Second thoughts about Othello
It is his credulity which diminishes Othello as a tragic hero and therefore diminishes the tragic effect. Of all the tragic flaws in Shakespeare’s characters – pride, procrastination, ambition, among others – credulity is the least likely to engage sympathetic understanding. It is Othello’s credulity which alienates him from our sympathy, as his colour alienates him from Venetian society. And Shakespeare seems to suggest that his colour and his race explain his credulity, his jealousy and his violence. (Quarshie, 14)
Writing at the end of the 20th century Hugh Quarshie was able to reflect upon some of the ways in which issues surrounding ‘race’ had played a major role in shaping audience’s attitudes towards this play over time. In order to enhance your understanding of Quarshie’s comments you might find it useful to view the following resources:I think it would be possible to produce a version of the play which shifts the focus away from race and onto character. It might still be impossible to avoid the conclusion that Othello behaves as he does because he’s black; but it might be possible to suggest that he does so not because of a genetic disposition towards gullibility and violent jealousy, but for compelling psychological, social and political reasons; that he behaves as he does because he is a black man responding to racism, not giving a pretext for it. (Quarshie, 21)
- Learn more about Ira Aldridge, the first black actor to play Othello, by watching this short documentary
- Watch clips of Laurence Olivier playing Othello in black makeup in 1965
Want to keep
learning?This content is taken from
University of Birmingham online course,
Othello: In PerformanceView Course
- What do you think about the points Hugh Quarshie raises?
- Do you think casting Lucian Msamati and Hugh Quarshie as Iago and Othello offers an opportunity to focus on character above race? Why or why not?
Othello: In Performance
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