Contextual Factors in Othello
How do the contextual aspects of Othello form your understanding of the play? Shakespeare’s Othello incorporates a wide range of contextual elements which form my understanding of the play. These contextual elements consist of historical, cultural, political and social aspects. Othello is believed to have been composed between late 1603 and early1604 throughout the time period referred to as the “Elizabethan” Period (1580-1625) in which, the excellent works of the age were produced; it was likewise during this time that the renaissance, which started in Italy in the 14th century, reached England.
The Renaissance spirit was sustained by the rediscovering of lots of classical texts as well as many substantial literary, scientific and geographic developments such as: the discovery of America, Copernicus’ and Galileo’s views on the universe and the reformation of the Church. In regards to historic context, Shakespeare’s work was composed to question common beliefs, assumptions and politics upon which Elizabethan Society was established (in a real renaissance method! ). As a ‘modern-day’ reader and with regards to historic context, one can understand why Shakespeare’s Othello challenges the ‘standards’ of society.
In early 17th century England, people’s attitudes towards non-Europeans were formed by the federal government policies and (to a lower extent) by exotic stories revived by visitors overseas, such as Richard Eden’s book ‘Years’ written in 1555 that included accounts of voyages to Africa with specific descriptions of ‘moors and negroes’. North and West Africans living in Elizabethan England were castaways, often being singled out for their unusual dress, behaviour and customs.
They were ultimately branded with terms such as “devils” or “bad guys” and were frequently stereotyped as being sexually overactive, vulnerable to jealousy and wicked by nature. In Othello, Shakespeare draws from his Cultural context and includes the racial stereotypes into his discussion, appointing them to characters such as Iago, Roderigo and Brabantio an example of this can be seen in Act 1 Scene 1 Lines 89-90 when Iago states to Brabantio “even now, now, really now, an old black ram is tupping your white ewe”.
At the time of composing this play Queen Elizabeth I held power in England. Elizabeth was the child of King Henry VIII, the creator of the Church of England which triggered divisions in society which were still felt when Elizabeth was up to power. In saying this, Elizabeth searched for peace and stability in her Kingdom with a happy medium method to religious life. Shakespeare expresses this aspect of peace and stability through political context in Othello by providing a fresh view on the character of Othello whom is black.
Othello is a noble figure of great authority, respected and admired by the senate of Venice as well as by those who serve him, such as Cassio and Montano. With relation to social context, life in Elizabethan society was drastically various to life in 21st century society. For instance, marriage was not viewed as a close and intimate union in between 2 lovers. Usually, marital relationship was viewed as an organisation offer in which a female (generally) would wed above her own class in order to ensure security for her life.
Marrying for love was not likely, nevertheless not unusual and if a woman might ‘score’ love and wealth together, she was considered very lucky. In Othello, Shakespeare develops a love in between Desdemona and Othello that many would envy, consisting of Iago the plays primary villain who is in a loveless marital relationship. Shakespeare also reflects his cultural context in the play through using a black main character and the relationships that this character has with other characters. In Othello, Shakespeare’s Venetians show the mores of English society and reflects his cultural context.
It follows that Venetian society would appreciate Othello for his valour and leadership however still recoil at the notion of his marrying into its families, particularly those of social standing. Shakespeare’s writing of Othello is influenced by many different contextual factors such as political, historical, cultural and social aspects. As a reader, through understanding the contextual aspects which affected Shakespeare’s writing we can acquire a deeper understanding of what is taking place in the play and also a deeper understanding of the styles and underlying messages being communicated to the audience.