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In the play of “Othello”, Shakespeare skillfully uses the opposition of light and darkness to express the ironic conflict of race and Othello’s internal conflict propelled by his sense of otherness and jealousy. By doing so, Shakespeare challenges the audience’s traditional associations of light and darkness. He also allows us to see the how internal conflict could lead to one’s complete destruction. Shakespeare uses the opposition of light and darkness to express the racial conflict in “Othello”.
Literally, light and darkness can be represented as white and black. The time period during which the play is set has an Elizabethan audience who made general associations with these two colours. White was generally associated with fairness and nobility; whereas black was usually assigned to negative connotations such as evil and corruption. However in this play, Iago and Othello are portrayed inversely against this traditional generalization. Othello has a black physical appearance but inside, he’s a fair and noble hero at the beginning of the play.
This is supported when the Duke of Venice comforts Brabantio about the marriage of Othello and Desdemona by saying that “Your son-in-law is far more fair than black”. In contrast of Othello, Iago is a white man in the Venetian society with an absolute black soul. He plots against Othello throughout the play for his own benefits and to satisfy his professional jealousy. In his revenge plan, Iago remarks that Othello “will as tenderly be led by th’nose/ As asses are”. Iago’s duplicity is also proved by his confession to Roderigo.
He states he belongs to the kind of people who “trimmed in forms and visages of duty. Keep yet their hearts attending on themselves”. Through the traditional associations around light and darkness as well as black and white, Shakespeare shows us the ironic contrast between Othello and Iago, while the black-skinned Othello is pure and the white- skinned Iago is corrupt, a Machiavellian, a personality type, someone who was not true to their word, and it’s the one that the Elizabethan audience feared.
In this manner, Shakespeare challenged the general ideas of the Elizabethan society which ranked black people racially to be lower. Shakespeare also allows us to consider the representation of appearance versus reality. What we see with our own eyes is not always the truth, so it’s not necessary for anyone to have racial bias. Shakespeare also employs the opposition of light and darkness to express Othello’s internal conflict. Figuratively, light can be associated with love and honesty, whilst darkness can be used to represent suspicion and jealousy.
Throughout the play, Othello always views himself honourable, as the light, and so is his love for Desdemona, which is also associated with light. However, after Iago has manipulated him into believing Desdemona is unfaithful, he starts to suspect his wife’s fidelity, “I think my wife be honest, and think she is not”. His solution to his internal conflict is to kill Desdemona. But the metaphor “put out the light, and then put out the light” suggests that he still doubts whether his wife is truly unfaithful or not, as he refers to Desdemona as the light.
Ultimately, he regrets his commitment of killing Desdemona by referring to her as a “pearl” and himself “the base Judean” who throws it away. Yet in his final speech, Othello presents to the audience his insistence that he is “not easily jealous”. This brings us, the audience, to see the tragedy of the play, the power that Iago wielded, and the great loss of love. Through the use of the opposition of light and darkness, Shakespeare expresses how Othello has kept switching his belief and judgment from rightness to falseness. The fact that Othello is a black man being in a white world is vital.
His sense of feeling himself as “other” exacerbates his insecurity. This dark side of Othello’s character as a result causes him to lose self-control and commit a series of irrational actions. We witness his shift away from his original lightness. Shakespeare therefore shows us that the Moor has become internally darkened through his internal conflict in terms of feeling jealous and his sense of otherness. In conclusion, Shakespeare uses the opposition of light and darkness to show us the racial conflict in the Elizabethan society and the internal conflict of Othello.
He inverts Iago, a white man, as evil, and Othello, a black good man who does wrong because of Iago. Shakespeare therefore challenges the Elizabethan audience’s traditional associations of black and white. “Othello” is the play that allows us to connect with Othello’s action. We are shown how people can complete an absolute destruction when they are caught by their internal conflict, just as the noble Othello has been darkened by his sense of insecurity and jealousy.