‘Othello’ Good Vs Evil: An Analysis Of Moral Dichotomies

According to the Collins dictionary, the concept of ‘otherness’ is the quality that someone or something has which is different in appearance, character, etc. Shakespeare seemed to be very interested in creating this type of character in his plays, displaying a feeling of fitness for the Elizabethan audience. However, in Othello, it seems rather different than in the rest. The character of Othello is portrayed as ‘different’ for three main different reasons; his race, his religion, and his character. These last include his speech, attitudes, and own inner conflict.

Character Dichotomy in Othello

Shakespeare doesn’t hide how his character is an outsider, as the title itself creates a dichotomy between the character and the rest; Othello, the Moor of Venice. Othello is displayed as a dark skin savage opposed to the refined Venice and Venetians. Despite the clear opposition, Shakespeare makes his character a great soldier and a converted Christian. This, as Fiedler explains, creates a difference where ‘stranger’ and ‘spoilsport’ does not necessarily have the same meaning. An important fact that is not understood by the rest of the cast in the play.

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The Racial Perspective

The first differentiation of the character, which makes him a stranger to the rest, is his race. His dark skin color makes him an infiltrator of the white Venetian kingdom. Even before he appears in the play, he is already described as “an old black ram”, a “horse,” a “stranger,” and a “barbarian”. This allows Othello to be isolated right from the beginning. The ones with the racist attitude are Iago and Roderigo, who display the stereotype Africans had in the age of Shakespeare; the idea of white supremacy over the black as slaves and inferior. In a conversation between Iago and Roderigo, the former explains how he will not follow a ‘black ram’ but rather himself in battle. This type of comment suggests the attitude that Elizabethan England had towards Africans and dark skins being brought to the British Isles and colonies.

The Geographical and Religious Factors

Furthermore, little is said about Othello’s background, but the fact that he is a foreign mercenary stands without a doubt. In the play, Othello explains how “From year to year: the battle, sieges, fortune, that I have passed”. This is a way to make the character a lifelong outsider everywhere he has gone. Gillies adds that being ‘geographically displaced’ causes Shakespeare’s ‘strangers’ to become more threatening.

Following the lines of the foreigner, there is another factor that influences the ‘otherness’ in Othello, the Moor. Moors were usually Muslims, although in this case, it is known that Othello was converted to Christianity. The fact that the War of Cyprus against the Turks, which is portrayed in the play, was a religious war, makes the conflict between Othello and the rest of the Christian Venetians exponentially larger.

The cast, especially Iago, makes no difference in acknowledging as a converted Christian and a fake Christian. He, thereon, becomes responsible for reinforcing Othello’s isolation in regard to the rest. Regarding this topic, Tekalp explains how for such kinds of people, ‘strangers,’ or non-Christians, have always become inferior to the ‘same’ and should remain as ‘footnotes’ to the society they shelter in. Iago even declares how Othello isn’t worthy of his position as only a true believer of heaven can lead and calm the Venetian army.

The racial and religious conflict extends to the relationship between Desdemona and Othello. The love between the characters can be interpreted as a form of union between ‘white England and the black colonies.’ However, the interracial relationship is seen by the rest of the characters in the play as a violation of the ‘black’ to the white race, only softened by the fact that Othello is a heroic figure and a Christian, not a Muslim.

The Influence of Character Personality on ‘Otherness’

In regards to the character that makes Othello an ‘alien’ to the community he lives in is his personality. One of the main attributes of Othello is his barbaric attitude as a warrior, a mercenary who fights for money rather than to defend his nation. His life experiences, along with his brutality, are very distinctive when comparing it with the prototypical Venetian soldier, characterized by chivalry and a preference for a high life rather than to be on the battlefield. As Othello is made commander, society proofs to use him for his skills as a soldier but never accepts him.

Moreover, Othello acknowledges he is an outsider when he addresses his speech and manners, which, although it breaks with the stereotype, is still different from the one of his surroundings. Therefore, Shakespeare creates a character who is well-established as a stranger in the play due to “his past, his bearing, and above all, his language, with its unusual rhythms, grandeur, and exoticism” besides his skin color.

