Othello- a summary of context

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  • Othello
    • Historical background
      • Believed that Othello was written to suit the interests of King James I who was interested in Turkish history and customs.
      • Shakespeare compresses Cinthio's (1584) Italian Prose tale by adding supporting characters- Roderigo and Brabantio. He compresses the action into a few days against the background of military conflict.
        • Shakespeare also turned a minor villain into a major one with Iago.
      • The play may have been written to record the political and racial tensions between Europeans and Non-Europeans during the 17th Century.
    • Social background
      • Race
        • Tensions existed between races as white people were believed to be superior, even when black people started to gain rights.
        • Black people were seen as exotic creatures, villains or devils and their evil was associated with their race.
        • "Moor" was a common term used to describe black people.
      • Women
        • Regarded as the 'weaker sex', emotionally and physically
        • Subservient to men/obeying
        • Shakespeare created strong female characters in the play that defy the rules
          • Desdemona
            • Marries Othello without her father's knowledge or permission, breaking several social rules
          • Emelia
            • Confronts Iago about his actions (at the end of the play).
              • This defies the authority Iago is supposed to have over her
        • Fathers would often choose when and who their daughter would marry
      • Shakespeare wrote the play in the time of English Renaissance
        • A time of cultural development through poetry and literature
      • Connotations of setting
        • Venice
          • Power, high culture, richness, romance, corruption, conflict and promiscuous women
        • General Italy
          • Villainy


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