The 16th to 17th century era was home to many well-known writers, but none were as prevalent in the ability to create works that made an audience think beyond the status quo quite like William Shakespeare. Among many of Shakespeare’s talents as a writer, held his ability to create characters that represent the stereotypical racial identities or the opposing stereotypical behaviors of gender identity. Numerous works by William Shakespeare have provided modern-day readers with the ability to relate modernist ideals with the texts of the past.

Shakespeare’s character Othello from Othello represents the stereotype of a black male character back in the 16th-17th century period and the duality of the character’s behavior, physical appearance or even the ironic language used by the character. While in Shakespeare’s Macbeth, Lady Macbeth represents the opposing sexism of the era by being a clever, manipulative woman in a place of power, whilst living in a society primarily dominated by men. Shakespeare’s works have formulated the beginnings of Feminist literature and Anti-racist literature that we know today.

The themes present within Othello and Macbeth share similarities with modern-day issues, such as gender inequality issues in the workplace between men and women, and the poorly created stigmas placed on the black community due to the ideals of an older era. It is important to enlighten a reader to the parallels that Shakespeare’s plays hold on modern day society, to better help relate the texts to a newer generation of readers. While also displaying the characterization of two very underrepresented groups of individuals. Shakespeare’s Othello tells the story of Othello, a heroic black general in the service of Venice, who appoints Cassio and not Iago as his chief lieutenant. Iago, who becomes the main antagonist, develops a plan to tear Othello down from his place of power by falsely implicating Othello’s wife, Desdemona, and Cassio (the chief lieutenant) in an affair.

Throughout the story, Shakespeare uses Iago and his profuse hatred for Othello to discuss the racist tendencies of a majority white dominated society. Iago chastises Desdemona on her marriage to Othello by stating “not to affect many proposed matches, of her own clime, complexion, and degree, whereto we see in all things nature tends— Foh! One may smell in such a will most rank, Foul disproportion thoughts unnatural— But pardon me—I do not in position Distinctly speak of her, though I may fear Her will, recoiling to her better judgment, May fall to match you with her country forms and happily repent” (Othello, 3.3.268-278).

While many of William Shakespeare’s works focus on racial identities, Shakespeare’s Macbeth focuses on the adaptability that women demonstrated when placed in a society predominantly ruled by males, ere the beginning of feministic writing. The character Lady Macbeth showcases a strong, manipulative female character that many writers in the 16th-17th century could not have written. Shakespeare chooses to create this character to show that women can be more progressive than previously thought. It was a known fact of the times that many women were not seen as intelligent, manipulative, strong, or even conniving enough to be seen as equals to men. Within Macbeth, Shakespeare has Lady Macbeth speaks in a very bold manner when she addresses her husband, which helps perpetuate the progressive idea that women do not have to speak to their husbands without direct substance. Lady Macbeth states, “when you durst do it, then you were a man; and to be more than what you were, you would be so much more the man” (Macbeth, 1.7,49-51).

The usage of language given to Lady Macbeth where she questions the manhood of her husband in an attempt to manipulate her husband helps insinuate, to Macbeth, that he is less of a man and should therefore listen to the task that Lady Macbeth was telling him to partake in. This alone is an interesting concept for a new-aged reader because it gives women a situation where male oppression, regardless of existing, should not stop women from speaking their minds or even manipulating their environments to their benefit.

The archetypes of the female wife, back during this century, dictated the roles that women were allowed to portray; mainly theorizing the idea that women were only to be used as objects for the agenda of the ‘superior’ gender (i.e men). The background of the archetype of a female, at the time, was referred to as the Elizabethan era, where during this era, women were compared and modeled after the late Queen Elizabeth I.

William Shakespeare has proven over the centuries that his writing can be made relevant to a newer generation. The usage of modernist ideals within his characterizations helps a new-aged reader audience create a centralized bond with the characters and the issues that many of the characters seem to transcend above. Shakespeare’s character Lady Macbeth showcases the feminist views that modern-day women can relate to and centuries-old women can learn from. Whilst the characterizations of Iago, Othello, and Desdemona create the framework for what is now anti-racist literature. It is imperative that the new-aged reader understand the implications that Shakespeare’s writing has provided the audiences of the past with a very modernist take of characters that would typically be underrepresented in societies of the 16th-17th century era.

Cite this article as: William Anderson (Schoolworkhelper Editorial Team), "Race in Othello and Feminism in Macbeth," in SchoolWorkHelper, 2021, https://schoolworkhelper.net/race-in-othello-and-feminism-in-macbeth/.
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