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Othello Essay: Geography in Othello

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Othello Essay: Geography in Othello While the focus of Shakespeare's Othello is often on the domestic conflict of Othello and Desdemona, these events are purposefully fixed in specific geographic locations: Venice and Cyprus. Shakespeare creates a comparison of Venice with Cyprus that permeates the play, and the influence that geography has on the play can be vital to understanding why the plot progresses the way it does. The comparison begins, oddly enough, with the title of the play, The Tragedy of Othello, the Moor of Venice. 'Othello' as a name is neither Italian (which would be 'Otello') or Moorish. In addition, while Othello could possibly be 'the Moor of Venice', the title does not identify him as the only Moor from Venice. It fixes him through geographical identification as a definite part of Venice, not as a native Venetian, but as a stranger in and of the city. Othello has adopted Venice as his city, their Christian code of behaviour as his code, his marriage to a white woman as his bond to this place. Nonetheless, Othello does not 'belong' to this culture, nor can he ever be considered a Venetian. Interestingly, the nationalism of the Venetians surfaces during Iago's opening comments about Cassio. Cassio is a Florentine, a fact that Iago takes as extremely distasteful. The comments cause us to wonder that if Iago can so hate a fellow Italian, then his antipathy towards a Moor is indeed frightening. ...read more.


Shakespeare mentions the birthplace of Venus in Venus and Adonis (line 1193) and in The Tempest (4.1.93), but there is no mention of the goddess in Othello. This omission, therefore, focuses our attention not on love as personified in the Goddess of Love, but on love as a human frailty having more to do with human deception than divine intervention. Such a view is reflective of the humanist concerns of the late Renaissance. Shakespeare could not have known that eventually in 1669 the Turks would invade Cyprus, forcing the Venetians to withdraw and effectively ending their role as a major naval force. What Shakespeare does do, however, is clearly establish Cyprus as an alternative to Venice. For Shakespeare's audience, Cyprus, as well as Barbary, Egypt, Rhodes, and Aleppo among others, would have defined a foreign, strange, exotic place about which they could only dream. With no frame of reference in their every day lives for these places, just the names would make the events of the play very plausible. The persistent mention of other foreign places contextualises Cyprus as the mid-way point between civilisation and barbarism, a point made flesh in the character of Othello. Furthermore, unlike Venice, militarism is the stable mechanism of the behavioural code. Cassio is dealt with according to this code, as is Iago, and it is the Venetian nobles who see to its implementation. ...read more.


conclusion: I took you for that cunning whore of Venice That married with Othello (4.2.91-92). The entire geography of the play and its blatant breaks in locale serve not only to gloss the dissolution of Othello and Desdemona's marital problems, but also the 'otherness' of the two lovers. Othello has no place in Desdemona's world, no matter how many victories he wins, no matter how much he is trusted by the Duke, no matter how assimilated he thinks he may be. Alternatively, Desdemona can never be part of Othello's world: she does not understand the demands of a soldier's life; she only has Othello's version of his military exploits; she has been raised in the shelter of Venice. Desdemona has been insulated from the man's world that is Venice, and is now isolated by Cyprus. Although she has the dreams and hopes normal for a young newlywed, she is, in the eyes of the men, a property for barter. Failing to recognise this about herself leads Desdemona to other serious misjudgements about men, their motives, and their tenacity. The play begins in Venice, moves to Cyprus, and ends with a return to Venice by Montano. Yet it would be unfair to assume that this geography imposes itself on the play to the exclusion of the other motifs. The geography is the canvas on which Shakespeare will fashion an absorbing tale, and it stays there, in the background, supporting, colouring, and subtly influencing our interpretations. ?? ?? ?? ?? ...read more.

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