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Othello: what is his race and color? Does it matter?

There is some debate concerning Othello's race and appearance. He is referred to as a "Moor", which would suggest an Arabic or Spanish appearance - darker skin than the average Englishman's - and black hair. But there are numerous references to his blackness in the play, and Iago refers to him as "the thick lips", both suggesting a Negroid appearance. In Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus, the character Aaron, also referred to as a Moor, also is described as black. While the question is open to debate, I think Othello should be viewed as having black skin and Negroid features. Shakespeare may well not have been familiar with the differences between Moors and Negroes. I think the play is more dramatic, and the images are more powerful, if Othello's appearance is very different from Desdemona's and that of the other Venetians. Part of Othello's tragedy arises from the fact that while his military performance has gained him great respect among the leaders of Venice, he is estranged and isolated from that society by his appearance and background.

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Copyright 2002 Dana Spradley, Publisher, for shakespeare.com