Iago, the Spaniard of Venice
Mentor:Jonathan Burton, Assistant Professor of English Language and Literature, Whittier College
Although it it not immediately obvious, the full title of William Shakespeare's Othello, the Moor of Venice ultimately limits the scope and effectiveness of the play by privileging Moorishness as the prime alien force in the city. This limit is especially problematic, as Venice is known historically to be a city with fluid racial boundaries. Othello's isolation as “the Moor” largely allows for Spanish Iago and his culture-specific cruelty to pass unnoticed among Venetians. This paper argues that we should look beyond the racial conventions that focus primarily on color and instead see Iago as the principle foreign threat that is plaguing Venice. While Othello may superficially appear as more of a menace, it is Iago's status as an alleged Venetian—his ability to pass—that allows him to pervert the society at large to reflect his own ideas about identity (ironically, at the cost of real Venetian lives). Figuring Iago as also a racial “other” in the play along with Othello will reveal to the audience the dire consequences of too narrowly construing race, and give weight to relevant factors such as cultural behavior, thus allowing Othello to newly enter the twenty-first century debate on racism.