Something from Cyprus as I may divine:
It is a business of some heat: the galleys
Have sent a dozen sequent messengers
This very night at one another’s heels,
And many of the consuls, raised and met,
Are at the duke’s already: you have been
hotly call’d for;
When, being not at your lodging to be found,
The senate hath sent about three several guests
To search you out.
Cassio, Act I, Scene II, from William Shakespeare’s Othello
Once again in the background of action there is the struggle for the Mediterranean. Malta, Rhodes, Cyprus, all isles of the Mediterranean, as seen before in Christopher Marlowes’ The Jew of Malta happen to be the “prizes” in the colossal conflict between christian western Europe and the Ottoman Empire. However, who actually lives in these Mediterranean islands?
Rhodes and Cyprus who are mentioned in the play were- and are today- islands with primarily greek populations. Of course being quite big islands and in a strategic position for Mediterranean commerce they were also pretty diverse during the renaissance. Greek populations in these islands were under the Byzantine Empire from later antiquity up until 1204 when Constantinople- the capital of the Byzantine Empire- was sacked by the Venetian Crusaders. The sack of Constantinople provided the necessary finances and territories for the Venetians to establish themselves as the dominant seafaring power in the Mediterranean. This period in greek history is referred to as latinokratia (latinocracy), or frankokratia (francocracy). “Frankos/Frankoi” is term for all western europeans. After a series of battles both at sea and mainland, greek territories and greek peoples passed from the control of western europe to the Ottoman Empire.
- First Senator. This cannot be,
By no assay of reason: ‘tis a pageant.
To keep us in false gaze. When we consider
The importancy of Cyprus to the Turk,
And let ourselves again but understand,
That as it more concerns the Turk than Rhodes,
So may he with more facile question bear it,
For that it stands not in such warlike brace,
But altogether lacks the abilities
That Rhodes is dress’d in: if we make thought of this,
We must not think the Turk is so unskilful
To leave that latest which concerns him first,
Neglecting an attempt of ease and gain,
To wake and wage a danger profitless.
- Duke of Venice. Nay, in all confidence, he’s not for Rhodes.
Othello ultimately is played out in front of this era of transition. And it could be said that the failed romance between Othello and Desdemona could allude to the perpetually incompatible temperaments of the Orient and the West. Othello and Desdemona after all destroy each other on this sort of “no man’s land” . Cyprus, despite its significance to the West, after all, is nothing but a “colony”. It is insignificant beyond its geographical importance. And so too Othello’s and Desdemona’s affair is beyond significance outside of what if offers to the West. So what do Othello and Desdemona offer to the West?