On What Play Do Many Scholars Believe Othello Is Based?

Updated 8 November, 2024
Othello, the Moor of Venice is a tragedy by William Shakespeare believed to have been written in approximately 1603, and based on the Italian short story 'Un Capitano Moro' ('A Moorish Captain') by Cinthio, a disciple of Boccaccio, first published in 1565.
Detailed answer:

Othello was crafted at the dawn of the 17th century, shaped by complex social and geopolitical issues that new historicist critics, who seek to place literary works within a historical framework, have recently sought to unravel.
Shakespeare derived Othello’s plot from a short narrative in Giraldi Cinthio’s Gli Hecatommithi (1565), but set his play within the context of Venice’s struggle during the 1570s with the Ottoman Empire for control of Cyprus, the eastern Mediterranean island that overlooked the shipping lanes between Europe and trading centres in the East.
Additionally, references throughout Othello to ‘the Turk’ or ‘turning Turk’ evoke the intermittent conflict between Europe’s Christian powers and the Islamic Ottoman Empire, which was as much an economic competition as a clash of religions. These and other facts concerning the Turkish Invasion may have come from Richard Knolles' History of the Turks (1603), while the History and Description of Africa, Leo Africanus, (1600) is another source. Written as early as 1601-2 or later at 1603-4, any decision rests on resemblances to Hamlet. The folio printed just a year before the official First Folio (1623) is different in many aspects, and 160 lines shorter.

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