Themes in Othello: Jealousy, Racism and Prejudice

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Intro (100 Words)

Narratives have an enduring power to shape values in today’s societies. Narratives force the readers into finding authentic interpretations of themes and motifs within society, changing one’s mindset about morals and values Shakespeare’s tragedy, Othello is an engrossing play written and performed first in the 1600s and depicts a series of events that unfold due to racism, jealousy and hatred between the characters. New Boy is the rewritten version of the popular play by Tracy Chevalier, which uses the same themes and motifs to create a modern version of the play to that a contemporary audience can understand. The use of language techniques in both Othello and New Boy enables the audience to connect and develop a deeper understanding of the issues represented due to the motifs still occurring in today’s society, around 300 years after Shakespeare’s original version.

Theme 2 (300 words) – Jealousy

Throughout Shakespeare’s Othello, jealousy is apparent. Shakespeare’s tragedy, Othello focuses on Othello’s downfall with other characters such as Iago, Cassio, Desdemona and more due to jealousy as one of the outstanding factors in the play. Jealousy is mainly portrayed through the two major characters: Iago and Othello as it almost corrupts their lives because it causes Iago to shed his real personality. With New Boy being the rewritten and modernized version of the play, Jealousy is still evident in the book and plays a massive role in the outcome of the events that unfold, over the course of the novel it is the primary destructive force undermining almost every relationship between characters big or small.

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Iago – “One Michael Cassio, a Florentine, A fellow almost damned in a fair wife, That never set a squadron in the field, Nor the division of a battle knows More than a spinster—unless the bookish theoric. But he, sir, had the election; And I, of whom his eyes had seen the proof At Rhodes, at Cyprus and on other grounds Christian and heathen, must be beleed and calmed By debtor and creditor. This counter-caster, He, in good time, must his lieutenant be” Here, Iago states that he hates Othello because he passed Iago over for a promotion, giving Michael Cassio the job as his lieutenant instead. Iago says he’s far more qualified than Cassio, who doesn’t require Iago’s experience in the warzone.

This can be seen as Iago being jealous that Cassio got the promotion over himself, but it Iago may also be using this as merely another excuse in order to go after Othello.

Iago may also be using this in order to try and manipulate Roderigo who we learn throughout the play envies Othello due to him marrying Desdemona.

Ian one of the main characters in the novel who show jealousy towards Osei due to his and Dee’s relationship. When Ian first targets O, he is amazed by how easily he can make him suspicious of Dee, and he plays on the new boy’s fears in a way that completely changes O’s character. After pointing out the pencil case in Blanca’s bag, “Ian began to think he was not going to have to do much more—the poison was taking hold, and he could simply stand back and watch it spread” (150). This metaphor is used often throughout the novel in relation to jealousy, emphasizing how Ian’s few words to O leave him seemingly helpless with jealous pain. O is particularly vulnerable to its effects because of his expectation of prejudice. While Ian never overtly says that Dee is betraying O because she is racist, he heavily implies it, and O panics at the thought of losing his ally. When he lashes out at Dee, he is speaking with the accumulated fury of years of racist treatment. Unfortunately, it is aimed at the one white child on the playground who truly has his best interest at heart.

Theme 1 (300 words) – Racism and Prejudice

Racism and Prejudice are powerful reoccurring themes within both Othello and New boy, they are used to entice the audience on how individuals are both oppressed and segregated purely based on their race and skin colour. Racism is one of the main and constant problems of New Boy as it is an aspect of Osei that is unique to him in comparison to the school’s population of pure white-American children. Chevalier makes it clear to the reader that Osei is an outsider and is alienated to the other children from the beginning of the novel through this quote from Mr Brabant “He doesn’t need special treatment just because he is bla…. A new boy” The quote shows and almost predicts future events that will unfold through the novel on how Osei is always getting provoked until he cannot hold his emotions any longer

Racism is also prevalent in Othello, where Othello is heavily discriminated against solely based on the colour of his skin and his hierarchy in society. As seen in Act 1 scene 3, Brabantio states

“She, in spite of nature, Of years, of country, credit, everything, To fall in love with what she feared to look on! It is a judgment maimed and most imperfect That will confess perfection so could err, Against all rules of nature”

Through this quote, Desdemona’s father says that her love for Othello can’t be natural, as according to her father, Desdemona would never love a black man who she ‘fear’d to look on.’ Of course, Brabantio couldn’t be more wrong about his daughter – Desdemona is in love Othello. It seems that Iago has played Brabantio perfectly. Iago knew that Brabantio was racist and, as previous passages demonstrate, he used Brabantio’s attitude toward the idea of a mixed marriage in order to rile the man against Othello. Brabantio repeatedly insists that Othello must have ‘enchanted’ Desdemona with ‘foul charms’ and magic spells. Otherwise, he insists, Desdemona never would never have run ‘to the sooty bosom’ of Othello.

Conclusion (100 words)

Through comparing and contrasting both Othello and the modernized version, New Boy, readers are able to find new and relevant meanings of the narratives that depict certain themes and motifs, including racism, jealousy, gender, miscommunication and manipulation. The author of New Boy, Tracy Chevalier is able to rewrite Othello in such a way which means the original meaning, ideas and opinions seen in Othello are successfully transferred over to New Boy so that a modern audience can understand and relate to what is happening. The use of language techniques in both Othello and New Boy enables the audience to connect and develop a deeper understanding of the issues represented due to the motifs still occurring in today’s society, around 300 years after Shakespeare’s original version.


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