Little Bits of History

Women’s Work

Posted in History by patriciahysell on December 8, 2012

Desdemona and Othello December 8, 1660: A new production of Othello opens. Othello is a play written by William Shakespeare and first hit the stage on November 1, 1604. It was first performed at Whitehall Palace and mentioned in a Revels account. In this entry, the play was called The Moor of Venis. The play was said to have been written by Shaxberd. We also know the play was offered at the Globe Theatre on April 30, 1610 and again at Oxford in September of 1610. The play was performed in numerous venues and continued to see performances through 1635. Political instability led to a decline of the fine arts.

However, with the Restoration in 1660 after Charles II came to the throne, some stability – at least for a time – was back and the fine arts were again permitted to thrive. Samuel Pepys, the great diarist of the time, saw the play at the Cockpit Theatre on October 11, 1660. Up until this time, even though there are roles for women in the play, men took on those roles. Women were not seen on the stage. Until this day when the play was put on by the new King’s Company at their Vere Street theater. Desdemona was played by Margaret Hughes, gaining her the supposed title of first professional actress to appear on a public stage in England.

Shakespeare’s play, The Tragedy of Othello, the Moor of Venice, was based on an Italian short story by Cinthio with a translated title of A Moorish Captain. This story was first published in 1565. Shakespeare’s play has four central characters: Othello, a Moorish general in the Venetian army; his wife Desdemona; Cassio, his lieutenant; and Othello’s trusted ensign, Iago. The tale hinges on many themes woven together including those of racism, love, jealousy, and ultimately betrayal. It is still popular today as it still speaks to issues of our time.

Othello is a dark-skinned Moor. Although he is brave and competent as a soldier, he is not Venetian by birth. He falls in love and elopes with Desdemona, the daughter of a respected Venetian senator. The much younger, beautiful Desdemona is able to persuade her father to bless her union, convincing him of the happy couple’s unfailing love for each other. Othello is deployed to Cyprus and his trusted ensign, Iago, is able to convince him that his wife has had an affair with Cassio, a young, handsome lieutenant. Othello, enraged, kills Desdemona. He then learns of the deceit and kills himself.

Put out the light, and then put out the light: / If I quench thee, thou flaming minister. – Othello (William Shakespeare)

I will wear my heart upon my sleeve / For daws to peck at. – Iago (William Shakespeare)

Reputation, reputation, reputation! Oh, I have lost my reputation! I have lost the immortal part of myself, and what remains is bestial. – Cassio (William Shakespeare)

I kissed thee ere I killed thee, no way but this, / Killing myself, to die upon a kiss. – Othello (William Shakespeare)

Also on this day:

John is Dead – In 1980, John Lennon was murdered.
Library – In 1609, the first continental European public library opened.
Da Bears – In 1940, the Bears and Redskins played football.

One Response

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  1. Bobby Dias said, on December 8, 2012 at 9:19 am

    Thank you for setting the record straight that the old feminists’ tale of what men are supposed to telling women what to do is based on the imagination of a playwright- not actual fact!


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