Many scholars believe that Othello is based on another piece of art. The play reflects the Italian work, Un Capitano Moro (A Moorish Captain), written by Giraldi Cinthio. Both stories are about marital betrayal and extreme jealousy.
Othello, or The Moor of Venice, was written by William Shakespeare in 1603. The tragedy remains relevant to this day because of its timeless themes of love and jealousy.
Shakespeare adapted the plot of Othello from Un Capitano Moro (A Moorish Captain), published in 1565. The short story by Giraldi Cinthio is a part of his Gli Hecatommithi novella collection. Un Capitano Moro tells us a tale of adultery and a husband’s revenge. No wonder the plays have a lot in common. Let’s find out why many scholars see Cinthio’s influence on Shakespeare’s tragedy.
Cleveland A. Williams suggests that Shakespeare used long-forgotten Cinthio’s story as the basis for his tragedy. The plot of Un Capitano Moro reveals a variety of human feelings. They shift from love and affection to hate and jealousy. Shakespeare included similar emotions in Othello. He may have borrowed literary ideas from Cinthio. Italian novellas about love were extremely popular after Boccaccio’s Decameron came out. The English playwright might have wanted to restore the greatness of the Italian novella.
The central figures in Shakespeare’s Othello are:
- Moorish general – Othello.
- Othello’s wife – Desdemona.
- Iago – the main antagonist.
It turns out, Cinthio’s play has almost identical characters. For example, the protagonist in Un Capitano Moro is also a Moorish Captain. His wife’s name is also Desdemona. The antagonist, Ensign, deceived the protagonist after falling in love with his wife.
Moreover, the characters’ descriptions in Othello resemble those in Un Capitano Moro. In both plays, Desdemona is a beautiful and virtuous woman. She marries the Moorish Captain, admiring his courage and heroism. Cinthio and Shakespeare depict the Captain as a noble commander. The antagonists in the plays are similar as well. The Ensign and Iago are trying to expose Desdemona as an unfaithful wife. They both faced rejection, yet from different people.
Still, it is fair to mention that Shakespeare did not just copy another work. Instead, he adapted Cinthio’s tragedy to create Othello. The motives of the antagonist in Othello are more complex and evil than Cinthio’s Ensign. Iago’s actions have little to do with his love for the Captain’s wife. He does not respect Desdemona’s moral virtues or the authority of Othello.
Moreover, the English author gives the story a political meaning and relevance. He refers to the war between the Turks and the Venetians and appeals to his modern readers. William Shakespeare added some new characters to his story. For example, Desdemona’s father Brabantio and the secondary antagonist Roderigo. Shakespeare did not rewrite but enhanced the old Italian tale with his personal touch and political views.