Weakness and Race

Although I enjoyed all of the readings for this week, I particularly enjoyed the point of view that we see in “The Nymph’s Reply to the Shepherd.” This is the first time that we truly see a woman standing up for herself to a man. As I stated in my previous blog, the nymph represent what I’m sure many women of this time period would have wanted to say to a man but were not able to due to circumstances. Ralegh gives us the impression that women of this time period were strong, autonomous individuals who were capable of making decisions for themselves. The nymph states in lines 19-20, “All these in me no means can move/ To come to thee and by thy love.” We see that they nymph is not moved by the shepherd’s false profession of deceptive gifs. In a way, the shepherd is trying to buy her, just as a prostitute is bought. But the nymph refuses to believe his deceptions.

On the other hand, we see how reliant women are to men in Othello. We see this first when Desdemona pleads her love of Othello to her father and the duke. She states, “ I do perceive here a divided duty,/ To you I am bound for life and education both do lean me/ My life and education both do learn me/ How to respect you; you are the lord of duty;/ I am hitherto your daughter” (lines 170-174). Here we see that women are presumed as property and thus have a duty to the men in their lives- first to the father, then to their husband. We then see multiple examples much later in the play that expresses a woman’s response to how they were treated as property. Emily states, “Let husbands know/ Their wives have sense like them. They see, and smell,/ And have their palates both for sweet and sour,/ As husbands have. What is it that they do/ When they change us for others? Is it sport? I think it is” (lines 92-97). Emily is a similar character to the nymph in that she outspoken and independent, although she is only this way in the presence of women. In the end, Emily’s openness is her demise, as it would have been during the Renaissance period.

We also are introduced to another core issue during this time period: racism. It is stated early in Othello that our main character is black. I think the greatest thing we learn from this play is how simple-minded people can be when it comes to race. A prime example of this is how Iago often describes Othello as Black Othello. Another example is seen as Othello pleads his case to the duke, he explains how Brabantio used to respected him and invite him over so Brabantio could listen to Othello’s stories. Brabantio found Othello to be an honorable and courageous man until he wed Desdemona. From then on, Brabantio expressed that Othello was a dishonorable man full of witchcraft because he is black. After all, how could a woman possibly fall in love with a black man if it were not for witchcraft? Brabantio states, “ A maiden never bold;/ Of spirit so still and quiet that her motion/ Blushed at herself and she- in spite of nature,/ Of years, of country, credit, everything-/ To fall in love with what she feared to look on?” (lines 94-98). Here we see that Brabantio found it inconceivable that his devoted and beautiful daughter could ever fall for such a monster as a black man.

We see more examples of racism throughout the play, although many of them are not as outright as the example just stated. We hear from many characters the qualities of Othello: strength, honor, and devotion. Although these qualities are stated, another statement about his race soon follows them. We see this especially in Iago, who states he hates Othello because it is unimaginable that a black man could be his superior. It is wondrous to the characters that Othello could be all of these qualities because of the hindrance of his race. We see that the racism and deceptiveness eventually becomes too much for Othello, and he succumbs to the monster that the characters, especially Iago and Brabantio, presume that black people are. Similar to what we see today, many people cannot look past a person’s race, no matter how true their character or accomplished their past may be. Unfortunately, this is something that humanity has faced throughout history, and it will likely continue long after we are gone.

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One thought on “Weakness and Race

  1. I agree it’s refreshing to see a woman standing up for herself. Especially after reading how Desdemona didn’t use her last breath to declare her killer, instead accusing herself! What?! Desdemona… how could you let him betray you like that? Take a note from the nymph, realize when the love has “rotten.” Great comparison of the nymph to Emilia. I doubted her integrity throughout the play as she allowed Iago to treat her so poorly. But as you’ve stated, it was the way of the period for a woman to keep to herself. But her honesty redeemed her in the end, perhaps if she had spoken up earlier things wouldn’t have been so tragic. But what kind of story would that make?

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