Date of Completion
Andrea Celli, Philip Balma, Gustavo Nanclares
Field of Study
Literatures, Cultures & Languages
Master of Arts
William Shakespeare’s Othello is an adaptation of Giovanni Battista Giraldi Cinthio’s “Un Capitano Moro,” that was written in 1565; taken from his novella collection ‘Gli Hecatommithi,’ Decad.III., Novella 7. Cinthio’s story of the Moor of Venice fits the classification of the Italian novellas which grew to prominence during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries due to the popularity of Boccaccio’s Decameron.
Shakespeare liberated this story from its state of oblivion and utilized it as his framework for Othello; as the plot exposes some of the most intricate of human emotions – love, hate and jealousy, which are all entwined with schemes of conspiracies that add to the richness of a great novella. The story of the Moor of Venice encapsulates the displayed attitudes of Venetians during the Renaissance towards cross-cultural diversities and ethnicities that were brought into play by their foreign nationals, which they perceived and classified as ‘other’; due to Venice becoming a multicultural city state, because of her international trading enterprises.
Most historians believed that the modern notion of ‘racism’ cannot be applied to the ancient world or the Middle Ages. This is not to say that the disparaging constructions of ‘otherness’, xenophobia and other stereotypes did not exist. It is in the Early-Modern period that we start to witness the emergence of a notion of race, as it is familiar to us. William Shakespeare sensed this socio-cultural phenomenon. His Othello based on Cinthio’s “Un Capitano Moro”; was written in protestation of the stereotypic ‘otherness’ of Elizabethan England.
The objectives of this Masters’ Thesis are firstly to illustrate how Shakespeare adapted Cinthio’s “Un Capitano Moro” to construct his literary masterpiece, Othello. Secondly to demonstrate how he used the character of Othello as an allegorical figure to highlight institutionalized xenophobia and social injustices that were taking root throughout Europe and lead to the Transatlantic African Slave Trade.
Williams, Cleveland A., "Shakespeare's Adaption of Cinthio's "Un Capitano Moro" into Othello" (2018). Master's Theses. 1315.