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Shakespeare – Othello and Race

4. Race, Sex and Class

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In this module, we think about Othello's status as a black nobleman (with an equal emphasis on 'black', 'noble' and 'man') contributes to the tragedy of 'Othello', focusing in particular on: (i) the extent to which characters in the play, and Iago in particular, portray social hierarchies and 'natural' ones – i.e. Iago's contention that it is 'unnatural' for a white women to want to marry a black man; (ii) the extent to which Othello's internalises the racist and sexist assumptions that are voiced by other characters in the play; (iii) the extent to which Iago preys on Othello's anxiety about 'being a man'; (iv) the concept of the 'white devil', and the extent to which this contributes to Othello's behaviour towards Desdemona in the second half of the play; (v) the extent to which the behaviour alleged of Desdemona causes Othello to reflect on his masculinity (as opposed to Desdemona's femininity) and his blackness (as opposed to her whiteness), and the extent to which Emilia's later reflections on the relationship between men and women further accentuates this dichotomy; (vi) the extent to which class differences contribute to the antipathy between Othello and Iago; (vii) the implication of Iago's soliloquy in which he insinuates that Othello has slept with his wife; (viii) the views of Hugh Quarshie ('Second Thoughts on Othello', 1999) and Ben Okri ('Leaping Out of Shakespeare's Terror, 1997) on the question of whether 'Othello' merely exposes racist stereotypes or actively endorses them.


In this course, Professor Ania Loomba (University of Pennsylvania) explores the question of race in Shakespeare's 'Othello'. In the first module, we think about what race meant to Shakespeare and his contemporaries, exploring the long history of blackness in European literature, and considering some of the key historical changes in 15th- and 16th-century Europe that contributed to changing attitudes about race. In the second module, we think about the extent to which Othello's jealousy is presented as being dependent on his race – to what extent, in other words, is his jealous because he is black? – before turning in the third module to consider the interplay between sex, sexism and racism in the play, especially the extent to which Othello's status as a victim of racism is linked to his status as an agent of sexism. In the fourth module, we delve a little deeper into this topic by thinking about the interplay between race, sex and class in the play, before turning in the fifth and final module to consider the issue of race in the performance history of Othello.

Note: We used the Arden edition of the play (Third Series, Revised Edition, ed. E. A. J. Honigmann). Students using a different version of the play may encounter slight differences in both the text and line numbers.


Ania Loomba is the Catherine Bryson Professor of English at the University of Pennsylvania. She researches and teaches early modern literature, histories of race and colonialism, postcolonial studies, feminist theory, and contemporary Indian literature and culture. Her writings include Gender, Race, Renaissance Drama (1989), Colonialism/Postcolonialism (1998), and Shakespeare, Race, and Colonialism (2002). She has co-edited Post-Colonial Shakespeares (1998), Postcolonial Studies and Beyond (2005), Race in Early Modern England: A Documentary Companion (2007) and South Asian Feminisms (co-edited with Ritty A. Lukose, 2012). She has also produced a critical edition of Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra (2011)

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APA style

Loomba, A. (2021, November 02). Shakespeare – Othello and Race - Race, Sex and Class [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

Loomba, A. "Shakespeare – Othello and Race – Race, Sex and Class." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 02 Nov 2021,

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