Othello (The Tragedy of Othello, the Moor of Venice) is a tragedy by William Shakespeare, believed to have been written in 1603. It is based on the story Un Capitano Moro ("A Moorish Captain") by Cinthio, a disciple of Boccaccio, first published in 1565. The story revolves around its two central characters: Othello, a Moorish general in the Venetian army and his unfaithful ensign, Iago. Given its varied and enduring themes of racism, love, jealousy, betrayal, revenge and repentance, Othello is still often performed in professional and community theatre alike, and has been the source for numerous operatic, film, and literary adaptations.
Date and context
the earliest mention of the play is found in a 1604 Revels Office account, which records that on "Hallamas Day, being the first of November
... the Kings Maiesties plaiers" performed "A Play in the Banketinghouse at Whit Hall Called The Moor of Venis." The work is attributed to "Shaxberd." The Revels account was first printed by Peter Cunningham in 1842, and, while its authenticity was once challenged, is now regarded as genuine (as authenticated by A.E. Stamp in 1930). Based on its style, the play is usually dated 1603 or 1604, but arguments have been made for dates as early as 1601 or 1602.
The play was entered into the Register of the Stationers Company on 6 October 1621, by Thomas Walkley, and was first published in quarto format by him in 1622:
"Tragœdy of Othello, The Moore of Venice. As it hath beene diuerse times acted at the Globe, and at the Black-Friers, by his Maiesties Seruants. Written by William Shakespeare. London. Printed by N. O. [Nicholas Okes] for Thomas Walkley, and are to be sold at his shop, at the Eagle and Child, in Brittans Bursse, 1622."
One year later, the play was included among the plays in the First Folio of Shakespeare's collected plays. However, the version in the Folio is rather different in length, and in wording: as the editors of the Folger edition explain: "The Folio play has about 160 lines that do not appear in the Quarto. Some of these cluster together in quite extensive passages. The Folio also lacks a scattering of about a dozen lines or part-lines that are to be found in the Quarto. These two versions also differ from each other in their readings of numerous words. Scholars differ in their explanation of these differences, and no consensus has emerged. Kerrigan suggests that the 1623 Folio version of Othello and a number of other plays may have been cleaned-up relative to the Quarto to conform with the 1606 Act to Restrain Abuses, which made it an offence 'in any Stage-play, Interlude, Shew, Maygame, or Pageant, iestingly, and prophanely [to] speake, or vse the holy Name of God, or of Christ Iesus, or of the holy Ghost, or of the Trinitie'. This is not incompatible with the suggestion that the Quarto is based on an early version of the play, whilst the Folio represents Shakespeare's revised version. It may also be that the Quarto was cut in the printing house to meet a fixed number of pages. Most modern editions are based on the longer Folio version, but often incorporate Quarto readings of words when the Folio text appears to be in error. Quartos were also published in 1630, 1655, 1681, 1695, 1699 and 1705.