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As Iago sees it, a black African has had the gall to court and marry a white Venetian beauty as if he were the equal of a man of her class and colour.
In a vain attempt to placate Brabantio, the Duke assures him that ‘If virtue no delighted beauty lack, / Your son-in-law is far more fair than black’ (1.3.289–90).
So endemic to Venetian culture are such attitudes that Othello and Desdemona can’t help absorbing them too: ‘I saw Othello’s visage in his mind’ (1.3.252), Desdemona declares to the Senate, oblivious to the unintended insult that brave declaration implies.
As the handkerchief, the ‘ocular proof’ (3.3.360) of infidelity, passes from Othello to Desdemona to Emilia to Iago to Cassio to the courtesan Bianca, it links the three couples together to highlight what they have in common.
It draws an implicit parallel between the despised kept woman Bianca and the respectable wives Desdemona and Emilia, revealing the true nature of the married woman’s role by erasing the distinction between them.
But Othello’s vulnerability as a black outsider, who unconsciously shares the white perception of his blackness, is inseparable from his thraldom to a patriarchal concept of masculinity and a misogynistic concept of marriage that are just as endemic as racism in Venetian culture, and that play an equally crucial role in sealing both Desdemona’s fate and his own.
Thus sexual jealousy is shown to be the rule in Venice rather than an exceptional emotional disorder to which Othello is especially prone to succumb.
And it underscores the fact that Othello's proprietorial relationship with Desdemona as husband and wife is typical – that it’s extraordinary only in the fatal consequences it leads to in this particular case, not in its essential character.
Othello's dread of cuckoldry and the misogyny that feeds it are perfectly in tune with the patriarchal culture of a city where his colour makes him feel like an alien, but where he’s entirely at home as a man.
The fact that they are obliged to elope makes the illicit nature of their relationship in the eyes of Venice immediately clear.
But in their eyes and in Shakespeare’s there’s nothing illicit about their love, to which they regard themselves, and the play regards them, as fully entitled.