Between Venice and Cyprus

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Mojtaba Reza

There exists an old proverb that goes as following: “People can change places, and places can change people.” The latter part holds most certainly true for William Shakespeare’s Othello. In the story of Othello there is a change of scenery. The story shifts from Venice to Cyprus at the beginning of act two. These two different settings also have their own atmosphere. Geography and atmosphere are two concepts that are of utmost importance to the play itself. Not only does the move from Venice to Cyprus have an effect on the characters, it also plays a major role in the outcome of the story. Othello himself is described by Tom McAlindon in the introduction as “both of and not of Venice which was the epitome of western civilization” (Introduction Othello, 22). He is in the beginning surrounded by a great civilized atmosphere and a setting he is accustomed to: Venice. Here he is still uninfluenced by Iago’s poison and here he still trusts Desdemona. He is then summoned by the Duke to go to Cyprus and fight “Against the general enemy Ottoman.” (Othello, 1.3.49). Cyprus is according to Tom McAlindon: Cyprus is located at the vulnerable edge of civilization, and as such is a place where civility, love and peace maintain a fragile hold over the forces which oppose them; it represents the underlying reality of Venice and of all cities and institutions, Christian and otherwise, where what prevails is at best a kind of discordia concors. (Introduction Othello, 61) This change from a higher civilization to a lower civilization makes Othello vulnerable and opens him up to “a jealousy so strong - That judgment cannot cure.” (Othello, 2.1.292-293).

Othello also shifted its action from a peaceful city such as Venice to Cyprus: “this warlike isle” (Othello, 2.1.44). In this place Othello had been bestowed with many duties. He was not only “General Othello” (Othello 2.2-3.11) but also the new governor. “Othello assures the Senate that he will not allow...
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