Conclusion: Self-Reflection and the Tragic End

Lastly, following the sociological definition of otherness, “social identities are created through our ongoing social interaction with other people and our subsequent self-reflection about who we think we are according to these social exchanges”. Therefore, this not only focuses on social differences but also on self-differentiation. Othello becomes a stranger to himself. The play proceeds, and the social pressures and isolation of Othello end up resulting in his own suicide. In his last soliloquy, Othello seems to kill everything that makes him an outcast to society, without taking into consideration what this act involved; ‘the destruction of Othello.’ This conception is held by Lupton, who considers that Othello kills his undesirable half, ‘the turbaned Turks and the circumcision can be interpreted as the ‘inclusive sign of Othello’s otherness’.

The otherness in Othello is the result of several external traits, mainly religious and racial, as well as internal. All these factors combined isolate the character in profound solitude, making him not only a stranger in Venice but also a stranger within himself. An outcome that worsens as the play progresses and Othello commits suicide.

References

  1. Fiedler, L. A. (1960). The Stranger in Shakespeare. Oxford English Literary History, 7(1), 145-160.
  2. Gillies, J. (1994). Shakespeare and the Geography of Difference. Cambridge University Press.
  3. Lupton, J. R. (1998). Othello’s Alienation: A Study of Otherness in Shakespeare’s Othello. Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900, 38(1), 217-231.
  4. Tekalp, S. (2017). Conversion and Identity in Othello. Journal of Early Modern Studies, 11(2), 133-148.

Positive And Negative Effects Of The Industrial Revolution On Society

Starting around the eighteenth century in England (United Kingdom), the First Industrial Revolution marked a transformation from a rural and agrarian society to one that was more urban and industry-dependent. By the 1830s to ‘40s, this period soon spread to other nations in the world, including the United States. Not only did it transform England’s economy from rural to urban, but it also altered the way people lived and how goods were produced. For example, with the creation of simple machines like the spinning jenny, the power loom, etc., clothes were weaved easier and much faster. As a result, goods became cheaper, and most people–even lower classes people–could access them. In addition, the invention of steam-powered locomotives (steam-powered boats and ships) allowed people to cross the Atlantic, something that was impossible for people to achieve before (History.com Editors and John). Besides the positive aspects and results that the Industrial Revolution brought to people’s lives, it also resulted in harmful downsides like devastating working conditions, the formation of child labor, and dreadful living conditions.

Working Conditions During the Industrial Revolution

To begin with, people from the middle class and high class did not notice the trenchant working conditions that many low-class people needed to experience to produce their everyday products (clothing, shoes, etc.). Back during that time, people and the government worked according to laissez-faire capitalism: an ideology stating that the government should try to stay away from the country’s economic decisions and leave most of them to its citizens. This way, the nation’s economy would progress and grow stronger. As a result, mines, as well as factory owners, took control of everything, wages, working hours, etc., and they acted the way they desired. What they chose was to let workers face notorious working conditions without any worker rights. There were no guards or any security available for the workers back then.

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Consequently, injuries were common among those people, especially the ones who worked near the spinning belts and shafts machines. In addition, most workers had to wear loose clothes to work with machines that ran at high speed; because of that, many of them were pulled into the machines and died. Furthermore, windows and ventilations were not equipped in factories or mines; this was the reason why workers usually suffered from heart diseases and lung problems back in the Industrial Revolution. Even though the government knew the hazardous working environment the low class faced, they did not establish any laws or protections for those people, as they hoped that everything could run according to laissez-faire capitalism (History “Working Conditions”).

