Why Did Shakespeare Write “Othello”?

Shakespeare wrote “Othello” to chronicle the political and racial tensions between Europeans and non-Europeans during the 17th century. Furthermore, it is widely believed that the play was written particularly to suit the interests of King James I, who had an interest in Turkish history and customs.

The play is unique in featuring a Muslim black man as the main protagonist, thus making the work highly relevant in response to the Elizabethan era’s racial policies towards the Moors. Although blacks were not yet regarded as slaves during that time, they had been recently deported after having just been granted diplomatic rights by Queen Elizabeth in 1601. This was due largely to fears of overpopulation, and despite the slave trade not yet being established, the black race was considered inferior during the writing of “Othello.” For this reason, “Othello” is considered a groundbreaking cultural work for its time, as a black Moor is depicted as a civilized, noble, Christian protagonist, which forced its audiences to reconsider racial status during the early 16th century.

However, while “Othello” may had been novel in its racial representation in Shakespeare’s day, it is no longer considered a wholly original literary work. It is widely held that Shakespeare wrote “Othello” based on a short story by Italian author Cinthio Giambattista Giraldi in 1584.