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The Development of Othello's Character in William Shakespeare's Play

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The Development of Othello's Character in William Shakespeare's Play

Othello was first performed by the King’s Men at the court of King

James I on November 1, 1604. Written during Shakespeare’s great tragic

period, which also included the composition of Hamlet (1600), King

Lear (1604–5), and Macbeth (1606), Othello is set against the backdrop

of the wars between Venice and Turkey that raged in the latter part of

the sixteenth century. Cyprus, which is the setting for most of the

action, was a Venetian outpost attacked by the Turks in 1570 and

conquered the following year. The story of Othello is derived from

another source, an Italian prose tale written in 1565 by Giovanni

Battista Giraldi Cinzio (usually referred to as Cinthio). The original

story contains the bare bones of Shakespeare’s plot: a Moorish general

is deceived by his ensign into believing his wife is unfaithful. To

Cinthio’s story Shakespeare added supporting characters such as the

rich young dupe Roderigo and the outraged and grief-stricken

Brabantio, Desdemona’s father. Shakespeare compressed the action into

the space of a few days and set it against the backdrop of military

conflict. And, most memorably, he turned the ensign, a minor villain,

into the arch-villain Iago.

Othello is a black army general in the service of the Duke of Venice

and he secretly marries Desdemona, daughter of the senator Brabantio,

who is against this marriage.

The first time we are introduced to Othello in the play is act 1 scene

2 in which he is confronted by Brabantio about his secret marriage.

Othello is accused of stealing his daughter, using witchcraft, and

drugging her to fall...

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... In the

final moments of the play, Othello regains his composure and, once

again, seduces both his onstage and offstage audiences with his words.

The speech that precedes his suicide is a tale that could woo almost

anyone. It is the tension between Othello’s persecution at the hands

of a foreign culture and his own willingness to torment himself that

makes him a tragic figure rather than simply Iago’s ridiculous puppet.

I feel Othello is very unsure about himself and how he is perceived

amongst his peers. This becomes obvious in the final stages of the

play, whereas earlier he seems to be in control until he allows his

jealousy to gain control of his mind. I am sympathetic towards Othello

and the situation he has been put in, yet I feel he has acted very

foolishly because of him assuming that Iago’s words are truthful.
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