The Figure of the Moor in Shakespeare’s Othello and Cinthio’s Hecatommithi. Short Summary

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Othello is a masterpiece from Shakespeare, but the plot is copied from the original source, Cinthio’s Hecatommithi. Although the two versions are practically similar, Shakespeare makes some innovations that separate his play from its original source. Othello adds up several characters more to thicken the plot and the characters are given names. Perhaps the most notable difference between the two versions is the depiction of Othello or the Moor. Cinthio’s Moor is an unrepentant killer, while Shakespeare’s Othello is tragic hero.

            Othello and the Moor in  Hecatommithi are similar in a way that they are both weak as they allow themselves to be manipulated by Iago and the Ensign, which leads them to their tragic demise; but Othello’s character stands out as the more superior than the Moor in Hecatommithi.

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Unlike Cinthio’s Moor, Othello realizes his mistake and deeply regrets it.

In a scene where he kills wife out of rage and jealousy fueled by the devious Iago, the realization comes to Othello as he stands over the dying Desdemonia. She utters words to Emilia that her death is her own doing, thus freeing her husband from the responsibility. “A guiltless death I die” (Shakespeare 216). Othello’s realization is intensified by the confession of Emilia that Iago is behind all the chaos and Othello blindfully follows him. In this part, Shakespeare allows his character to go back to his original and real personality that is momentarily clouded by jealousy: a gentle and well-mannered man. Suddenly, all the hatred in Othello is gone and it is replaced by the impressive traits that made him a respected leader of the army. He is once again in control of himself. Othello repents for what he has done, though it is too late. At this moment, Othello knows that there’s no way out from the chaos, but he is concerned with his image that he is about to leave to the state. He is seen as a dignified leader, and he wants to be remembered as such when he is gone. “Speak of me as I am; nothing extenuate, Nor set down aught in malice: then must you speak Of one that loved not wisely but too well; Of one not easily jealous, but being wrought” (Shakespeare 234).  Othello’s words reveal that his love misleads him to commit such heinous crime. His acceptance of the crime is already heroic, and acknowledgment of his foolishness is remarkable. The author shows that his character is not all rage and mindlessness; he is also a logical human being who is capable of rationality.

Othello as a tragic hero is emphasized in the last scene where he commits suicide. After realizing his mistakes, he does not run away nor tries to escape because his disciplined mind, which comes back to its senses once again, knows that he has to pay for his crime. He has disgraced his position as the General of the army, and he cannot live with that. He is a respected General, but his offence makes him unworthy of his position. Besides, his beloved wife is gone, killed by his own hands. Life is meaningless without Desdemonia, the center of his rage and jealousy, so he might as well end his own life. He kills himself as atonement for his mistakes. This is viewed as a dignified thing to do, an act of courage and nobility, which makes him more as a victim of the circumstances rather than the criminal. In contrast, Cinthio’s Moor flatly denies his crime and goes into hiding. Ironically, the Ensign who conspires with him in killing the woman, implicates the him. This cowardice act of the Moor shows that the dignity he established as the leader of the fleet is completely gone; what is left is a lost man who wanders around to escape imprisonment. His gruesome death in the hands Disdemonia’s relatives also contrasts with the peaceful end of Othello. Othello’s end shows that his race is not barbaric or uncivilized, as what many like to believe. Conversely, Cinthio’s Moor creates an image that only magnifies the negative impression on the black population.

There are many speculations about the purposes of   Shakespeare in writing Othello. One is his fascination with by an intimate relationship between two different races. From this intriguing plot, which is taken from Cinthio’s Hecatommithi and with the addition of several more characters, Shakespeare creates a web of intricate scenes that intertwine all the characters. He develops his play using the complications resulted from the difference of skin colors. The story ends in tragedy, but Shakespeare amends it by turning the protagonist into a hero.

Another probable purpose of Shakespeare is he wants to lessen the gap between the white and the black people. Discrimination of the black people was rampant during his time. Othello’s kind was considered uncivilized and prone to rage and barbarism. In fact, anything black was related to devil. He wants the two races to live together in harmony, so he uses Othello to achieve this. It is his own way in promoting the blacks to the white. The discriminatory words, such as black ram, that he incorporates in the play are only to make it realistic. In fact, the discrimination in Othello is very minimal that it is hardly noticed. At the beginning and at the end of the play, he projects Othello as a dignified human being who is only a victim of the cruelty of his surroundings.

Cinthio’s purpose, on the other hand, writing Hecatommithi is to promote racism. The author assigned the highest rank in the military to the Moor, but that is only to put the black man into a perfect position to be pounced by the Ensign. It shows that a black man, no matter how mighty and dignified he may be, always succumbed to barbarism. Cinthio calls his main protagonist simply as the Moor. This shows that the black man is a mere character that has no significance at all. He is just there to represent the entity that is the subject of the Ensign’s devious plot. It can be any black man, not necessarily this particular Moor. Hecatommithi portrays the perception that black is far inferior to the prevailing white. Cinthio also shows that white woman during his time must always obey the command of their parents not to marry black men. Otherwise, they may only end up like Disdemonia.

Works Cited:

Crawford, Alexander W. Othello as Tragic Hero. Available online August 20, 2010

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Johnsen-Neshati, Kristin. A Cultural Context for Othello. Available online August 20, 2010

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Shakespeare, William. Othello. London: T. C. and E.C.Jack.


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The Figure of the Moor in Shakespeare’s Othello and Cinthio’s Hecatommithi. Short Summary. (2017, Feb 13). Retrieved from

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