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?
Iago’s evil: The necessary evil
An overview of Iago’s “evil” in William Shakespeare’s Othello
On the previous part we presented misogyny as a factor for violence against women in Othello. Misogyny is extremely important because it is the instrument with which we achieve a tragic ending in this play. If men did not view women as inferior then there would be no tragic murder, there would be no tragic victims.
However, when do we really have a tragedy in our hands?
Is it in the number of the victims and their gruesome deaths? Is it in the relationship between the victim and the aggressor? Or is it in the chain of events that separates the cast into victims and aggressors? And if there is a distinct point in the dramatic time, where a character becomes an aggressor- because without aggressors there would be no victims- then when is that in Othello.
Talking about racism in Othello is impossible without talking extensively about the politics in the Mediterranean and the english endeavours into gaining a pathway towards the Indies. It’s no surprise that sexism and racism go hand in hand together, but what is it that causes those? Before we talk about racism we will talk about imperialism.
Iago’s racism towards Othello is extremely obvious. It is the racism that everyone can see. The white man who envies the black man so passionately that he personally wants to destroy him…However, for every visible racial transgression, there is a racial transgression that remains completely invisible to this day on stage.
What is the army of Venice doing in Cyprus? And why is an english playwright writing about Venice battling the Turks in Cyprus. And finally if Venice won and an english play celebrated its victory, did Cyprus win?
Iago’s evil: Misogyny
An overview of Iago’s “evil” in William Shakespeare’s Othello
As partly I find it is, that your fair daughter,
At this odd-even and dull watch o’ the night,
Transported, with no worse nor better guard
But with a knave of common hire, a gondolier,
To the gross clasps of a lascivious Moor-
Your daughter, if you have not given her leave,
I say again, hath made a gross revolt;
Tying her duty, beauty, wit and fortunes
In an extravagant and wheeling stranger
Of here and every where.
Trigger warnings about rape, racism and mentions of bestiality and pedophilia.
Before we talk about racism, we are first going to address misogyny. Misogyny on the elizabethan stage and Shakespeare’s work especially, is extremely prevalent. And it is very often a catalyst for violence against women who make their own choices on stage. Let’s not forget that Titania’s decision to raise an Indian boy as her own in A Midsummer Night’s Dream incurs Oberon’s wrath who wants to take the boy as a lover. Oberon in order to take revenge on her plans to literally drug her and force her to perform bestiality. Rape of women is usually masked as revenge on the arrogance of their desirability. In another narrative- like in Cymbeline- perhaps Iago would have been allowed to rape Desdemona. He definitely fantasizes about it and the only reason Shakespeare doesn’t allow Iago to aggress Desdemona is certainly their difference in class.
Two are the reasons that drive Iago to “wear his heart on his sleeve”, meaning of course to show his true colours:
A) Othello, his superior in the army, did not advance him in rank. Iago is a senior member in the army, however, when a chance for promotion came Othello chose to advance Cassio, who was a scholar and not a soldier.
B) Desdemona, a “white” or “white-passing” woman secretly married Othello. Othello’s “problematic” blackness is a contributing but lesser factor than the fact that Desdemona chose herself her spouse/lover.There is one thing that the elizabethan stage is completely intolerant of in tragedies and that is a woman choosing themselves their own spouse and lover.
Othello: Let him do his spite:
My services which I have done the signiory
Shall out-tongue his complaints. ‘Tis yet to know,—
Which, when I know that boasting is an honour,
I shall promulgate—I fetch my life and being
From men of royal siege, and my demerits
May speak unbonneted to as proud a fortune
As this that I have reach’d: for know, Iago,
But that I love the gentle Desdemona,
I would not my unhoused free condition
Put into circumscription and confine
For the sea’s worth. But, look! what lights come yond?
Iago: Those are the raised father and his friends:
You were best go in.
Othello: Not I. I must be found:
My parts, my title and my perfect soul
Shall manifest me rightly.