Cultural references to Othello

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Rosa 'Othello' in the Volksgarten Rosa Othello.jpg
Rosa 'Othello' in the Volksgarten

In addition to its appearance in the theatre, the character of Othello from the tragic play by William Shakespeare has appeared in many examples in art and culture since being authored by Shakespeare in the early 16th century.


In the visual arts

The literary character of Othello and the plot of the play by Shakespeare has been a recurrent theme in painting for several centuries. Selected examples include The Plot depicting Othello and Iago, which was painted in oil by Solomon Alexander Hart in 1855. He also painted a watercolour version, held at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London. Othello was a series of 60 paintings executed in 1985 by Nabil Kanso. It was published in 1996 by NEV Editions.

In 2018, the African American conceptual artist Fred Wilson created the work I saw Othello's visage in his mind in Murano glass and wood, inspired by a line of Desdemona's in Act One of the tragedy. [1]

In opera

Maria Malibran as Rossini's Desdemona by Francois Bouchot, 1834 La Malibran (Maria) par F. Bouchot.jpg
Maria Malibran as Rossini's Desdemona by François Bouchot, 1834

Otello , a four-act opera with an Italian libretto by Francesco Maria Berio di Salsa and music by Gioachino Rossini was first performed at the Teatro del Fondo, Naples, on 4 December 1816. The opera deviates from Shakespeare's original in some aspects: Iago is less diabolical than his Shakespearean counterpart, the setting is Venice rather than Cyprus, and the composer and librettist provided an alternative happy ending to the work, a common practice with drama and opera at one time.

Giuseppe Verdi and librettist Arrigo Boito adapted Shakespeare's play to Otello , an Italian grand opera in four acts that was first performed at the Teatro alla Scala, Milan on 5 February 1887. It was Verdi's second to last opera (followed by another Shakespeare adaptation, Falstaff ) and is considered by many his greatest. The popular opera attracts world class singers and is found in the repertoire of prominent opera houses. Verdi and his librettist dispensed with the first act of the play. Franco Zeffirelli's 1986 film version of Verdi's opera starring Plácido Domingo as Othello was nominated for the BAFTA for foreign language film. [2] However, it did not win the award. According to the Kennedy Center's biographical note on Domingo, Laurence Olivier saw Domingo in Otello and, in a mock-furious voice, told Franco Zeffirelli: "You realise that Domingo plays Othello as well as I do, and he has that voice!" [3]

On 25 February 1999, Bandanna , an English language opera in a prologue and two acts with a libretto by Irish poet Paul Muldoon and music by Daron Hagen was performed by the opera theatre at The University of Texas in Austin. The opera is set in 1968 on the United States–Mexican border and borrows elements from Cinthio's tale, Shakespeare's play, and Verdi's opera.

In ballet

Mexican choreographer José Limón created a 20-minute, four character ballet called The Moor's Pavane to the music of Henry Purcell in 1949. The work premiered at the Connecticut College American Dance Festival in the same year. American Ballet Theatre was the first dance company outside Limon's to include the work in its repertory. It is a standard in dance companies around the world and notable interpreters of the Moor include Rudolf Nureyev.

The ballet Othello was choreographed by John Neumeier to music by Arvo Pärt, Alfred Schnittke, Naná Vasconcelos et al. and was premiered by the Hamburg Ballet in Hamburg on 27 January 1985, with Gamal Gouda as Othello, Gigi Hyatt as Desdemona, and Max Midinet as Iago. The work remains in the repertoire of the Hamburg Ballet, seeing its 100th performance in 2008.

Another Othello ballet, by Iranian Armenian composer Loris Tjeknavorian, was commissioned by the Northern Ballet company and was shown in London in 1985. The musical score, performed by the London Symphony Orchestra, was recorded by EMI.

In 2002, modern dance choreographer Lar Lubovitch created a full-length ballet in three acts based on the Shakespeare play and Cinthio's tale with a score by Elliot Goldenthal. The work has been staged by the San Francisco Ballet with Desmond Richardson, Yuan Yuan Tan, and Parrish Maynard in the principal roles. The ballet was broadcast on PBS's Great Performances: Dance in America and the program was nominated for an Emmy Award. The ballet is recorded on Kultur video. Othello was first performed in New York City at the Metropolitan Opera House, 23 May 1997, by American Ballet Theatre. [4]

Other ballets include Prologue choreographed by Jacques d'Amboise for the New York City Ballet in 1967 as a prequel to Shakespeare's play; Othello choreographed by John Butler to the music of Dvořák for Carla Fracci and the La Scala Theatre Ballet in 1976; and a version choreographed by Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux for the Louisville Ballet in the 1980s.[ citation needed ]

In film

See also Shakespeare on screen (Othello).

