Othello Context

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  • Othello Context
    • Women in Society
      • Marriage
        • Wives should obey their husbands, and be honoured by them in return
        • Once married, women were regarded as ‘safer’ to interact with, since their chastity had already been forfeited
        • Women’s only avenue of power, the goal being to secure family wealth and male protection
      • Patriarchy
        • Patriarchal rule justified women's subordination
        • Deemed less rational than men and so easily influenced
        • Women were expected to be much more passive than they are today
        • Rarely educated and most young women of a higher social class could only leave home to go to church
      • Setting
        • Social conditioning of societies asserted sexual dominance of men
        • Within a sophisticated Venetian society, men could kiss the hands, and even the lips, of married women as a public courtesy to them
        • Allows for demeaning portrayal of women and their position within the patriarchy
          • Shows social conditioning in the men's favour turns them into victims
    • Setting
      • Venice
        • Venice was majority white
          • Venice is a city that thought little of the moor
        • Venice was well known for it's prostitutes
        • The play is set in the 16th century
          • The island was strategically placed for the Venetian military to launch attacks against the Ottomans
          • A time when Venice was in constant conflict with the Ottoman Empire over control of the Adriatic Sea
      • Cyprus
        • Seen in Classical literature to be an island of love
          • Ironic here as Cyprus is the home of hatred in the play
        • Cyprus was a profitable location for trade and had been under the influence of Venice since the late 1400s
        • Cyprus is not enough to outweigh the jealousy planted by Iago
    • Race
      • Racism leads to jealousy & insecurity
        • Othello is perceived to be extremely insecure
        • Jealousy is often referred as Othello’s “tragic flaw”
          • But jealousy is not self-creating, but stems from a psychology of inferiority
      • Moors
        • A Moor was a Muslim of mixed Arab and Berber descent
          • Berbers were North African natives who accepted Arab customs and Islam
          • Muslims were part of a group that had invaded many lands and threatened Europe
        • The Moors were disliked by Europeans on a lot of levels
          • Othello is in a society and culture that are against him
          • Ethnic minorities were so unimportant that they were ignored
      • Othello lived free of racial discrimination except for those who envied him
        • Later condemned not by people critiquing his character, but by criticising  his colour
      • Significant part in bringing the tragedy of Othello
      • High status was unusual
    • Jealousy
      • Jealousy may essentially lead to the loss of all rationality and lead even the most pure of human beings into chaos
      • In typical venetian society a man was greatly defined by his social status and his respect
      • Typically referred to as the negative feelings of insecurity, fear, and anxiety over an anticipated loss of something of great personal value


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