Othello Context Notes

Notes on the context of Shakespeare's Othello with some brief notes on language and structure 

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Othello Context
For Othello Shakespeare found his plot in a collection of Italian narratives
Hecatommithi by Ciraldo Cinthio.
* Shakespeare was writing during the Renaissance a period in European cultural history
when extraordinary changes were taking place in the fields of religion, politics, science,
language and the arts.
Jacobean Tragedy
Sometimes called `revenge tragedy' include the major characteristics of:
Brutal and Wicked Behaviour ­ portraying unpleasant/vicious aspects of humanity
Corrupt society of Renaissance Italy/Spain - the plays are usually set in a
vice-ridden foreign court, full of Machiavellian political intrigue (crafty,
unprincipled scheming)
Religious and Moral hypocrisy
The `malcontent' ­ typical character of Jacobean Tragedy a troubled individual
who comments caustically and critically on society and other characters
Women ­ inhabiting a male world many are confident and seeking to control their
own lives but end up as victims.
Othello is regarded as Shakespeare's domestic tragedy, a study of the
personal psychology of Othello, Iago and Desdemona rather than a political
tragedy. The Venetian state is unaffected by Othello's fall.
Literary Influences
The roots of Shakespearean tragedy reach back to folklore and to medieval church
practises and teaching.
Stories echoed that church's teaching which insisted on the brevity of human glory,
the fickleness of fate and the power of divine providence: God's intentions for
Morality Plays were incredibly popular in medieval England and could have
provided a source of influence for Shakespeare.
Vice was a particularly enjoyed character of the morality plays, a trickster who
tempted young men away from virtue. He was meant to portray evil, an enemy of
mankind and an agent of the devil: his humour and trickery endeared him to
audiences. Iago is an example of a character who was inspired by Vice.
Social Hierarchy ­ and the malcontent
The gap between the rich and the poor was a powerful source of social unrest as
people began to question the traditional beliefs in rank and social order
Elizabethan and Jacobean England was sharply hierarchical

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Shakespearean tragedies invited audiences to witness the fall of great people ­ such
displays of the decline of the rich and powerful were both fascinating and
threatening.…read more

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Italians were generally considered to be cunning, with a love of plots and
deceptions: Machiavelli
Venetian women had a reputation for being sophisticated and sexually active. It
was notorious for prostitutes
Venice was famous for the fairness of its laws: a place of order & justice
In 16th Century it was involved in a long struggle against the Turks.…read more


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