Othello Context

  • Created by: naustin
  • Created on: 18-02-19 14:06
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  • Othello Context
    • 16th Century England (AO3)
      • The relationship between Othello and Desdemona honours the Courtly love tradition of extolling the virtues of a lover. (Ernest Albert Kevin Roberts, ‘Othello: The Tragedy of an Insufficient Love’)
      • According to Elizabethan ethics, a man must be wary of who he takes into his house as any indiscretions that incur between the guest and wife will be entirely the fault of the host.  (Clark L Talley, ‘Shakespeare’s Concept of Love and Marriage’)
      • In 1571 Christian forces regained control of Cyprus from the Ottoman Turks in the battle of Lepanto.
      • Race
        • Richard Burbage was probably the man who first portrayed Othello. He was white and therefore wore a black lambswool wig and black make-up. Ira Aldridge was the first black man to portray Othello in 1825.
        • Per Cesare Vercellio’s 16th Century costume guide, ‘Moor’ refers to North Africa and Sub Saharan Africans.
        • Leo Africanus used reductive racial stereotypes stereotypes to describe black people and said “no nation in the world is so subject to jealousy” and that Africans are “so credulous that they believe matters impossible which are told to them”.
    • Different Interpretations(AO5)
      • “Shakespeare counts off days and hours, as if it were, by two clocks, on one of which the True Historic Time is recorded and on the other the Dramatic Time, or a false show of time whereby days, weeks and months may be to the utmost contracted.” - The Wilson Halpin Theory of Double Time
      • In the 2007 (directed by Dominic Dromgoole) and 2018 (directed by  Claire Van Kampen) productions of Othello at the Globe Theatre, Othello was played by Eamonn Walker and Andre Hollands respectively, both African-American actors. This decision was in keeping with the first depiction of Othello. Their American accent s reinforce the  image of the 'other'.
      • Othello was derived from Cinthio’s ‘Gli Hecatommithi’ (1565). Shakespeare removed that the ensign was motivated by lust.
    • Key Symbols and Motifs
      • Theatre critic, Thomas Rymer, asked why Othello was not called ‘ The Tragedy of the Handkerchief’. This satirical view highlights the absurdity of Othello’s reaction and reinforces the importance of the handkerchief to the tragedy.
      • Cuckolds are men depicted with animal horns as a shameful sign that their wives are unfaithful.
    • Venice (AO3)
      • Coryate’s Crudities depicts high-class prostitutes and courtesans which Venice was notorious for.
    • Cyprus (AO3)
      • Venus, the goddess of love, was born from the waves of Cyprus, just as Desdemona emerges from a tempest to land on Cyprus. (Ernest Albert Kevin Roberts, ‘Othello: The Tragedy of an Insufficient Love’)
    • Connections Across Other Texts (AO4)
      • Desdemona strongly resembles Britomart of Spenser’s ‘The Faerie Queen’. Britomart represents chastity and is the warrior lover who believes strongly in the sanctity of marriage. (Ernest Albert Kevin Roberts, ‘Othello: The Tragedy of an Insufficient Love’)


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