Wednesday, 23 September 2015

Cyprus and Shakespeare

Cyprus was once part of the Stato del Mar, a vast empire of ports and naval bases which flourished under the lion banner of St Mark and whose sole function was to funnel the goods of the world back into the warehouses of Venice. Then as now, Cyprus' fate was precarious and a shift in the balance of power in the region could mean a new overlord.

The Turks took Cyprus from the Venetians in 1570-3 and, though heavily defeated by a Christian navy at the Battle of Lepanto, henceforth dominated the eastern Mediterranean. The loss of Cyprus signalled the slow but unstoppable decline of Venice.
In 1600, Venice was still viewed in London as a major trading rival. English trading houses had representatives in Venice, while their Venetian counterparts were in London. Shakespeare knew about local Venetian customs and Venice was known for its sexual tolerance and their courtesans.

Othello, written in 1602, is a tragedy by William Shakespeare and the plot hinges on Othello's suspicions about his wife's fidelity. Battle hardened Iago has been passed over for promotion by his commander Othello and starts scheming his revenge. In the end, Othello smothers his own wife Desdemona, though she is completely innocent. Too late, Othello sees the truth and tries to kill Iago. Othello condemns himself and commits suicide. Iago is seized and taken away.

Cyprus seems the perfect spot for such a lamentable tragedy and there's even a castle on the island that is nowadays named Othello Castle in Famagusta. Built in the 14th century to protect the port against possible enemy attacks, it was also used as the main entrance to Famagusta. The castle ropened in 2015 after undergoing renovation following decades of decay on the internationally isolated Turkish side of the ethnically divided island.

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