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In Othello Shakespeare explores the nature of social prejudice How far does your reading of the play support this view? You should use as a starting point for your answer a close examination of Act 1 Scene 2 to Act 1 Scene 3.

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Introduction

'In 'Othello' Shakespeare explores the nature of social prejudice' How far does your reading of the play support this view? You should use as a starting point for your answer a close examination of Act 1 Scene 2 to Act 1 Scene 3. Throughout 'Othello', William Shakespeare unquestionably places a great deal of emphasis on the exploration of the nature of social prejudice; one should not be surprised by this thematic focus as most, if not all, of Shakespeare's plays are used as vehicles to convey his socio-political views. However, in early 17th Century England the concept of having a 'Moor' as the hero of a play was almost unthinkable, due to the inherent prejudice of the society at that time. In fact, it is a commonly held belief that Othello was the first black (or North African) character to have a lead role in Western literature, though there is a Moorish character in Shakespeare's 'Titus Andronicus' - the villain, Aaron. Shakespeare's examination of social prejudice in 'Othello' is broad in scope as it analyses the issue from an objective point of view, highlighting both the inescapable stigma of a different colour skin whilst postulating that everyone is capable of achieving greatness, regardless of ethnicity. In the case of Othello, though it is true that he is able to ascend to the rank of general in the Venetian army, it could be argued that he is ultimately doomed not by his honour or his jealousy, but by the provenance of his blood. ...read more.

Middle

In Act 1 Scene 2, Brabantio's anger at Othello's lack of respect manifests itself in the unfortunate guise of prejudice; rather than confront Othello about his failure to ask for Desdemona's hand in marriage, the pragmatic course of action, he instead accuses him of using 'black magic' to seduce his daughter, "thou hast enchanted her", "chains of magic", "foul charms". It is difficult to tell whether Brabantio is indeed prejudiced, as he has been influenced by Iago's foul racist slurs and is in a wild temper at the thought of his daughter eloping. Furthermore, Othello later reveals that Brabantio had enjoyed his company and frequently requested his presence in his house, "her father loved me, oft invited me" which suggests that Brabantio may be acting in a prejudiced manner only because he has been wronged. This interpretation is corroborated by Shakespeare's presentation of Othello in Act 1 Scene 2, the first time the audience meets him; far from 'the devil' described in Act 1 Scene 1, he is articulate, peaceful and reasonable, refusing to fight, "Keep up your bright swords", and freely allowing Brabantio to bring him before the Duke. However, Othello is not without fault, as evidenced by his attitude in Act 1 Scene 2 which demonstrates the arrogance which has led some critics, such as F.R. Leavis, to place him as an "egotistical fool". Whilst it is true that Othello refuses to fight Brabantio, he does so in a manner which highlights him own military ...read more.

Conclusion

Secondly, the situation indicates that whilst the origin of one's blood may be overlooked when one is of use, such as the Senate's need for Othello's military prowess, its stigma is inescapable, as confirmed by the way Iago uses Othello's race to manipulate Brabantio - and crucially, his success in doing so. These two issues are at the crux of Shakespeare's exploration of social prejudice, but they are by no means the only subjects of his analysis. By investigating the nature of social prejudice objectively, a difficult thing to do in Shakespearian times; Shakespeare seems to have concluded that social prejudice can be overcome, but generally only in times when one is of direct use to he who would otherwise be an oppressor. In Act 1 of 'Othello', Shakespeare conveys the dual aspects of this issue: the way Iago is able to leverage Othello's race to instil rage in Brabantio is indicative of the way social prejudice can be utilised as a weapon, whilst the Senate's biased defence of Othello illuminates how higher social standing can be used as a shield. The duality of the matter is further exemplified by the character of Othello himself; whilst one can sympathise with the racist abuse he suffers, he is also presented as an arrogant individual who demonstrates a lack of respect for Brabantio, a respected Senator. In conclusion, Shakespeare unquestionably places great emphasis on the exploration of the nature of social prejudice in 'Othello', developing characters and situations with the primary purpose of conveying his opinion on this deeply contentious subject. ...read more.

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