The Comedy of Othello: Commedia dell’Arte and Shakespeare the Genre-Bender

09.21.2012 - By The Shakespeare Underground

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Is Othello a comedy gone wrong? Richard Whalen reveals the surprising connections between Shakespeare's Tragedy of Othello, The Moor of Venice and Commedia dell'Arte, the energetic, improvised street theater from 16th century Italy. Stock figures of Commedia dell'Arte bear more than a coincidental resemblance to the 7 main characters of Othello. The links between Othello and Commedia dell'Arte offer insights into such perplexities as Iago's extreme capacity for evil and Othello's curious gullibility.
What does it mean that Shakespeare used comic characters and situations as foundations for this bleak tragedy? And where did Shakespeare acquire his knowledge of Commedia dell'Arte, since it was not performed in England during his writing years?

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