Between 1948 and 1952, Orson Welles directed The Tragedy of Othello: The Moor of Venice (1952), produced as a black-and-white film noir. The film stars Welles as Othello and Suzanne Cloutier as Desdemona. The troubled production was filmed over the course of three years as Welles' time and money permitted, in Mogador, Morocco and Venice. Lack of funds (and costumes) forced Roderigo's death scene to be shot in a Turkish bath with performers wearing only large, ragged towels. The film won the Palme d'Or at the 1952 Cannes Film Festival. [5] Rather than focusing on racial disparity, the film plays on a difference between Desdemona and Othello in age, size and personal attractiveness. The film noir colouring of the picture minimised any commentary on Othello's blackness, to the point that the critic F. R. Leavis wrote that the film made no reference to Othello's colour. [5]

Unlike Welles's film, Stuart Burge's Othello (1965), based on John Dexter's National Theatre Company's production, starring Laurence Olivier, brings issues of race to the fore.

Trevor Nunn's 1989 version, filmed at Stratford, cast black opera singer Willard White in the leading role, opposite Ian McKellen's Iago. [5]

The first major screen production casting a black actor as Othello would not come until 1995 with Laurence Fishburne opposite Kenneth Branagh's Iago. It was made during the O. J. Simpson trial and commentators such as Cartmell draw parallels between the two whodunit murder stories, and wondered if the film's release was not a little to do with the publicity surrounding Simpson's drama. [5] A modernised, loose retelling, O, completed in 1999 and released in 2001, featured African-American actor Mekhi Phifer in the lead role, which was renamed from "Othello" to "Odin James" or "O. J.", with the story set in an American high school and revolving around sports rather than warfare.

Malayalam film Kaliyattam is an adapted version of Othello against the backdrop of the Hindu Theyyam performance. In 1998, Suresh Gopi received the National Film Award for Best Actor, and Jayaraj the award for Best Director for their work on the film.

Omkara is a version in Hindi set in Uttar Pradesh, starring Ajay Devgan as Omkara (Othello), Saif Ali Khan as Langda Tyagi (Iago), Kareena Kapoor as Dolly (Desdemona), Vivek Oberoi as Kesu (Cassio), Bipasha Basu as Billo (Bianca) and Konkona Sen Sharma as Indu (Emilia). The film was directed by Vishal Bhardwaj who earlier adapted Shakespeare's Macbeth as Maqbool . All characters in the film share the same letter or sound in their first name as in the original Shakespeare classic. It is one of the few mainstream Indian movies to contain uncensored profanity.

In other film adaptations

On television

In music

Graphic novels

Othello, an adaptation by Oscar Zárate, Oval Projects Ltd (1985). It was reprinted in 2005 by Can of Worms Press and includes the complete text of the play.

In January 2009, a manga adaptation was published in the United Kingdom, with art by Ryuta Osada. It is part of the Manga Shakespeare series by Richard Appignanesi, and is set in Venice in carnival season. [32]


Christopher Moore combines Othello and The Merchant of Venice in his 2014 comic novel The Serpent of Venice, in which he makes Portia (from The Merchant of Venice) and Desdemona (from Othello) sisters. All of the characters come from those two plays with the exception of Pocket, the Fool, who comes from Moore's earlier novel based on King Lear .

The supporting character Iago in Disney franchise Aladdin is named after the antagonist of the play, Iago. I, Iago by Nicole Galland depicts Iago, as the protagonist and explores his potential motivations and history.

The plot of the Portuguese language novel Dom Casmurro by the Brazilian author Machado de Assis, a translator of Othello into Portuguese, is based upon the play. It is generally considered one of the great novels of Brazilian literature.

In 2017, Hogarth (a division of Penguin Random House company) published, as part of the Shakespeare Project, a novel by Tracy Chevalier, New Boy. The characters from Othello are transposed in a Washington D.C. school where eleven-year-old boys and girls re-enact the shakespearian tragedy but in the 1970s.

Mustafa Said, the Sudanese central figure of Tayeb Salih's Arabic language novel Season of Migration to the North (1966) refers to himself as Othello and kills his English wife with Jean Morris with a knife out of jealousy.


