What is the importance of setting and geography in William Shakespeare's Othello?

Topics: Othello, Venice, Iago Pages: 5 (1696 words) Published: April 20, 2004
Themes such as jealousy, deception and passion interwoven through the text of 'Othello' make the story riveting. But before we can understand why events take place and characters motivations' it is important to analyse the geographical arena in which the story of Othello and the moral struggles of the characters are brought to life. By including real locations, which Elizabethans would have herd of, the play appears to be more realistic. 'Othello' is reasonably geographically accurate and this helps to make the play, with it's unlikely events, seem more plausible.

'Othello' begins, in Act One, in Venice, the flourishing heart of civilised and refined behaviour but moves from here to the hostile climes of Cyprus where conflict begins to develop. We are taken from a location where Brabantio is shocked to hear of law breaking and stealing happening "What, tell'st thou me of robbing? This is Venice, my house is not a grange" to a place with an unstable political standing. Cyprus is ultimately unable to hold the culture and society of Venice within its realms, hence why the personalities of the noble well-bred characters break down in Cyprus.

In addition to the movement from Venice to Cyprus, 'Othello' gradually moves from scenes taking place outside to inside. We begin in a bustling street in Venice and end up in a confined space of a bedchamber/bed. This movement from large open areas to small confined spaces is a clever dramatic technique that draws the audience in by creating a sense of claustrophobia. These gradual transitions throughout the course of the play reflect Othello's behaviour. At the beginning we observe a gentleman with an active life who has many interests, especially in his military capacity as a general. However, by the end of the play he is obsessed and consumed with the untrue belief that Desdemona is having an affair with Cassio.

In Shakespearean times the locations used in plays tended to have specific symbolic meaning. The absence of scenery in Elizabethan theatre meant that there was no need to recreate physical characteristics. People of the time didn't go to these far away distant lands so the accuracy of distance, time and appearance weren't importance - in effect, this gave Shakespeare an artistic licence. However, compared to his earlier plays he did make an effort to make 'Othello' geographically accurate. An Italian novella 'The Story of Disdemonia of Venice and The Moorish Captain' by Giraldi Cinthio is the source of the outline of the plot of 'Othello'. Because this tale was short Shakespeare used the geographical detail we see present in 'Othello' to give the story more depth and make it longer.

Aristotle's unities of place, time and action are also known as 'the unities', in terms of the three principles of dramatic composition. The idea is that a play should consist of one related series of actions, which all occur in one day and take place in one location. Although 'Othello' begins in Venice and moves to Cyprus, the second half of the play all takes place in the same location in Cyprus and the main action in the play occurs in one day (in fact, the play in it's entirety takes place over 2 days). This assists the immediacy of the drama - the action takes place in a small place, with little time creating a sense of urgency, speed and making the events fast-paced.

Shakespeare chose to set the beginning of 'Othello' in Italy because anything associated with Italy was held in high regard by Elizabethans. Italy was seen as superior in all aspects of life from its architecture and engineering to religion, clothing and artists.

Using Italy as a setting allowed Shakespeare to take advantage of its exotic and fashionable reputation and suspend the disbelief of the audience. Because the action does not take place in surroundings the audience would be familiar with it seems almost surreal. Being aware of a wide world at the start of the play helps to increase the intensity as the...
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