What is the historical implication shown in Othello?

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lynnebh eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Othello is a Moor (Blacks of north African descent and Muslim). He is a general in the Venetian army.

Ever since the Crusades, the European Christians had been fighting the Muslim armies, trying to regain the Holy Land. The Crusades were mostly failures, and throughout the Middle Ages and into the Renaissance, many wars were fought between Christians and Muslims. The Ottomon Empire controlled much of southeastern Europe, western Africa and North Africa during much of the 16th and 17th century, when this play was written (1603).

The Venetians viewed the island of Cyprus as a last stand against the Ottomon Turks, who had conquered many lands establishing the Ottomon Empire. Cyprus is an island in the eastern Mediterranean, south of Turkey. The Venetians established a military stronghold on the island of Cyprus, but in 1571, the Ottomon Turks attacked Cyprus and conquered it. The Ottomon period lasted until the late 1800s in Cyprus. In the play, Othello is sent to Cyprus to command the Venetian army and defend Cyprus.

Othello is thought to have been based on an Italian story by an Italian writer named Cinthio. Since the play was written in 1603, this would have been after the invasion of Cyprus but during the Ottomon Period in Cyprian history.

scarletpimpernel eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Another historical implication of the play, which Shakespeare sets in Venice, is that Europeans seemed to have no problem using people from other cultures (such as the Moors) to advance their empires or societies, but they did not fully accept those foreigners into their societies.  The Moors in England enjoyed more freedom than Jews did during the play's time period, but it was still not socially acceptable to marry between races or to do away with long-held stereotypes associated with non-Caucasian races (i.e., Othello is assumed to be naturally violent and lustful because he is a Moor).

Shakespeare's ability to address universal themes such as the effects of racism and stereotyping even as early as the 17th century is part of what makes him a literary genius.

A natural complementary play for Othello is The Merchant of Venice which discusses the treatment of Jews in Europe and also has historical implications.

missjenn eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I think there is a lot of historical implication within Othello, so you may need to be more specific.

Othello shows historical ideas and feelings towards Moors (North Africans) and women. Othello is a Moor and is only trusted because he is a valiant, loyal warrior and a Christian. This religious detail shows how historical religion could lead to your acceptance or ostracising within society.

However, as character like Iago shows the reader some sentiments about interracial relationships that were relevant to the time as he provokes Desdemona's father by saying a "black ram is tupping your white ewe."Although Iago is trying to ruin Othello, the route he goes shows his bigotry.

mstultz72 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The play was written in 1603, or so, which corresponds to the beginning of the slave trade in Europe.  This is significant, because Othello was once a slave, and these racial stereotypes are a focus in the play.  This also corresponds to historical documents of the time, namely Leo Africanus' Description of Africa. He says of Africans,

No nation in the world is so subiect vnto iealousie; for they will rather leese their lives, then put vp any disgrace in the behalfe of their women.  So desirous they are of riches and honour, that therein no other people can goe beyonde them.


do-right | Student

i've heard that some scholars think that othello is a north African, specificly moroccan. and that the name "othello" is an abbreviation for the name "ata-olah". pronounced /ətae-ulaeh/.