Contextual Factors in Othello

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How do the contextual factors of Othello shape your understanding of the play? Shakespeare’s Othello encompasses a wide variety of contextual factors which shape my understanding of the play. These contextual factors include historical, cultural, political and social factors. Othello is believed to have been written between late 1603 and early1604 during the period of time known as the “Elizabethan” Period (1580-1625) in which, the great works of the age were produced; it was also during this time that the Renaissance, which began in Italy in the 14th century, reached England. The Renaissance spirit was fuelled by the rediscovering of many classical texts as well as many significant literary, scientific and geographic developments such as: the discovery of America, Copernicus’ and Galileo’s views on the universe and the reformation of the Church. In regards to historical context, Shakespeare’s work was written to question common beliefs, assumptions and politics upon which Elizabethan Society was founded (in a true renaissance way!). As a ‘modern’ reader and with regards to historical context, one can understand why Shakespeare’s Othello challenges the ‘norms’ of society. In early 17th century England, people’s attitudes towards non-Europeans were shaped by the government policies and (to a lesser extent) by exotic stories brought back by travellers overseas, such as Richard Eden’s book ‘Decades’ written in 1555 which included accounts of voyages to Africa with explicit descriptions of ‘moors and negroes’. North and West Africans living in Elizabethan England were outcasts, frequently being singled out for their unusual dress, behaviour and customs. They were ultimately branded with terms such as “devils” or “villains” and were commonly stereotyped as being sexually overactive, prone to jealousy and wicked by nature. In Othello , Shakespeare draws from his Cultural context and incorporates the racial stereotypes into his dialogue, assigning them to characters...
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