Honors Program

Honors in English

Date of Award


Thesis Professor(s)

Robert E. Sawyer

Thesis Professor Department

<--College of Arts and Sciences-->

Thesis Reader(s)

Judith B. Slagle


In Shakespeare’s Othello, Othello faces societal pressures of racism as he marries Senator Brabantio’s White daughter Desdemona. This creates the main plot, and the villain of the play, Iago, plots against him which leads to the destruction of Othello’s reputable character. Othello is transformed into a violent, murderous husband by Iago’s villainous ploy fueled by using racial slurs, and Othello’s final form matches the name his enemies assign him. Stripping Othello of his name and portraying him as “the Moor”, a term used to describe a category of Black persons viewed as barbaric, is a tactic used throughout time and is rooted in historical strategies for identity destruction and racism.

The reader witnesses this tactic in a play written some 400 years in the past, but the problem still lingers in America where racism is commonly expressed through “Speech Acts”. Just a short time ago, Paul Robeson, a famous actor of Othello, faced these same problems while pursuing his spot on the stage. In consideration of today’s time, the movement “Say His Name” started following the death of George Floyd only two years ago, and this signifies the persistence of racism alongside the importance of names. Using slurs or refusing to use a person’s rightful name is a form of racial identity destruction witnessed from Shakespeare’s time, to Paul Robeson’s portrayal of the character, and into America’s now as the phrase “Say His Name” has become a staple in the fight against police brutality on Black persons in America.


East Tennessee State University

Document Type

Honors Thesis - Open Access

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons License
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Cover Letter With Signatures


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