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  • Print publication year: 1969
  • Online publication date: March 2007

The Two Parts of ‘Othello’


In this paper I wish to examine the composition of Othello. The best place to start would seem to me to be Shakespeare's source.

In my first section, Cinthio's tale, the third tale of the seventh decade of his Hecatommithi, will be examined, and a new attempt will be made to ascertain how it influenced Othello. This study of the relationship between one of the most prosaic of Shakespeare's sources and one of the most poetic of his tragedies will, it is hoped, throw light on his creative process. For this purpose Othello is better than Julius Caesar or even Richard II, especially in view of the fact that its structure is usually praised beyond that of any other Shakespearian play.

The story of the Moor of Venice is a kind of exemplum. The tales of Cinthio's third decade originally, it is obvious, were all intended to be about disloyal husbands and wives, and the preceding tale, mentioned in the head-link, concerns a dissolute, adulterous wife justly killed by her husband. Curtio, who tells the story of the Moor, prefers not to be so erotic as the other narrators, whose pretence of preaching morality is usually little more than an excuse for dwelling on salacious adventures, and he therefore, here and in his later tales, describes chaste rather than adulterous characters.2 Here his purpose is to show that not all women are unchaste and not all jealous husbands are justified in their suspicions. Like many of the other narrators, Curtio describes his characters effectively.

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Shakespeare Survey
  • Volume 21: Othello, with an Index to Surveys 11-20
  • Edited by Kenneth Muir
  • Online ISBN: 9781139053013
  • Book DOI:
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