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Five Fascinating Facts about Othello

Fun facts about Shakespeare’s classic tragedy

1. Othello has given us some very famous phrases. Whether we’re describing jealousy as ‘the green-eyed monster’, talking of sexual intercourse as ‘the beast with two backs’, or wearing our heart on our sleeve, we’re quoting Shakespeare’s Othello when we do so.

2. Quite where the name ‘Othello’ came from remains something of a mystery. Probably derived from the name Otho, the name Othello doesn’t appear in Shakespeare’s source for the play, the short story ‘Un Capitano Moro’ (‘A Moorish Captain’, i.e. Othello; indeed, Desdemona is the only named character in the source text; every other character is referred to by his rank). ‘Othello’ was, then – like, it has been suggested, the name Imogen – a Shakespearean coinage. Read the rest of this entry

Five Fascinating Facts about The Merchant of Venice

Fun facts about Shakespeare’s play

1. Contrary to popular belief, the ‘merchant of Venice’ in the title of Shakespeare’s play isn’t Shylock. In the popular consciousness – i.e. among those who are aware that Shakespeare’s play contains a character named Shylock but who haven’t read or seen the play – Shylock is the merchant of Venice referred to in Shakespeare’s title. But of course the merchant is really Antonio, and Shylock the Jewish man who makes him a loan; as the scholar Stephen Greenblatt has observed, this popular misunderstanding says a great deal about how Shylock comes to dominate the play in which he appears, eclipsing all other characters. Read the rest of this entry

Five Fascinating Facts about Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night

Fun facts about a classic play

1. The first recorded performance of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night was on Candlemas, 1602. Candlemas is 2 February – better-known in the United States as Groundhog Day – and was the date on which Christmas decorations were often traditionally taken down in Shakespeare’s time (unlike these days, when it’s traditional to take them down by – oddly enough – Twelfth Night). Shakespeare’s classic comedy of cross-dressing, separated siblings, love, puritanism, and yellow stockings was possibly first recorded in February 1602, though there may well have been an earlier (unrecorded) performance, perhaps a year earlier. Read the rest of this entry