The Real Othello?
Isaac Butler has a fascinating read about the origin of Othello. Apparently the Moor is based on the Barbary ambassador to Queen Elizabeth. The dashing Mohamadin (pictured above) made quite the impression on the Royal court and on the Bard himself when his company performed in the ambassadors presence. Interestingly, the blackness of the character seems to be an interpretation beyond the playwrights intent. “Black” may simply be the way of referring to anyone darker than the translucent British of the time.
The play, Butler claims, is really about all the anxiety surrounding religious conversions at the time. Pirates were forcing Christians to convert to Islam or face slavery, and Catholics were forcing Protestants to convert or face being burned alive. All of England, in fact, had just been forcibly converted to Anglicism so the King could marry his gold-digger.
It’s another good example of the secret meaning behind Shakespeare’s plays, and his tendency to hide the rel conflicts in the subtext.