Related Research Articles

<i>Othello</i> 1603 play by William Shakespeare

Othello is a tragedy written by William Shakespeare, probably in 1603, set in the contemporary Ottoman–Venetian War (1570–1573) fought for the control of the Island of Cyprus, a possession of the Venetian Republic since 1489. The port city of Famagusta finally fell to the Ottomans in 1571 after a protracted siege. The story revolves around two characters, Othello and Iago. Othello is a Moorish military commander who was serving as a general of the Venetian army in defence of Cyprus against invasion by Ottoman Turks. He has recently married Desdemona, a beautiful and wealthy Venetian lady much younger than himself, against the wishes of her father. Iago is Othello's malevolent ensign, who maliciously stokes his master's jealousy until the usually stoic Moor kills his beloved wife in a fit of blind rage. Due to its enduring themes of passion, jealousy, and race, Othello is still topical and popular and is widely performed, with numerous adaptations.

<i>Otello</i> Opera in four acts by Giuseppe Verdi

Otello is an opera in four acts by Giuseppe Verdi to an Italian libretto by Arrigo Boito, based on Shakespeare's play Othello. It was Verdi's penultimate opera, first performed at the Teatro alla Scala, Milan, on 5 February 1887.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Iago</span> Fictional character in Shakespeares Othello

Iago is a fictional character in Shakespeare's Othello. Iago is the play's main antagonist, and Othello's standard-bearer. He is the husband of Emilia, who is in turn the attendant of Othello's wife Desdemona. Iago hates Othello and devises a plan to destroy him by making him believe that Desdemona is having an affair with his lieutenant, Michael Cassio.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Desdemona</span> Character in Othello

Desdemona is a character in William Shakespeare's play Othello. Shakespeare's Desdemona is a Venetian beauty who enrages and disappoints her father, a Venetian senator, when she elopes with Othello, a Moorish Venetian military prodigy. When her husband is deployed to Cyprus in the service of the Republic of Venice, Desdemona accompanies him. There, her husband is manipulated by his ensign Iago into believing she is an adulteress, and, in the last act, she is murdered by her estranged spouse.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Brabantio</span> Character in Shakespeares Othello

Brabantio is a character in William Shakespeare's Othello. He is a Venetian senator and the father of Desdemona. He has entertained Othello in his home countless times before the play opens, thus giving Othello and Desdemona opportunity to fall in love. He is furious upon learning they have eloped, and Desdemona's decision is reported to be the cause of his death in the last act. The character has no counterpart in Shakespeare's source material for the play and is apparently the Bard's complete invention. He appears in the first act only and is mentioned in the fifth.

<i>Othello</i> (1965 British film) 1965 film by Stuart Burge

Othello is a 1965 film based on the National Theatre Company's staging of Shakespeare's Othello (1964-1966) staged by John Dexter. Directed by Stuart Burge, the film stars Laurence Olivier, Maggie Smith, Joyce Redman, and Frank Finlay, who all received Oscar nominations, and provided film debuts for both Derek Jacobi and Michael Gambon.

<i>Otello</i> (Rossini) Opera by Gioachino Rossini

Otello is an opera in three acts by Gioachino Rossini to an Italian libretto by Francesco Berio di Salsa after William Shakespeare's play Othello, or The Moor of Venice; it was premiered in Naples, Teatro del Fondo, 4 December 1816.

<i>Othello</i> (1951 film) 1951 film by Orson Welles

Othello is a 1951 tragedy film directed and produced by Orson Welles, who also adapted the Shakespearean play and played the title role. Recipient of the Grand Prix du Festival International du Film at the 1952 Cannes Film Festival, the film was distributed by United Artists when it was released in the United States in 1955. Othello was filmed on location over a three-year period in Morocco, Venice, Tuscany and Rome and at the Scalera Studios in Rome.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Ray Fearon</span> English actor

Raymond Fearon is an English actor. He played garage mechanic Nathan Harding on ITV's long-running soap opera Coronation Street and voiced the phoenix Fawkes in the Wizarding World film series Harry Potter and Fantastic Beasts.

Othello is a tragic play by William Shakespeare, believed to have been written in 1603.

<i>Othello</i> (1995 film) 1995 British film

Othello is a 1995 drama film based on William Shakespeare's tragedy of the same name. It was directed by Oliver Parker and stars Laurence Fishburne as Othello, Irène Jacob as Desdemona, and Kenneth Branagh as Iago. This is the first cinematic reproduction of the play released by a major studio that casts an African American actor to play the role of Othello, although low-budget independent films of the play starring Ted Lange and Yaphet Kotto predated it.

