There is no significant religious significance of Cyprus in Othello. However, the mention of the island in the play serves as a dramatic device to create a contrast between the emotions and actions of the characters in Venice and Cyprus.
Detailed response question
While there may not be a directly religious significance to Cyprus in Othello, the island does serve as a crucial setting and symbolic backdrop for the play. Shakespeare’s portrayal of the island is as a place of contrasts and tensions, where the beauty of nature and the exoticism of the location is contrasted with the harsh realities of war and the destructive forces of jealousy and betrayal.
As one critic notes, “the island is presented as a haven of natural beauty, but one which is also a place of imminent danger where the veneer of civilization is liable to erupt into savagery at any moment.” (Ronald Knowles, Shakespeare’s Classic Plays: Othello).
One of the most significant aspects of Cyprus in Othello is the way in which it represents a challenge to the authority and order of Venice, the city from which most of the play’s characters originate. In contrast to the cosmopolitan, sophisticated world of Venice, Cyprus is a remote outpost of the empire where the rules and norms of society are much looser.
This contrast is highlighted by the character of Iago, who draws on the supposed wildness and primitivism of the island to whip up his fellow soldiers into a frenzy of violence and bloodlust. As Othello himself notes, “This is a subtle whore, / A closet lock and key of villainous secrets / And yet she will with ease induct a sot” (Othello, 4.2).
One interesting fact about the place of Cyprus in Othello is that it was not a commonly-known setting for English audiences at the time the play was written. Cyprus had only come under Venetian control in the late 15th century, and would not have had a lot of resonance for an English audience. Shakespeare may have chosen the location in order to give the play a sense of exoticism and novelty.
With its themes of jealousy, betrayal and violence, Othello remains a powerful play that continues to resonate with audiences today. And while the religious significance of Cyprus may be minimal, the symbolic importance of the island to the play’s themes and characters is undeniable.
| Cyprus in Othello |
| Theme | Symbolism |
| Setting | Location of a remote outpost |
| Authority | Challenge to the authority and order of Venice |
| Iago’s manipulation | Draws on supposed wildness and primitivism |
| Exoticism | Chosen to provide a sense of novelty |
| Resonance | Continues to resonate with audiences today |
As famous poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge once wrote, “Othello is universally interesting, because human nature is universally the same.” In this sense, the significance of Cyprus in Othello is not just about the specific events of the play, but about the timeless truths it reveals about the complex human emotions of love, jealousy and betrayal.
A video response to “What is the religious significance of Cyprus in Othello?”
The video explores the significance of the settings, Venice and Cyprus, in Shakespeare’s play, Othello. Venice, a powerful and threatened city, is explored through its symbolic fairness. Meanwhile, Cyprus is described as a meeting point between the east and west, society and liberation, order, and chaos. The video delves into various scenes in the play, including the opening in a dark street and the personal scene between Emilia and Desdemona. The change in setting from Venice to Cyprus is also discussed, with the evil and darkness in Cyprus symbolizing blindness to reality. Finally, the video prompts viewers to engage in independent learning and compare the similarities and differences between Venice and Cyprus before exploring the sources Shakespeare drew from in the next video.
Other options for answering your question
Ironically, Cyprus was also revered as the birthplace of Venus Aphrodite, the goddess of love, who was reputedly born in ocean foam and washed ashore near Nicosia. Inspired by this amorous deity, Cyprus provides the perfect location for Iago to convince Othello of his wife’s sexual infidelity.
Venus, the goddess of love
The island of Cyprus has important mythological significance as it has long been associated with Venus, the goddess of love. The action of The Tragedy of Othello moves to Cyprus when the Turks invade Venice, leading Othello and Desdemona to flee to the military encampment in Cyprus where they mistakenly believe their safety can be assured.