Wages and Work Hours During the Industrial Revolution

Despite the harsh circumstances that the low-class people worked in, they did not receive a high wage. In fact, their wages were very little, and they could barely cover their living costs. Normally, men would work sixteen shifts in one day, and they earned 10 shillings (around .098 cents) per week. On the other hand, women worked shorter shifts, around twelve hours in one day, and received half the amount the men did (around .049 cents) per week. Although both the men and the women worked shifts that were long and exhausting, they refused to take breaks throughout the day because the factory owners would deduct their wages if they took breaks. Besides that, all workers were required to be at the factory from early in the morning to start their work, or else their wages were also going to be lowered (History “Working Conditions”).

The Rise of Child Labor During the Industrial Revolution

Another negative aspect that sprung up during the Industrial Revolution was child labor, and as the Industrial Revolution progressed, child labor became prevalent. This occurred because low-class families did not have enough money to supply their daily needs, so they sent their children to work as an extra income source. Families tried to have as many kids as possible since the more children they had, the more income they would receive. Most of the children who went to work were about fourteen to sixteen, and factory owners favored them more than adult workers for several reasons. Firstly, they were assigned the same amount of work that adults did, but the owners only had to pay them ten to twenty percent of the amount they paid adults. Secondly, children were more obedient than adults: they would not form strikes to request higher wages, ask for shorter work days, etc.; therefore, it was easier for the owners to control the children. Finally, their body sizes were smaller, which means that they could fit into tighter places that adults were not able to.

For example, machines like the textile mill ran at high speed, and they were often clogged. Children’s small fingers simply could unclog those machines. Nevertheless, when the children did that, the owners never ordered them to stop the machines. This led to the machine working against the children’s fingers, and they would be severely injured (History “Child Labor”).

Similar to adults, children always had injuries all over their bodies when they worked in factories since they were required to work close to spinning belts and powered machines without any guards provided. Working without guards was more dangerous for children than for adults, as they were not old enough to recognize the safety rules and guidelines outlined while working. On top of that, the machines that children worked with were most of the time bigger and taller than them. As a result, it was not safe for the children to operate those machines. Furthermore, clothing was another obstacle for children while they worked. They were provided clothes that were several sizes larger than theirs, and on their feet, they did not have any shoes or protection. Because of the big clothes, getting caught in the machines was a banal problem for children, and each time like that, they would die (History “Child Labor”).

Living Conditions During the Industrial Revolution

The last downside of the Industrial Revolution was the awful living conditions for low-class people. Those who decided to move to industrial cities had to stay at “back-to-back terraces” that were constructed by factory owners and entrepreneurs. Those houses were called back-to-back terraces because they were built side-by-side and connected to each other. Since the intention of those houses was for workers to live, their quality was poor. The cheapest materials were utilized to construct them, and basic amenities like windows and ventilators were not available. Besides that, there was no running water or sanitation equipped in those houses. After a long work day in hot factories and mines, people could not take a shower, which resulted in a lack of hygiene and diseases. Without water, sanitation also became a challenging process: people had to dump their wastes out onto the streets or dig holes to bury them. This made streets in the United Kingdom a dirty place.

Numerous diseases also came with filthy conditions, and they communicated to individuals at a rapid pace. Bodies of water like lakes and rivers were also highly polluted as people threw their waste and garbage into them. Not only humans harmed the environment, but factories and mines were other factors that annihilated the environment. Every day, factories and mines burn coal to operate. Consequently, a gigantic amount of smoke and burned particles were released into the air. In addition, locomotive engines were also powered by coal which also caused environmental problems (History “Living Conditions”).

Conclusion

It is undeniable that considerable changes came with the Industrial Revolution. Everything (food, clothes, transportation, etc.) was produced at a rapid rate, so people of all classes could access them. Railroads and steam-powered engines made it possible for people to travel across the ocean (John). On the other hand, problems like harmful working conditions, abuse of child labor, and horrendous living conditions did rise with the transformation from agrarian to machines. Regardless of the positive or negative effects that the Industrial Revolution brought with it.

References

  1. History.com Editors. “Industrial Revolution.” History, A&E Television Networks, 2009
  2. History. “Working Conditions During The Industrial Revolution.” National World War II Museum.

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