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Elizabethan Times- Othello

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How do the opening scenes and closing scenes of your Shakespearean text reflect the Elizabthan values/ beliefs?

The Venetian society in which the Shakespearean play, Othello is set in is a clear representation of the writer’s context. The values, attitudes and beliefs that Shakespeare reveals in the opening and closing scenes of Othello, are the exact to the ones accepted by the Elizabethans of the sixteenth century. With the limited number of Black people being around, in Othello we can see the racist remarks that are being made upon one, as well as the resilience to accept one within a society. Even though the play itself is set in Venice and Cyprus, it reflects highly upon the values and beliefs of Shakespeare’s own society where people believed strongly in the great chain of being, danger of emotions and punishment for major sins.

The Great Chain of Being refers to the concept that every existing organism and object has its place within the universe. This hierarchical order separated people into different classes and had God as a divine sovereign leader. This was a value and belief that was very well recognised within the Elizabethan society in the sixteenth century. The opening scene of Othello introduces the dishonorable villain Iago talking to Roderigo about his scene of revenge upon a certain character that remains unknown in this point of time. With the use of language techniques, Iago exposes to the audience his true evil spirit in relation to the superior character who remains unknown, “I follow him to serve my turn upon him… when I have lined my coat I shall do myself homage”; thus revealing to the audience his villainous character and sly nature. Iago was the main character that caused the disturbance in the natural order as he had the key power to play on people’s weaknesses. This significant character displays many negative points throughout the play. He exposes his sense of pride when he conceitedly exclaims “I know my price and deserve no worse a place”. Displaying pride in any sense was always frowned upon in the Elizabethan times as it was considered to be upsetting the natural cycle of life. Being proud goes directly against the natural order of life because one shall never attempt to reach higher, yet be happy with their place in society as it was set by God. With the progression of the story, the disturbance of natural order becomes very evident and the audience knows that the one that alters it will fail, and the natural order of life will ultimately be restored. Iago used sexual imagery as one of his techniques to offend Othello and place him below his position in the society, where he insulted Othello by calling him “an old black ram”. Iago constantly uses animal imagery to get his point across about Othello. With Othello being black and Muslim, he was rejected by the society. He was always considered a good soldier yet never good enough to marry ones daughter. Iagos statements aim directly at Othello’s color, reinforcing his rejection by the society. There were few black people within the Elizabethan society, and with the little number of them around it was sill fresh to them that people of different colors existed, thus their reaction and racist remarks towards Othello weren’t of surprising nature. An Elizabethan society would often agree with Iagos views as Muslims were seen as a threat to the Christian world because they did not follow the bible or practice the same religion. Upon finding out that his daughter has run away with the Moor, Brabantio states “Fathers from hence trust not your daughters”, this reinforces the little trust that women of the Elizabethan times possessed and also mirrors the images of how women back then were treated. Desdemona has disturbed the natural order by marrying a Muslim Black man and lying to her father, thus she has gone against her religion and everything she was taught to be. The main character, Othello is introduced to the story in Scene II, where he is portrayed to be a strong and courageous person, contrary to the impression we got of him from the villainous Iago. Although Othello is seen as a strong character who has not committed any sins yet, he himself disturbs the natural order by displaying many arrogant and prideful remarks “My parts, my title and my perfect soul shall manifest me rightly”. In the closing scenes of Othello, we sense that as the natural order of life had been disturbed, justice will prevail, and ultimately the natural way of life will be restored. With Othello perceiving himself as a valiant man and a character of justice, upon accusing Desdemona of betrayal he feels it is his duty to kill her, thus restore the natural way of life. “She must die… else she’ll betray more men”. By doing this, Othello himself is making a big mistake as killing someone was thought to be one of the biggest sins against ones religion and belief

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