Othello's Alienation

Othello’s Alienation

Berry, Edward

Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900, Vol. 30, No. 2, Elizabethan and Jacobean Drama (Spring, 1990), pp. 315-333.


Albert Gerardand Laurence Lerner, have argued that Othello is fundamentally savage. For Gerard, “Othello’s negroid physiognomy is simply the emblem of a difference that reachesdown to the deepest levels of personality. . . . Othello is, in actual fact, what Iago says he is, a ‘barbarian’.”‘ Laurence Lernercalls Othello “the story of a barbarian who (the pity of it) relapses” and concludes that Shakespeare “suffered from colour prejudice.” For such critics the play is a study of a character whose innate savagery is disguised by a thin veneerof civilization and Christianity.

A more persuasive and influential response to Othello’s Moor-ishness has-been to contrast Shakespeare’streatmentof race with that of his contemporaries. Both G.K. Hunter and EldredJones, in particular, have argued that Shakespeare invokes the negative Elizabethan stereotypes of Africans only to discredit them. According to Hunter, the play “manipulates our sympathies, supposing that we will have brought to the theatre a set of careless assumptions about ‘Moors’.It assumes also that we will find it easy to abandon these as the play brings them into focus and identifies them with Iago, draws its elaborate distinction between the external appearance of devilishness and the inner reality.

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