It’s, of Shakespeare’s tragedies, the most powerful in emotional impact. He took inspiration from a tale contained in Giraldi Cinthio’s Hecatommithi (The Hundred Fables), written in 1565 in which ten moral virtues or their opposite are illustrated by ten tales from contemporary life. He follow exactly the story, except for some things. In Cinthio’s collection the only name mentioned is Desdemona, the others are called with their titles. Shakespeare added a new character, Roderigo, who want Othello’s wife and is killed. In Cinthio the moor never complain about having killed his wife and him and Iago escape from Venice and are killed some time after. There’s also a moral of the story, but Shakespeare remove it. (European ladies aren’t adapt to marry stranger people).
Desdemona is a young and beautiful lady from one of the most important aristocratic families of Venice.
She could have chosen everyone to become her husband, but she choose Othello, a Muslim general in the service of Venice; he’s a very important person as he’s a general, but he’s also a stranger. The two lovers are totally different starting from races (as for example in The merchant of Venice it’s very important the theme of racial discrimination; in representations the role of Othello is usually played by “black man”, but from the title “The moor of Venice” we can think of him probably as a person from northern Africa) and he’s also older than her. Desdemona and Othello has eloped and secretly got married and the play starts with her father Barbantio wondering why she has chosen him, he can’t believe it and thinks he have bewitched her. The case is brought to the Duke of Venice, who called Desdemona and asked her what has happened and she resolves the dispute by acknowledging split loyalties to her father and to her new husband, making clear that now she belongs to Othello. She said that the things that charms her were the stories of his travels and battles. The beginning of the play is set in Venice, but then, because of the Turks who threaten to invade Cyprus, Othello is moved there to defend it and so the scene moved there. There are two soldiers under Othello who aspire to the promotion to lieutenant. Othello decides for Cassio, and Iago plans to avenge himself on both Cassio and Othello. He decides to break the happiness between Othello and Desdemona. He manage to make Othello promoting him lieutenant by making Cassio drunk and involve him in a brawl and convincing Othello he isn’t the the right person to promote to lieutenant. Than Iago convinces Othello to keep an eye on Cassio, because he suspected his wife has been unfaithful to him with Cassio. He managed to give to Cassio a Desdemona’s kerchief with his wife Emilia’s help and when Othello sees it, Iago pretend to defend Cassio, but completely gone crazy for jealousy kills Desdemona in nuptial bed. Then Emilia confesses the truth, that Desdemona’s betrayal wasn’t true and Jago immediately kills her. Othello then kills himself because of what he has done, Iago is arrested and sentenced to be tortured and Cassio takes the title of general which has been of Othello.
The figure of Iago
During the play the figure of Othello changes, thanks to Iago, who manoeuvres him little by little in a position in which is fate is uncertain; his transformation is reflected in his way of speak; he starts see through Iago’s eyes. We don’t know why Iago do these things against Othello, it’s one of tragedy’s biggest mystery. At the end of the tragedy he says “From now on I speak no more”. He’s a different villain from the others: he do everything just because he’s wicked, none other reasons. There are also some critics who find in a line spoken by Iago the reason for what he do, he says that Othello has done his business in his sheets. But it’s only a suspect.