Venice, though a multicultural city and hub of commerce, represents the law, order, and rationality of Western Europe (a role it also plays in The Merchant of Venice). However, in Shakespeare's time, Venetian women were also associated with prostitution and promiscuous sexual behavior, as Shakespeare scholar Jonathan Bate points out. Therefore, Venice is a symbol of both male order and female promiscuity.
Cyprus, on the edge of "civilization," is depicted as a more chaotic location, identified with warfare and passion. In Venice, for instance, Othello has the opportunity to defend his love for and elopement with Desdemona in front of a rational and dispassionate tribunal, as does Desdemona. When the couple arrives in Cyprus, the possibility of finding an objective ground to stand on is symbolically ripped away. Iago's passionate and irrational hatred is able to permeate Othello's consciousness without a counter balance. Cyprus, therefore, symbolizes passions run amok.
While still in Venice,...
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