Analysis Pages

Facts in Othello

Facts Examples in Othello:

Act I - Scene I

🔒 1

" wife..."   (Act I - Scene I)

Cassio's wife is never depicted in the play or mentioned again after this line. The primary source text that inspired Othello is Giraldi Cinthio's 1565 Hecatommithi. In Cinthio's story, Cassio is married and his wife is a prominent character. This line is either a reference to this story or evidence of an intended character that Shakespeare either never wrote or removed from the plot.

"teach me tyranny, To hang clogs on them...."   (Act I - Scene III)

In medieval times, prisoners were often tortured by having clogs—heavy wooden blocks—hung around their necks before being marched through the streets. Fortunately, Brabantio has no one to direct such anger toward.

"Of thirty sail; and now they do restem Their backward course, bearing with frank appearance Their purposes toward Cyprus...."   (Act I - Scene III)

The Ottomans have launched a noisy naval assault on Rhodes while also sending along a small fleet to attack Cyprus. As the senators and Duke speculate, the assault on Rhodes is meant to distract from their primary goal, which is Venetian Cyprus.

"'Zounds!..."   (Act II - Scene III)

“‘Zounds” is a common exclamation in Shakespeare’s plays. It rhymes with “wounds,” as opposed to “sounds” because it is a shortening of the old English curse “God’s wounds!”

"Why, masters, have your instruments been in Naples, that they speak i' the nose thus?..."   (Act III - Scene I)

The clown’s joke originates from the reputation of Naples as a hotbed of syphilis. The sharp, nasal tone of the instruments sounds similar to that of a man whose nose is affected by syphilis. Shakespeare’s plays are a blend of high and low sensibilities. In each of his plays, one can find both serious meditations and dirty jokes.

"Avaunt! be gone! Thou hast set me on the rack: I swear 'tis better to be much abused(375) Than but to know't a little...."   (Act III - Scene III)

Othello makes reference to “the rack,” an infamous medieval torture device which stretches the prisoner’s limbs in opposite directions. Othello’s point is that knowing just “a little” about Desdemona’s adultery is the greatest torture of all. Even full knowledge of the situation is manageable by comparison.

"I have a pain upon my forehead here...."   (Act III - Scene III)

Othello makes a subtle reference to the cuckold’s horns. The horns are from a medieval myth in which cuckolded men were thought to sprout horns as a result of their symbolic castration.

"green-eyed monster..."   (Act III - Scene III)

Renaissance men often suspected their wives of adultery because of the stigma around being a "cuckold." A cuckolded man (a man whose wife is cheating on him) faced both social humiliation and ruined credit. Such harsh consequences led to frequent paranoia, also called horn-madness because of the metaphorical horns that supposedly sprout from the cuckold's brow. Othello's anxiety, though unfair, is understandable.

Analysis Pages