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Shakespeare – Othello and Race

3. Sex, Sexuality and Race

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About this Lecture

Lecture

In this module, we explore the connections between sex, sexuality and race in the play, focusing in particular on: (i) the question of whether Othello is destined to 'revert to type' as the jealous Turk or whether Iago manipulates Othello to embody this stereotype; (ii) the extent to which Iago talks about the untrustworthiness and inconstancy of women – both the Othello and to other characters; (iii) the extent to which other male characters in the play also contribute to this view of women as untrustworthy and deceitful, e.g. Brabantio ("She has deceived her father, and may thee"), and the extent to which these views are amplified by Iago; (iv) Iago's speech about 'the green-eyed monster', in which he once again makes the assumption that women's inconstancy is inevitable; (v) the extent to which Italian women, and Venetian women in particular, were thought to be particularly licentious, cf. Iago's description of Desdemona as "a super-subtle Venetian"; (vi) the difficulty of placing one's sympathies either fully with Desdemona or fully with Othello; (vii) the importance of the fact that the charge of sexual impropriety haunts all three female characters in the play, and that two of them are murdered by their husbands; (viii) contemporary attitudes to the liberty afforded to women in England compared to the other cultures, especially in relation to the policing of women's sexual activity, and the symbolism of the Desdemona's handkerchief; and (ix) the boldness and intelligence of Desdemona, and the extent to which she brings her fate upon herself by breaking Venetian social norms.

Course

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.

Lecturer

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)

Cite this Lecture

APA style

Loomba, A. (2021, November 02). Shakespeare – Othello and Race - Sex, Sexuality and Race [Video]. MASSOLIT. https://massolit.io/courses/shakespeare-othello-and-race/sex-sexuality-and-race

MLA style

Loomba, A. "Shakespeare – Othello and Race – Sex, Sexuality and Race." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 02 Nov 2021, https://massolit.io/courses/shakespeare-othello-and-race/sex-sexuality-and-race

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