William Shakespeare

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Prejudice Theme Analysis

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Themes and Colors
Prejudice Theme Icon
Appearance vs. Reality Theme Icon
Jealousy Theme Icon
Manhood and Honor Theme Icon
Womanhood and Sexuality Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Othello, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Prejudice Theme Icon

The most prominent form of prejudice on display in Othello is racial prejudice. In the very first scene, Roderigo and Iago disparage Othello in explicitly racial terms, calling him, among other things, "Barbary horse" and "thick lips." In nearly every case, the prejudiced characters use terms that describe Othello as an animal or beast. In other words, they use racist language to try to define Othello not only as an outsider to white Venetian society, but as being less human and therefore less deserving of respect. Othello himself seems to have internalized this prejudice. On a number of occasions he describes himself in similarly unflattering racial terms. And when he believes that he has lost his honor and manhood through Desdemona's supposed unfaithfulness, he quickly becomes the kind of un-rational animal or monster that the white Venetians accuse him of being.

Yet racial prejudice is not the only prejudice on display in Othello. Many characters in the play also exhibit misogyny, or hatred of women, primarily focused on women's honesty or dishonesty about their sexuality. Several times, Othello's age is also a reason for insulting him. In all of these cases, the characters displaying prejudice seek to control and define another person or group who frighten them. In other words, prejudice works as a kind of strategy to identify outsiders and insiders and to place yourself within the dominant group. And Othello himself seems to understand this—he concludes his suicide speech by boasting that he, a Christian, once killed a Muslim Turk, a "circumcised dog" (5.2.355) who had murdered a Venetian citizen. Othello tries to use religious prejudice against Muslims to cement his place within mainstream Christian Venetian society.

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Prejudice ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Prejudice appears in each scene of Othello. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Prejudice Quotes in Othello

Below you will find the important quotes in Othello related to the theme of Prejudice.
Act 1, scene 2 Quotes
"Damned as thou art, thou hast enchanted her!
For I'll refer me to all things of sense,
If she in chains of magic were not bound,
Whether a maid, so tender, fair, and happy,
So opposite to marriage that she shunned
The wealthy curled darlings of our nation,
Would ever have, t'incur a general mock,
Run from her guardage to the sooty bosom
Of such a thing as thou—to fear, not to delight."
Related Characters: Brabantio (speaker), Othello, Desdemona
Related Symbols: Animals
Page Number: 1.2.82-90
Explanation and Analysis:
Act 1, scene 3 Quotes
"The Moor is of a free and open nature
That thinks men honest that but seem to be so;
And will as tenderly be led by th' nose
As asses are."
Related Characters: Iago (speaker), Othello
Related Symbols: Animals
Page Number: 1.3.442-445
Explanation and Analysis:
Act 2, scene 1 Quotes
"I'll [...] make the Moor thank me, love me, and reward me
For making him egregiously an ass."
Related Characters: Iago (speaker), Othello
Related Symbols: Animals
Page Number: 2.1.330-331
Explanation and Analysis:
Act 3, scene 3 Quotes
"Haply, for I am black
And have not those soft parts of conversation
That chamberers have, or for I am declined
Into the vale of years – yet that's not much –
She's gone."
Related Characters: Othello (speaker), Desdemona
Page Number: 3.3.304-3.3.308
Explanation and Analysis:
Act 5, scene 2 Quotes
"When you shall these unlucky deeds relate,
Speak of me as I am. Nothing extenuate,
Nor set down aught in malice. Then must you speak
Of one that loved not wisely, but too well;
Of one not easily jealous, but, being wrought,
Perplexed in the extreme; of one whose hand,
Like the base Judean, threw a pearl away
Richer than all his tribe; of one whose subdued eyes
Albeit unused to the melting mood,
Drops tears as fast as the Arabian trees
Their medicinable gum. Set you down this.
And say besides that in Aleppo once,
Where a malignant and a turbaned Turk
Beat a Venetian and traduced the state,
I took by the throat the circumcised dog
And smote him—thus."
Related Characters: Othello (speaker)
Page Number: 5.2.401-417
Explanation and Analysis: