Monday, November 10, 2014

"Unabridged" Othello CSI (Maria and Hara)

  • Othello based off of Cinthio’s Hecatommithi
    • The plot and characters mostly come from this collection of short stories
    • A key difference: In Cinthio’s Iago loved Desdemona and so pretended she was having an affair with Cassio because he was jealous
    • In Othello Iago is motivated by anger (he was passed over for a promotion) and general love of evil
  • Written in present day for when it was published (1604)
    • Ambassador of the Kind of Barbary had visited in 1600 and caused much excitement
    • English were interested in Muslims and their customs/ culture
    • Perhaps audiences compared Othello with these recent visitors
  • Takes place in Venice, which was a bustling area at the time
    • Was Europe’s greatest trade center with Africa and Middle East so had many foreigners coming from around the world
    • Considered Venice a major trading rival → thus was of interest/ attracted audiences
    • Was “pleasure capital” of Europe and very sexually tolerant (a woman was considered virtuous if she only had one lover aside from her husband)
  • Venice’s History with Cyprus
    • Cyprus used to belong to Venice
    • Venice lost Cyprus to the Turks in 1570 - 1573 (started the decline of Venice)
    • Turks dominated eastern Mediterranean from then on
  • “Moor”
    • Derived from the word Mauritania but used to refer to North Africans, West Africans, Muslims or any other non-whites
    • North/West Africans living in Elizabethan England were often singled out for having unusual customs – also often referred to as ‘devils’ or ‘villains’
    • Technically had full diplomatic recognition, but they were looked down upon – stereotyped as sexually overactive, prone to jealousy, and generally wicked
    • ‘Blackness’ was associated with moral corruption and sin and ‘whiteness’ was associated with purity
  • Biblical References
    • Iago when talking to Roderigo “I am not what I am” (1.1.67) – God talking to Moses “I am what I am” (Exodus)
    • Jesus’s arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane – Othello’s first appearance in the book (torch-bearing men coming to arrest him, Othello tells the men to put their swords away, 1.2.60-63)
    • Cassio addressing Desdemona with “Hail to thee, lady! And the grace of heaven before, behind thee, and on every hand” (2.1.88-89) – Almost same as beginning of Hail Mary prayer (“Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee”)
    • Iago when questioned by Othello if he really loves him “My lord, you know I love you” (3.3.129) – Peter’s response to Jesus after denying/betraying Jesus
    • Othello accusing Desdemona of betraying him, “You, mistress, that have the office opposite to Saint Peter and keep the gate of hell!” (4.2.94-96) – Saint Peter is said to hold the key to the gates of heaven
  • A Geographical Historie of Africa by John Pory
    • Influenced Othello’s background story of traveling “of antes vast and deserts idle, / Rough quarries, rocks and hills” (I, 3, 142-143)
    • Gave the idea for the embroidered handkerchief made in Egypt
  • Pliny’s Historie of the World
    • Written in 1601
    • Probably where Shakespeare found most of his information on the mediterranean world from
    • Words like “Anthropophagi” (I, 3, 146) and others, as well as references to Pontic Sea from this source
  • The Commonwealth and Government of Venice by Sir Lewis Lewkenor
    • Written in 1599
    • This book explained in detail the functionings of Venice, especially the complex power structures
    • Explains role of Duke and Senate in Venetian politics and the power of their decisions
    • Source also explains the very rigid social classes where there was little possibility for change → Iago’s anger towards the privileged highlights this distinction
  • Roman mythology References
    • Aphrodite rose from the sea on the western side of Cyprus
    • Jove
      • “Th’ immortal Jove’s dread clamors counterfeit, Farewell! Othello’s occupation is gone” (3.3.372-373)
      • Jove (Jupiter) had many wives and was notorious for cheating on Hera
  • Gender
    • Desdemona, Emilia and Bianca all cast aside and treated poorly by their male counterparts, but they still remain loyal (despite class)
    • Desdemona in particular considered perfect Christian woman → “the more angel she” (V, 2, 134)/ “she was heavenly true” (V, 2, 140) yet she cannot defend herself against Othello’s accusations in Act 5, Scene 2
    • Venetian women all also seen as promiscuous by men  
  • Racism
    • Othello: tragic hero
      • Often referred to with animal imagery/ connotations to make him seem base → “O! O! O!” (V, 2, 204)/ “black ram” (I, 1, 90)
        • Othello will always be seen as “other”/ an outsider because of his color
      • Racism coexists with the very noble notion others have of him
        • He is very noble but pushed into the stereotypical “savage” role by Iago
  • Morality
    • Should Desdemona and Othello have married? Did the play condemn them?
      • Tragic error of judgement that led to them getting married caused their downfall? -- Race question (more prevalent in Cinthio’s version
      • Love and marriage
        • Othello and Desdemona’s love so dedicated and fulfilling -- not an error of judgement that they married
        • Love is a form of knowledge -- “knowing others, and oneself, is not easy” (Honigmann)
  • Love and Relationships
    • Relationship between Othello and Desdemona
      • They are in love, but they barely know each other
      • Dynamic between them doesn’t always work -- Desdemona trying to ‘lead’ Othello/make decisions of her own; Othello not trusting her
Works Cited
Johnson-Neshati, Kristin. "A Cultural Context for Othello." Shakespeare Theatre Company.
N.p., 19 Aug. 2005. Web. 10 Nov. 2014.

Shakespeare, William. "Introduction." Introduction. Shakespeare: Four Tragedies. Ed. David
Bevington, David Scott Kastan, James Hammersmith, and Robert Kean Turner. New
York: Bantam, 1988. 217-29. Print.

Shakespeare, William, and E. A. J. Honigmann. Othello. London: Arden Shakespeare, 2001. Print.

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