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As always, Shakespeare was a great chronicler of the times. Venice was an important trading post and link between Europe and the East. At the time the play was written, there would have been ambassadors from Venice and beyond visiting Elizabethan England. Shakespeare would have enjoyed studying these 'exotic' strangers. Othello himself is referred to by Shakespeare as 'an extravagent, wheeling stranger' and this comment may have been coloured by Shakespeare's observations. The other answer of course is that, ever the magpie, Shakespeare 'borrowed' the tale by Cinthio called Hecatommithi, but adapted it coloured it according to his own fancy.
Some scholars believe Shakespeare based Othello on a short story called Gli Hecatommithi, which was published in 1565 by Geraldi Cinthio. The story dealt with the unfaithfulness of husbands and wives. Shakespeare might have found this theme excellent material for a stage play.
Shakespeare was probably also aware of accounts of wars between Turkey and Venice in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries (Othello is general of the Venitian armed forces).
The plot allowed Shakespeare to explore issues of jealousy and deceit in the context which it can be most powerful -- that of a husband and wife.
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