Introduction to Othello

Othello is the fifth of Shakespeare’s Tragedies written circa 1604-5.  Rather than an historical, it is a domestic tragedy in which a great man suffers a reversal of fortune in his personal life due to a weakness – his naivety or credulity.

The play is set in Italy, at this time not yet a nation state, rather a collection of City States with Venice one of the more powerful ones.  Venice represents the centre of power, civilisation, culture and order.  Cyprus, an island in the Mediterranean is one of its colonial outposts under threat from the Turks and represents insecurity, danger, uncivilised society.  Othello himself is an outsider and therefore while accepted militarily, not socially.

His miscegenous (mixed race) marriage to Desdemona, the daughter of Brabantio, is not well accepted in Venetian society especially by Othello’s ensign , Iago, one of Shakespeare’s most charismatically evil constructs.  It doesn’t help that Iago has just been passed over for a promotion and covertly plots revenge against Othello for this slight.  Othello claims to be a soldier, not a lover and unfortunately that turns out to be true;  he utterly fails as a lover. 

The play painfully demonstrates how intrigue, fear, jealousy and misguided morality can lead to human tragedy.