Sources for the play may include an English translation by Philemon Holland of Pliny the Elder’s History of the World, published in 1601, and Richard Knowles’s History of the Turks, published after September 1603. The play was performed at Whitehall Palace on 1st November 1604, so it was probably written 1603–1604.
The play was first printed as a quarto in 1622, probably typeset from a transcript of Shakespeare’s draft manuscripts. The First Folio version is probably typeset from a transcript of Shakespeare’s final manuscript, or possibly a prompt-book prepared for the acting company sometime after 1606.
‘Have you not sometimes seen a handkerchief,
Spotted with strawberries, in your wife’s hand?’
Othello, III iii
Brief synopsis of the play
The talented and successful Moor, Othello, remains an outsider in Venice, subjected to racism and mistrust. Leading the Venetian forces to defend Cyprus from the Turks, Othello’s world falls apart when the vindictive villain Iago, overlooked for promotion, uses a handkerchief – lost by Othello’s wife Desdemona – to deceive him into thinking that she is unfaithful. This fast-paced and heart-breaking play demonstrates the destructive power of uncontrolled jealousy to undermine even the purest love.