William Shakespeare's Othello

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William Shakespeare's Othello

Every artist needs a subject to draw inspiration from—an idea to develop into a masterpiece. Leonardo da Vinci had Madame Lisa to portray in paint. The Beach Boys had Rhonda to render in rhyme. And William Shakespeare had one of one hundred stories written by Giraldi Cinthio to help him create his masterpiece, Othello. Each artist creates his own interpretation from his source. Shakespeare transformed the core of Cinthio’s story into a tragedy. A tragedy is drama which depicts “a public struggle between larger-than-life protagonists and universal forces” (Glossary 175). A tragedy also involves a “hero’s suffering and his consequent moments of tragic insight or knowledge” (McJannet 1). Each subtle change, which Shakespeare adapts from his source, serves to turn an ordinary tale into an extraordinary tragedy.

The changes Shakespeare makes create a “larger-than-life protagonist.” In Cinthio’s work, the Ensign falls in love with Disdemona. The Ensign tries every means available to woo her, yet he fails in every attempt. The Ensign “imagined that the cause of his ill success was that Disdemona loved the Captain of the troop” (Cinthio 137). As a result, “the love which [the Ensign] had borne the lady now changed into the bitterest hate, and…he devoted all his thought to plot the death of the Captain of the troop and to divert the affection of the Moor from Disdemona” (Cinthio 137). Cinthio’s plot does not center on Othello, it is powered by Disdemona. Shakespeare makes a key change when creating his play. Shakespeare makes Othello the clear protagonist. Iago’s plotting revolves around Othello. Not only does Othello pass Iago over for a rightly deserved position, but “it is thought a...

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...Michelangelo did with a chisel, so Shakespeare does with a pen. Shakespeare took Cinthio’s idea of a Moor. Shakespeare chipped away parts, and patched them back together, in a reconfiguration from his own mind’s eye. Shakespeare creates a tragic flaw, and from this a tragic error occurs. Shakespeare creates an impressive protagonist amid a fateful world. Within this tragic world, the fatal manipulation of Othello is brought to light. In short, Shakespeare turns a tale into a tragedy and a story into a masterpiece.

Works Cited:

Cinthio, Giraldi. Hecatommithi. Trans. J. E. Taylor. Ed. Alvin Kernan. New York: New American

Library, 1998. (134-146).

Glossary. (170-175).

McJannet, Dr. Linda. “Short Paper: Shakespeare and Cinthio.” Spring, 2006. (1-2).

Shakespeare, William. Othello. Ed. Alvin Kernan. New York: New American Library, 1998. (2-128).
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