Internet Shakespeare Editions

About this text

  • Title: Othello: Textual Introduction
  • Author: Jessica Slights
  • ISBN: 978-1-55058-466-0

    Copyright Jessica Slights. This text may be freely used for educational, non-profit purposes; for all other uses contact the Editor.
    Author: Jessica Slights
    Peer Reviewed

    Textual Introduction

    The Date of the Play

    1It will probably always be impossible to determine with certainty a precise date for Othello, but we do know that the play must have been written sometime between 1601 and 1604. Confirmation of the latest possible date comes from records maintained by Master of the Revels Edmund Tilney, who notes that "The Moor of Venice [by] Shaxberd" was performed at the court of King James I in 1604. Another early modern publication, this one a translation of a Roman work, marks the play's earliest possible date: Othello draws heavily in places on accounts of the natural world derived from Pliny the Elder, whose encyclopedic History of the World was translated into English by Philemon Holland and published in 1601, two years before the death of Elizabeth I. Attempts at establishing a more specific date for the play by analyzing patterns in its diction and metrics and comparing these to other Shakespeare plays whose dates are sometimes firmer have produced conflicting results. On balance, however, these studies appear to confirm a date near the middle of the possible range. Scholars who favor a Jacobean date for the play note that its Mediterranean setting suggests that Othellomay have been written to catch the imagination of a newly installed James I, who became King of England upon Elizabeth I's death in 1603. James's fascination with the long conflict between Christian Europe and the Ottomans was established in 1591 when he published a long poem detailing the defeat of the Turkish forces at the 1571 Battle of Lepanto. While a London reprinting of James's Lepanto soon after his English coronation may have influenced, or even prompted, the creation Othello later that year, such contextual evidence can never be definitive.