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Shakespeare – Othello and Race

2. The Racialisation of Jealousy

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In this module, we think about the extent to which Othello's jealousy is dependent on his race, focusing in particular on: (i) Othello's status as an outsider – the 'Moor of Venice' who will never be accepted as a real Venetian – and the extent to which this contributes to his violent jealousy: (ii) the racist slurs that are used of Othello in the first two scenes of the play by Iago, Roderigo and Brabantio; (iii) the fear in Shakespeare's England of a union between a black man and a white woman, and the reason why this fear had intensified by the later 16th century; (iv) the figure of Abd el-Ouahed ben Messaoud, the Moroccan ambassador to the court of Elizabeth I who visited England in 1600, and the extent to which Othello is characterised (and characterises himself) as this kind of Moor as opposed to the bound and enslaved African seen (e.g.) on the coat of arms of the slave-trade Sir John Hawkins; (v) the extent to which 'the Moor' was a composite figure in the European imagination at the time, combining Turkish fashion and mores with the physiognomy of a sub-Saharan African - and the extent to which the character of Othello is a similarly 'composite' character; (vi) the depiction of Turks as jealous uxoricides in contemporary literature – William Painter's 'Mahomet and Irene' (1566) and Richard Knolles 'The General History of the Turkes' (1603) – and the extent to these stereotypes bubble under the surface of Shakespeare's 'Othello'; (vii) the negative depiction of the Moor in Cinthio's 'Un Capitano Moro' (1565), and the extent to which Shakespeare's counters this stereotype in 'Othello'; (viii) the contemporary view that the military strength of the Ottoman Empire ultimately depended on Christians (especially in the elite corps known as the Janissaries), and the extent to which the Venetian state uses this strategy in reverse in 'Othello'; and (ix) the extent to which Othello serves to defend Venice from the Turkish threat while himself embodying that very same threat.


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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Loomba, A. (2021, November 02). Shakespeare – Othello and Race - The Racialisation of Jealousy [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

Loomba, A. "Shakespeare – Othello and Race – The Racialisation of Jealousy." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 02 Nov 2021,

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