Venetian Society in the 16th Century

During the 16th century Venetian society was one very much of who u knew and what name u carried. I gathered this from reading act1 scene1 when Iago and Roderigo are talking of Iago’s failure to secure the position of ‘The Moor’s lieutenant, ‘In personal suit to make me his lieutenant. ‘ To start with, it becomes clear at the very start of the act that Iago is simply using Roderigo as a pawn in the plan he has conspired, both for connections and for money, as Roderigo says ‘I take it much unkindly that thou, Iago, who hast had my purse As if the strings were thine shouldst know of this. The way in which Iago replies is a brush off of Roderigo’s worried and confirms that he is only using this man for obviously his money and probably his connection as we know that Roderigo is a man of good name, and one of no great intelligence. Iago goes on to use Iago in his telling Brabantio of his daughter’s antics with ‘The Moor’.

This leads me on to two more points about this society. Iago is telling Brabantio of the whereabouts of his daughter, ‘Look to your house, your daughter and your bags! The mention of Desdemona, the daughter, comes in mention with a list of Brabantio posession’s. This is indicative of the way in which women were regarded during this time in Venetian Society. In Shakespeare’s play Othello many aspects of society are undertaken and explored, the three women in the play hold vital roles in this, we later find that only one of the women in this play survives. Women were thought of as possessions, particularly of their father’s and then later on, of their husband’s.

Talking of Desdemona’s ‘elopement’ with Othello is also indicative of the racism present within the society. Iago refers to Othello as an ‘old black ram’ and ‘the Moor. ‘ Both of these are very racist names, a Moor is a coloured person from Africa, and the reference to animal form is insulting in itself, even more so when stated along side ‘old’. The way in which Iago talks is very crude and provocative towards Brabantio, ‘you’ll have your daughter covered with a Barbary horse, you’ll have your nephews nigh to you.

This is a reference to Othello as a ‘Barbary horse covering’, again using animalistic imagery to insult, and using to upset Brabantio more than need be. By ‘covering’, Iago is implying to Brabantio that his daughter is having sexual intercourse with Othello, aiming only to make matters worse. This idea of racial discrimination is also present at the beginning of the scene when Iago talks of ‘Michael Cassio’, the man whom Othello came to choose as his Lieutenant.

He refers to him as a ‘Florentine’, clearly meant as an insult, implying that even within Italy as a country, there is prejudice between separate counterparts. I believe that part of the reason for Brabantio’s anger when he finds out about his daughter’s disappearance is because of Othello’s race. There is obviously a relatively substantial gap in age, although I do not believe this to be an issue for those involved, as it was common policy to marry young daughters to older men at that point in time.

The irony of the situation is that Othello is most likely more of a successful man in business than any rival suitor Brabantio may have selected for his daughter – True success counts for very little. However, despite evidence of racism, there is some contrary evidence. Othello, though a coloured man has far exceeded Iago or Roderigo in success, and Iago is clearly prejudiced toward Othello because he was not offered the job as Othello’s ‘right hand man’, and towards Cassio because he was chosen to be so.

This leaves me with the impression that within this society prejudice was only formed if you happened to exceed someone else or they felt some reason to be jealous. Overall I have gathered that the Venetian society at this point in time was an excusive and wealthy society in which a good name was everything and loyalty and honesty were of very little worth, as Iago exaggerates when talking of his want to ‘Whip me such honest knaves… Have some soul’ (lines 44 to 54).

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