Intro to Othello • The Moors • The World of Othello • Characters • Sources: Bradley, A.C. “Othello”, Shakesperean Tragedy, 1904; Bevington, David , Shakespeare: Four Tragedies, 1988; Modern Critical Interpretations (1987); Neely, Carol “women and Men in Othello; English 303; Shakesperean Tragedy, University of New Mexico
The Moors • When the Arab armies swept across Northern Africa in the 7th century, they found indigenous tribespeople called Berbers.
The Moors • After the Arabs converted many of the Berbers to Islam early in the 8th century, the Berbers and the Arabs joined forces to conquer Spain.
The Moors • There, they intermarried with the Spanish. Their descendants came to be called Moors. • The name Moor comes from the Latin Mauri, the name of the inhabitants of an old Roman province (now covered by Morocco and part of Algeria)
The Moors • The Moors reached the height of their power in Spain and controlled most of Spain from 711 to 1031. • By 1212, the Moorish power was broken in central Spain, but it would take until 1492 for the final expulsion from Spain.
The Moors • The Moors were actually one victory away from crushing the Europeans, but, like the Romans, condemned their future by internal squabbles. • Some adopted Christianity and remained (such as Othello), and were called Moriscos.
What do Moors believe? • Because of their Arab descent, the Moorish culture is very structured when it comes to women. Women in Arab culture are absolutely, positively not allowed to commit adultery. To do so meant instant death.
What do the Moors Believe? • In the European culture of the time, many women were simply banished from the town, forced into prostitution, or killed by upset men. However, the chance for survival for women was much better in a European culture than the Arab culture.
Othello’s Background (for the play) • Othello is of royal lineage. He was captured, turned into a slave by the Spanish and Italians, then later won his freedom and became a tremendous general.
Othello’s Background • Othello knows nothing but violence. He has little formal education. Everything he knows involves the battlefield.
Othello’s Background • Othello is not simply a Moor, but a Christian (a Morisco). This play abounds with imagery of Christian salvation and damnation. • Moriscos were regarded without much trust by the Christian community at the time.
Othello’s Background • Moors were treated much like the Jews who became new Christians, “regarded with suspicion as a false Christian (Hecht 127).
Desdemona Othello’s wife and also the daughter of an Italian nobleman. Desdemona is fair, apparently quite pure, and apparently quite innocent. There is a debate whether she is naïve.
Iago Quite possibly one of the most dangerous, evil characters in major literature, yet throughout the play no one but the reader knows his intentions. In appearance, he is Othello’s confidant; in reality, he is Othello’s nightmare.
Cassio Othello’s lieutenant, and the one Iago (apparently) is angry with because Othello picked Cassio over him. He is a young flirt who is very preoccupied with advancement.
Emilia • Iago’s wife. Emilia is basically an abused spouse, but she may know more about her husband than anyone else.
Roderigo • Iago’s lackey, a man that Iago can use without any worry of his intentions being misinterpreted. Roderigo is basically a weak mind that can be easily manipulated.
Bianca A hooker who is another pawn in Iago’s game. She is Cassio’s mistress and because she is of low social status, is an easy target.
Brabantio • Desdemona’s father, who actually was friends with Othello until he gets a big surprise. Brabantio is basically a failed politician that the military has little use for.