Othello: the Tragedy of a Black Man in a White World

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Othello: The Tragedy of a Black Man in a White World

When William Shakespeare wrote The Tragedy of Othello around 1603, he was writing from the perspective of an individual living during the historical Elizabethan era. The play was set in Venice, Italy as was a good number of Shakespeare's other works, and later Cyprus became the play's final setting. The characters themselves attested to a Greek system of language, dress, and behavior. However, Othello's several themes and the attitudes of the characters were developed as a reflection of England's golden age of religious reformation and colonial expansion. Shakespeare used Giraldi Cinthio's collection of short stories Hecatommithi (1565) as the inspiration in creating his own tale of war, jealousy, and deception. Yet, Shakespeare drew his underlying themes of race and religion from events that transpired during a period when England's exploration and settling of other lands introduced the nation to cultures and customs different from its own. By intertwining fact and fiction, as William Shakespeare did in his original play, an examination will be made of the way Shakespeare shaped Othello's characters' attitudes based upon Elizabethan notions of race and those who were considered different, specifically Moors, Africans, and/or Muslims.

There are several significant characters in Othello that were integral in the play's tragic outcome. None were more important than the play's title character, though, whose external and internal differences were scrutinized and questioned from the first and final acts of Othello. Othello's exact background was never made explicit, but readers are led to believe that Othello was of African heritage. This is due to several references within the play that Othello was a Moor. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the Moors were members of a northwestern African Muslim people of mixed Berber and Arab descent. As its name derives from the Old French More, via...
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