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Othello Race Quotes

How we cite our quotes: Citations follow this format: (Act.Scene.Line). Line numbers correspond to the Norton edition.

Quote #7

Her name, that was as fresh
As Dian's visage, is now begrimed and black
As mine own face. (3.3.441-443)

This is one of the most important passages in the play. When Othello suspects that Desdemona is cheating on him with Cassio (she's not, by the way), he suggests that his "name," or his reputation, is now soiled and "begrimed" because of his wife's supposed infidelity. (This idea, that a wife's fidelity to her husband can make or break a man's good reputation is pretty common in Shakespeare's plays. See, for example, The Comedy of Errors, where the fidelity of Antipholus of Ephesus's wife plays such an important role in her husband's good name around town.)

What's interesting about this passage is Othello's use of a racist discourse. When he says his "name" used to be "as fresh as Dian's" face, he aligns his (former) good reputation with the "fresh[ness]" of a white face. (Diane is the goddess of the pale moon and of chastity.) Now that Othello feels his wife's supposed sexual infidelity has soiled his good reputation, he compares his once good name to his "begrimed and black" face. In other words, Othello associates the blackness of his own skin with something dirty and stained, which is exactly the kind of thing that the racist Venetian characters (like Brabantio) have been saying all along.

The point we're trying to make here is that, by this moment in the play, Othello seems to have internalized the racist ideologies of other characters. He sees himself as a soiled (and soiling) black man.

Note: Some versions of the play read "Her name, that was as fresh / as Dian's visage is now begrimed and black / as my own face." How does the substitution of "her name" for "my name" change the meaning of this passage? (Psst. This is a great paper topic…)

Quote #8

All my fond love thus do I blow to heaven.
'Tis gone.
Arise, black vengeance, from the hollow hell! (3.3.4505-507)

Othello himself associates blackness with something negative – "vengeance."

Quote #9

Yet I'll not shed her blood,
Nor scar that whiter skin of hers than snow,
And smooth as monumental alabaster.
Yet she must die, else she'll betray more men.
Put out the light, and then put out the light,
If I quench thee, thou flaming minister,
I can again thy former light restore. (5.2.3-9)

As Othello resolves to kill Desdemona, he is noticeably preoccupied with Desdemona's "whiter" than snow skin. He implies he won't stab her because he doesn't want to "scar" her flesh. He also seems to think of her as a kind of pale statue – her skin's as "smooth as monumental alabaster." What's up with that? Why does Othello fixate on Desdemona's skin color (as he contemplates her infidelity) just before he kills her?

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