AMAZING JAMES EARL JONES PERFORMANCE OF OTHELLO AT THE WHITE HOUSE - 2009
William Shakespeare's Othello: Short Plot Summary & Historical Context To The Story
WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE'S OTHELLO is a timeless story about race, love, jealousy and betrayal. But where did Shakespeare get the idea for plot and its historical context? By Ben Arogundade. [Feb.10.2016]
OTHELLO: SHORT PLOT SUMMARY
The story of William Shakespeare's Othello is set in 16th-century Venice and Cyprus. Othello the Moor, a noble black general in the Venetian army, has secretly married a beautiful white woman called Desdemona, the daughter of a prominent senator, Brabantio. When he finds out, he is outraged, and promptly disowns her.
Othello’s ensign, Iago, harbours a secret jealousy and resentment towards the Moor, partly because another soldier, lieutenant Cassio, has been promoted ahead of him, and also because he suspects that Othello has had an affair with his wife. Intent on revenge, Iago hatches a devious plan to plant suspicions in Othello’s mind that Desdemona has been unfaithful to him with Cassio. He orchestrates a street fight, for which Cassio is wrongly blamed, and is then dismissed from his post by Othello. Desdemona takes up Cassio’s case with her husband, which only further inflames his suspicions that the pair are lovers.
In the meantime, Iago manages to procure a treasured handkerchief from Desdemona that was given to her by Othello. He plants it on Cassio so that Othello sees it, then concludes that it is proof of their affair. Maddened by jealousy, he orders Iago to murder Cassio, and then he strangles Desdemona. Immediately afterwards her innocence is revealed, and Iago’s treachery exposed. In a fit of grief and remorse Othello kills himself. Iago is taken into custody by the Venetian authorities.
OTHELLO: HISTORICAL CONTEXT TO THE STORY
Written against the backdrop of the bubonic plague and the death of Queen Elizabeth I, The Othello play is thought to have been completed sometime in early 1604. Shakespeare appropriated the basic plot, historical context and storyline from Geraldi Cinthio’s popular book, Hundred Stories, the first sentence of which reads, “There was a Moor in Venice”. There were also other books that he probably used to shape the plots details, such as John Leo Africanus’s Geographical History of Africa, published in November 1600, Lewis Lewkenor’s book on the Constitution of Venice, and Philemon Holland’s translation of Pliny’s History of the World.
Peter Ackroyd, author of Shakespeare – The Biography, argues for an additional background source to the plot. He writes of a story about Philip II, the King of Spain, who was allegedly of a very jealous nature, and was said to have strangled his wife in bed after she had inadvertently dropped her handkerchief. If this tale is true, it is too close to the plot of Othello to be a coincidence.
Real life encounters also fed into the play’s storyline. Shakespeare would have come into contact with members of London’s African community, who would have figured in his daily life around the streets of St. Helen’s Bishopsgate, Silver Street and Turnmill Street, where he lived and socialised. He would have interacted with them as servants, musicians, entertainers and even prostitutes. He would have been aware of their struggles within Elizabethan society, and the racism they endured.
In 1600 Shakespeare may also have met Abd el-Ouahed ben Messaoud ben Mohammed Anoun — the olive-skinned Moorish ambassador to the Arab King of Barbary — who is often cited as the inspiration for Othello. He visited the court of Queen Elizabeth, and sat for a portrait. Some suggest that Shakespeare and his troupe perhaps performed for him.
Ben Arogundade's book, 'The Shakespeare Mashup', is out now.
OTHELLO'S INFLUENCES: William Shakespeare's play, 'Othello', is a powerful story of race, love, jealousy and betrayal. The basic historical context and background to the plot is thought to have come from Geraldi Cinthio's book, 'Hundred Stories'.
The Creativity of Author, Designer & Publisher Ben Arogundade
MORE ABOUT SHAKESPEARE'S OTHELLO
RAGE OF THE MOOR: Timothy Plummer as Iago and James Earl Jones as the Moor in a 1981 performance of William Shakespeare's play, 'Othello', at the American Shakespeare Theatre.
*SHAKESPEARE'S OTHELLO ACCORDING TO GOOGLE SEARCH
The number of people worldwide who Google the phrase, “Othello plot summary” each month.
The number of people worldwide who Google “Othello” each month.
*All figures for “Shakespeare's Othello According to Google Search”, supplied by Google. Stats include global totals for laptop and desktop computers and mobile devices.
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