William Shakespeare Biography

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Othello Author/Context

William Shakespeare (1564-1616)

William Shakespeare was born to Mary Arden and John Shakespeare in a small British town outside of London called Stratford-on-Avon. His exact date of birth is unknown, however, Shakespeare is believed to have been born on either the 22nd or 23rd of April in 1564. He was educated at the King's Free School of Stratford, where he studied the Bible and Latin. At age 18, he married the older Anne Hathaway, at which point he began writing poetry professionally to support his family. They had a daughter Susanna, and twins, Judith and Hamnet. He began writing and finding different groups to perform his work, including the Admiral's Men, The Queen's Men, Pembroke's Men, and Lord Strange's Men. However, the Chamberlain's Men was the group of players for which he composed, produced, and performed many of his plays in the now-famous Globe Theater. He was compared to contemporary "scholars" such as Ben Jonson and Christopher Marlowe; the former would be one of his greatest actors and the latter one of his greatest playwriting rivals.

Shakespeare has produced an incredibly large library of work, including 38 plays and countless sonnets. His plays are divided into four main sections: the Histories, the Tragedies, the Comedies, and the Romances. Othello falls under Tragedy, as it ends with the death of numerous characters, including the principals. Shakespeare's work has been produced since the Renaissance in all artistic mediums from the original theater to opera, symphony, film, and ballet. It has also been consistently revisited countless times by the same artistic medium because it is said to be timeless. Othello's main topics are love, murder, jealousy, miscommunication, chastity, history, and even magic. The play encompasses the classic elements of Shakespeare's tragedies, pulling in a bit of history and military strategy. It opens in Venice, a widely-known city of artistic and military strength and moves to Cyprus, a small island in the Mediterranean. The majority of the play takes place in Cyprus, where the typical Shakespearean motifs of miscommunication and vengeance for disloyalty are explored. Many of Shakespeare's comedies and romances focus around this problem of communication between lovers and friends. Othello, however, takes this quandary to the tragic level, as he presents intricate plots of revenge and primitive murder on the basis of unfaithfulness.

This play attacks many serious issues, often ignored during the times. The title character is a Moor, an outsider, someone differentiated by skin color and culture. Dr. Samuel Johnson, an eighteenth century Shakespearean scholar "found in the representation of Othello, Iago, and Desdemona 'such proofs of Shakespeare's skill in human nature, as, I suppose, it is vain to seek in any modern writer'" (Bloom, 1).

Othello was written in 1604, the same year as Measure for Measure, and was performed at Court in the old banqueting house at Whitehall on All Saints Day.


Bloom, Harold, ed. William Shakespeare's Othello. Chelsea House Publishers, New York: 1987.

Chambers, William. A Short Life of Shakespeare with the Sources. London: Oxford University Press, 1933.

Pearson, Hesketh. A Life of Shakespeare. New York: Walker and Company, 1961.

Shakespeare, William. Othello. Edited by A.L. Rowse. University Press of America, Inc., Maryland: 1985.

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