He would absolutely have no say in the matter of his religion. Even if the slave was converted to Christianity, he would not really understand anything about the faith.
But Othello, as Bartels explains, knows about Christianity and about the European way of living (Bartels pg 143), things that somebody whose only contact given that the really beginning with England had actually remained in the position of a servant would not know. It appears from this that Othello was not from West Africa rather from North Africa. Along these same lines we can mention that a black man from West Africa would never ever get such a high position in the army. They were slaves not army generals, individuals in the greater ranks would never ever let somebody who they feel ought to be their slave get even near their high ranking positions.
When Othello was composed it was something extremely distinctive, never before had actually a moor been the primary character of a play. Around that same time moors were being put in different plays but just as side actors, never ever the tragic hero (Bartels, pg 140). Now, it follows up well and it makes good sense that if moors were starting to be put on plays as side characters, there could be a dive to making a moor the main character of a play. It becomes part of how theater is establishing at that location and time. And at the exact same time if we are simply starting to use the moors as side characters it is quite distinctive to choose to utilize one as the main character of a play.
Now if we were to state that he was black, how do you obtain from just starting to have moors, who belonged to society and of trade, who were able to go in and out of England without any problem, and who had actually been doing business with England for some time now. To having a black guy, who was then looked at as the lowest level of person, as servants who had no rights and who had simply started to even be traded as slaves, they had had no contact with England before that. And not only to put him in the play at all, but to make him the main character, the terrible hero. It does not build up, it can not be.
Throughout this essay I believe that I have covered most if not all of the various reasons and evidence to figure out Othello’s origin, based upon the time on which the play was composed, proofs from the text itself, and just pure logic. And throughout the essay we have actually been able to see time and over again that it is a lot more sensible to state that Othello is of Arabic or North African descent. It may not be one hundred percent foolproof, however really I believe that Shakespeare did not desire us to know for sure with no shadow of a doubt whether he was Arabic or black.
Because at the end of the play Othello asks Lodovico “Speak of me as I am” (5. 2. 351) and Lodovico doesn’t. Here Shakespeare is telling us that he does not wish to inform us. He’s saying here I gave myself the perfect chance to explain Othello once and for all however I’m not going to do it. Functions Cited Bartels, Emily. (2006 ). Othello and the Moor. In Attic A. Sullivan, Jr. (Ed.) Patrick Cheney (Ed.) Andrew Hadfield (Ed. ), Early Modern English Drama (pp. 140-151). New York City: Cambridge University Press. Bell, Millicent. “Shakespeare’s Moor. (Crucial Essay).” Raritan: A Quarterly Evaluation 21. 4 (Spring 2002): 1( 14 ).
Broadened Academic ASAP. Thomson Gale. Florida International University. 14 Dec. 2006 <. Mafe, Diana Adesola."From Ogun to Othello:(re)familiarizing Yoruba myth and Shakespeare's moor. (Important Essay)." Research in African Literatures 35. 3 (Fall 2004): 46( 17 ). Broadened Academic ASAP. Thomson Wind. Florida International University. 14 Dec. 2006 <. Neill, Michael. ""Mulattos," "Blacks,"and "Indian Moors": 'Othello' and early contemporary constructions of human difference." Shakespeare Quarterly 49. 4 (Winter Season 1998): 361( 1 ). Expanded Academic ASAP. Thomson Gale. Florida International University. 14 Dec. 2006 <.