Juxtaposition of Two Contrast Cities
Geographical juxtaposition is not uncommon in the genius works of William Shakespeare. In his renowned play, Othello, Shakespeare exploits the stark contrasts in the story’s two settings, the two cities of Venice and Cyprus. Shakespeare presents the environmental, moral, and behavioral dichotomies between Venice and Cyprus (and of the characters in said environments) as they relate to the central meaning of trusting one’s instincts.
The environments of Venice and Cyprus, respectively, cultivate the instincts and rationality of its citizens. Venice, north of Cyprus, is a place in which law and order dictates society; civilization thrives and, as suggested in the overwhelming number of wealthy senators (i.e. the senator Brabantio, the father of Desdemona) in Othello, many are prosperous. The orderly environment of Venice has pertinence to the idea that one should trust his instincts. One is able to think rationally in Venice because the city is not in the midst of pandemonium as its converse (the city of Cyprus) is. For example, the Duke of Venice — when bombarded with Brabantio’s absurd dissertation that Othello uses witchcraft to court his daughter, Desdemona — utilizes his sensibility (cultivated by his environment) to refute the claim that would later be dismissed in a formal trial. He is able to trust his instincts because it it is impermeable to the chaotic environment of Cyprus (I. I). In contrast, the chaos of Cyprus clouds the several characters’ thinking and rationality. Cyprus acts as the landscape for the scenes in which evil Iago’s plan to assassinate Desdemona’s character unfolds and he coerces Othello into believing the absurdities after making multiple assertions (that Desdemona is unfaithful to her lover Othello). Othello should have trusted his initial thinking (in Venice) that Desdemona was a faithful wife; yet the hectic environment of perpetual war and invasive colonization of Cyprus fractures his sound logic.
The contrasting moral of standards of Cyprus and Venice also relate to the central message of Othello to trust one’s instincts. The text of Othello clearly indicates that the Venetians place great emphasis on morality; in Cyprus, the same standard fails to exist for the Cypriots. The Venetians are known for their upstanding moral character, while the people of Cyprus have more than an off-balanced moral compass. Shakespeare presents these moral discrepancies in the very first scene in which Iago begins to unfold his plan to destroy Othello. When Iago and Roderigo claim that someone has robbed the senator Brabantio’s estate (in order to turn Brabantio’s attention to his daughter’s secret suitor, Othello), Brabantio responds, “What tellest thou me of robbing? This is Venice.” (I. I. 108-9) His initial reaction indicates that he believes that the people of Venice are above acts of robbery. Had he ignored the preposterous claims as his instinct would have encouraged, he would not have had to receive the heart-breaking news that his daughter has married the Moor — information of which he would have rather been ignorant. The inhabitants of Cyprus, on the other hand, consider thievery normative as crime was likely commonplace given the loose system of law and order,
Lastly, the behavioral dichotomies of the Venetian characters in Cyprus bolster the notion that one should trust his intuition. For example, Cassio, Othello’s second-in-command serves as one of the play’s most respectable men in both his words and actions; however, Iago assassinates Cassio’s character when he pressures Cassio into drinking. The drinking causes Cassio to engage in a brawl that will seal the fate of poor Cassio. In Venice, he originally detests alcohol’s wicked effects, saying, “Not tonight, good Iago. I have very poor and unhappy brains for drinking. I could well wish courtesy would invent some other custom of entertainment.” (II. III. 22- 23) Yet, the Cyprus environment influences his noble discernment and encourages him to take that first sip which will lead to his own demise. Had he maintained his original rationality and proper dignity, he might have kept his military position and high social standing. However, the air in Cyprus poisoned good Cassio with an ungodly inclination to be a less refined Venetian and a more wild Cypriot. This behavioral conflict between wild and tame reflects yet another difference between Cyprus and Venice.
Shakespeare in his renowned play Othello creates a dichotomy between the two settings of the story, the cities of Cyprus and Venice. The stark contrasts between Cyprus and Venice speak more to the story than just geography; they also present an important theme. The environmental, moral, and behavioral discrepancies which Shakespeare explores in Othello relay the theme that one should perpetually be trusting of his instincts.
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Geographical juxtaposition is not uncommon in the genius works of William Shakespeare. In his renowned play, Othello, Shakespeare exploits the stark contrasts in the story’s two settings, the two cities […]