Emilia (<i>Othello</i>) Character in Othello

Emilia is a character in the tragedy Othello by William Shakespeare. The character's origin is traced to the 1565 tale, "Un capitano Moro" from Giovanni Battista Giraldi Cinthio's Gli Hecatommithi. There, the character is described as young and virtuous, is referred to simply as the ensign's wife, and becomes Desdemona's companion in Cyprus. In Shakespeare, she is named Emilia, is the wife of Othello's ensign, Iago, and is an attendant to Othello's wife, Desdemona. While considered a minor character in the drama, she has been portrayed by several notable actresses on film, with Joyce Redman receiving an Academy Award nomination for her performance.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Michael Cassio</span> Character in Othello

Michael Cassio, or simply Cassio, is a fictional character in William Shakespeare's Othello. The source of the character is the 1565 tale "Un Capitano Moro" by Cinthio; Cassio is unnamed in Cinthio but referred to as "the squadron leader". In the play, Cassio is a young and handsome lieutenant under Othello's command who becomes one of Iago's several victims in a plot to ruin Othello.

Bianca (<i>Othello</i>) Fictional character

Bianca is a fictional character in William Shakespeare's Othello (c. 1601–1604). She is Cassio's jealous lover. Despite her brief appearance on stage, Bianca plays a significant role in the progress of Iago's scheme to make Othello believe that his wife Desdemona is cheating on him with Cassio. Bianca is traditionally regarded as a courtesan, although this occupation is not specifically designated in the drama. The character was occasionally cut from performances in the 19th century on moral grounds. Bianca is not to be confused with Bianca Minola in Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Othello (character)</span> Character in "Othello"

Othello is a character in Shakespeare's Othello. The character's origin is traced to the tale "Un Capitano Moro" in Gli Hecatommithi by Giovanni Battista Giraldi Cinthio. There, he is simply referred to as the Moor.

<i>Otello</i> (1986 film) 1986 film

Otello is a 1986 film based on the Giuseppe Verdi opera of the same name, which was itself based on the Shakespearean play Othello. The film was directed by Franco Zeffirelli and starred Plácido Domingo in the title role, Katia Ricciarelli as Desdemona and Justino Díaz as Iago. For the film's soundtrack, Lorin Maazel conducted the Orchestra and Chorus of the Teatro alla Scala. The film premiered in West Germany on 28 August 1986 and received a U.S. theatrical release on 12 September 1986. It was nominated for a Bafta Award and a Golden Globe for Best Foreign Language Film.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Roderigo</span> Character in Othello

Roderigo is a fictional character in Shakespeare's Othello (c.1601-1604), where he serves as the secondary antagonist of the play. He is a dissolute Venetian lusting after Othello's wife Desdemona. Roderigo has opened his purse to Iago in the mistaken belief that Iago is using his money to pave the way to Desdemona's bed. When the assassination of Michael Cassio runs amiss, Iago fatally wounds Roderigo.

Othello is a 1990 film produced by the Royal Shakespeare Company, starring Ian McKellen, Willard White, Imogen Stubbs, and Zoë Wanamaker. It is based on a stage production of William Shakespeare's play Othello, directed by Trevor Nunn, and later rethought for TV and filmed in a studio. It was shot in a black box theater, so minimal props or scenery were needed, and aired 23 June 1990 on Theatre Night.

<i>Kaliyattam</i> 1997 Indian film

Kaliyattam is a 1997 Indian Malayalam-language tragedy film directed by Jayaraaj. It stars Suresh Gopi, Lal, Manju Warrier, and Biju Menon. The film is an adaptation of William Shakespeare's play Othello, set against the backdrop of the Theyyam performance of Kerala. The film's screenplay is written by Balram Mattannur. Suresh Gopi plays Kannan Perumalayan, the equivalent to Othello. Lal plays Paniyan, the equivalent to Iago. Manju Warrier plays Thamara, the Desdemona version. And Biju Menon plays Kanthan, Cassio's role. Suresh Gopi's role as Kannan Perumalayan was critically acclaimed and it was considered one of his finest acting performances in his career.

<i>Othello</i> (1922 film) 1922 film

Othello is a 1922 German silent historical romantic drama film directed by Dimitri Buchowetzki, and starring Emil Jannings, Werner Krauss and Ica von Lenkeffy. It was based on William Shakespeare's play The Tragedy of Othello, the Moor of Venice, the first of six major film adaptations of the work. It was shot at the Johannisthal Studios in Berlin. The film's sets were designed by the art director Karl Machus.


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