A prevalent issue in English literature is how social status affects individuals. Two writers that are able to explore the negative aspects of social status are William Shakespeare and William Blake. In Shakespeare's Othello, the Moor of Venice, social status plays a major role in determining who does or does not get promoted within the military; this determination, in turn, leads to rebellion on the part of Iago who is both angry and jealous after being passed up for promotion. On the other hand, Blake's poems of the same title, "The Chimney Sweeper" from Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience, highlight what children of lower social classes must endure for the benefit of their families. Through their respective works of literature, Shakespeare and Blake demonstrate the lasting impact that social striation has on individuals.
Othello, the Moor of Venice is a dramatic play that focuses on Othello's tragic fall from a position of great honor and esteem. Othello's fall is catapulted by Iago, his trusted ancient, who manipulates everyone around him in an attempt to seek uncalled for vengeance because he believes he was unfairly passed over for promotion. Instead of being promoted to the position of lieutenant, Iago is passed over for Michael Cassio, "a Florentine,/A fellow almost damn'd in a fair wife;/That never set a squadron in the field,/Nor the division of a battle knows/More than a spinster; unless the bookish theoric,/Wherein the toged consuls can propose/As masterly as he: mere prattle, without practice,/is all his soldiership" (Shakespeare 1.1.20-27). Iago contends that Cassio received this promotion because of his social status and education; Iago believes that he is more qualified to take the position of lieutenant based upon his experiences on the battlefield, of which Cassio has none.
Additionally, Iago also targets Othello and contends that the only reason that he follows Othello as a military leader is because it is his duty. Iago explains, "In following [Othello], I follow but myself;/Heaven is my judge, not I for love and duty,/But seeming so, for my peculiar end" (1.1.60-62). Iago continuously references Othello's heritage as though to insinuate that because Othello is a Moor, he is somehow an inferior being to himself. The issue of Othello's heritage arises when Iago attempts to infuriate Brabantio, Desdemona's father and Othello's father-in-law, by informing him of Desdemona and Othello's relationship by stating, "I am one, sir, that comes to tell you your daughter/and the Moor are now making the beast with two backs" (1.1.126-127). While Iago could have more tactfully approached Brabantio, although why he approached Brabantio in the first place is suspect, by comparing Othello to a beast, Iago provides a glimpse into his true perception of him. While Iago looks down on Othello due to his race and military position, Iago cannot escape his social status, regardless of how much he may try, because "there's no remedy" to social division and "tis the curse of service" that he must abide (1.1.35). Because he cannot change his social status, Iago has no chance of ever attaining the lieutenant position he desires regardless of his attempts, which ultimately leave him widowed and executed.
Written more than a hundred years later in 1789 and 1794, "The Chimney Sweeper" also highlights the impact that social stratification in England has on individuals. Through these poems, Blake is able to explore issues plaguing society and how poverty impacts families. "The Chimney Sweeper" in Songs of Innocence appears to be reassured by the work that he does and does not seem to understand the downside of his job. As the chimney sweeper cries "weep, weep, weep" to advertise his services, his cry is also one that demands others to weep for a child who is surely destined to die providing these services (Blake line 3). The chimney sweeper's cries are also indicative of their youth as they have not learned how to properly say the word 'sweep' or they are lacking the means (front teeth). In this version of "The Chimney Sweeper," Blake uses religious symbolism to further highlight the young age and innocence of the children that are working these dangerous jobs. For instance, Tom Dacre, a chimney sweeper, has "white hair…that curl'd like a lamb's…
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