What is the literary context of the play Othello? 

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mstultz72 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Othello is a tragedy, which is engineered for a tragic hero (Othello) to suffer from both inward and outward mistakes.  The play features perhaps Shakespeare's greatest villain, Iago, who dominates the action of the play.  He has more lines and stage time than Othello.

The play is more sexist than racist.  Othello and Iago mistreat women to no end.  Two of the three women in the play are murdered by their husbands.

Othello is ahead of its time in terms of racial identity.  There's no way that a black-a-Moor (black Muslim) would have been made a general in that time, so Shakespeare's treatment of a black tragic hero is revolutionary.  Granted, the actor playing Othello would have been a white man in black-face.

The play features two things never seen on stage before: a black man and a bed.  Given that Othello is a black man with a white wife and there's a bedroom scene where he murders her was scandalous by 16-17th century standards--and I mean scandalous.

The play was written in 1600, which ironically was the beginning of the slave trade in Europe.  So, Shakespeare anticipated the racial divide that would plague the Western world for the next four hundred years.