Discourses of Rank in Shakespeare’s Othello

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Foucault defined discourse as the ways of constituting knowledge, attached to the social practices, forms of subjectivity as well as the power relations that exist in the knowledge and relations between them. They circulate the nature of the body, unconscious and conscious mind as well as the emotional life of the subjects. Discourse provides the difference between the words pronounced by a person and the actions portrayed by the person.  Discourse translates to the way a person puts his or her ideas into practice and communicates more about the conduct of other people.  This paper seeks to discuss the different discourses of rank voiced by Iago/Roderigo and Othello. It will provide a critical analysis that evaluates the discourses as either good or bad.

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Throughout the play, Shakespeare demonstrates a discourse of rank using characters like lago and Roderigo. In the opening scene, lago identified Othello as “the thick-lips” and continue to identify this character as “the health of black Othello.” These and other comments identify Othello as a black African whose origin can be traced in the sub-Saharan region. Lago’s comment in the first scene of this play is accepted as the actions of racism that exist in the current generation. Despite the failure of England to participate in the slave trade in 1604, Shakespeare developed some knowledge about the people of the African heritage and managed to rank their capabilities through the play.

Moreover, Shakespeare used Roderigo to express his discourse of rank through the description of the Moor. Roderigo identified the Moor as “lascivious” while lago responded as with the comment of the “devil will make a grandsire of you.”  Lago intended to arouse Brabantio’s wrath using the verbal images of his daughter copulating unnaturally with a bestial creature, a demonic figure of vice and depravity. In addition, lago perpetuated the myth of Moors having promiscuous sexual appetites. He identified lago as a black and an old ram that probably seduced Emilia. His description demonstrates the envy of powers that lago imagines to be greater than his powers.  These descriptions by the two characters showed hatred to the Moors that translate to the actual deeds of the Lago and Roderigo.  The descriptions contradict Othello’s argument on the hatred showed on Lago and Roderigo to the Moor. Othello argues eloquently that the hatred is not a genuine reaction. In the middle of the temptation scene, Othello seems to believe in the words said by lago and Roderigo. He went ahead to express the same kind of hatred to other characters of the scene like the Desdemona. He wanted to put her into messes and tear her to pieces.  Therefore, Othello’s words appear to contradict the way he interacted with other people showing the discourse of rank in the entire scene.

From the above description, one can conclude that Shakespeare developed the capacity to exploit the full complexity of the discourse of rank with an expectation of showing the way the white villain opposed a black man of heroic proportion.  Although the predominant typology of white over black is only temporarily subverted in fits and starts in the play, the subversion is itself an incredible artistic triumph. Therefore, the discourse is used to express the confrontation that existed between the black and white that continued to express the current prejudices, fear, and hopes.

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Discourses of rank in Shakespeare's Othello. (2019, Oct 10). Retrieved December 8, 2022 , from

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