What is the setting at the beginning of Shakespeare's Othello? 

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robertwilliam's profile pic

robertwilliam | College Teacher | (Level 2) Senior Educator

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The play is set in Venice (Othello himself, as the play's proper title points out, is the "Moor of Venice") - though only the first part of the play takes place there.

In Act 2 (Scene 1), the play moves location to Cyprus, where it remains until the end.

Hope it helps!

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jameadows | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Senior Educator

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The setting at the beginning of Othello is Venice, a city in Italy, though the action in the play later moves to Cyprus. At the time, Venice controlled the island of Cyprus, though the Ottoman Empire (referred to as "Turks") were vying for control of the island. 

At the time, Venice was a major center of trading and commerce in the Mediterranean world, and it was also a center of architecture, politics, literature, art, and music. However, it was a place where a Moor like Othello would have stood out as not belonging because he is black. Venice was also associated with vice and lewdness and with a thriving trade in prostitution.

Cyprus was quite different than Venice. In Act I, Scene I, Iago says of Othello, "he’s embarked / With such loud reason to the Cyprus wars" (lines 148-149). Unlike Venice, Cyprus was an isolated military outpost that was far less developed than Venice. Desdemona is not at home in Cyprus. In Cyprus, Desdemona is not trusted but is referred to as a "cunning whore of Venice" (4.2.87). In other words, she is associated with the licentiousness of Venice, and her reputation is unfairly tarnished as a result. 


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kmieciakp's profile pic

kmieciakp | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Assistant Educator

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Also, the text suggests nighttime.

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