Does Shakespeare Reinforce or Question Contemporary Attitudes to Cultural Outsiders in 'Othello' and the Merchant of Venice? Essay

1082 WordsMay 13, 20155 Pages
In the plays the Merchant of Venice and Othello, Shakespeare explores the effects of racial oppression and attitudes to race in general. The idea of cultural outsiders is one of the main themes present in the plays. 'Culture' is the customs and social behaviour of particular groups of people and societies and an outsider is a person who does not belong in a particular situation, organisation or community. This definition relates to both Othello and Shylock as throughout the play we see them as victims of prejudice and injustice because of their cultural differences. In the play Othello, Shakespeare expresses the culture outsider, Othello himself in this instance. As a moor. The term Moor means a person or persons of an African descent. During the renaissance time period there were various stigmas attached to 'moors' and other cultural outsiders. Leo Africanus wrote a book named 'the history and description of Africa (1526)' where he portrayed Moors as being extremely prideful. 'Subject unto Jealousy; who would rather lose their lives than put up any disgrace on behalf of the women.' This is ironic and would lead one to believe Shakespeare reinforced Africanus' ideology in the tragic ending of Othello. Shakespeare also reinforces contemporary attitudes to Jews through the protagonist Shylock. During the 1600’s Jews were extremely disliked and according to Peter Gintro were ‘usurious, cunning, malevolent and potentially murderous’. A stereotype of the Jewish community originated from medieval and again is ironically attributes we see surrounding Shylock. One way Shakespeare reinforces and challenges contemporary attitudes to cultural outsiders is through Othello’s character. Othello is a Moor and Shakespeare presents him in a way which would suggest that he is humble around the other characters and aware of the fact that his cultural differences cripple him in

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