Othello -- the play

The story of an older man cuckolded by his young wife was a popular story and source of drama from classical Greece and Rome on. [To be cuckolded is to have one's wife be unfaithful without one's knowledge. One then becomes the butt of jokes behind one's back. The sign of the cuckold is horns – like the horns on a deer. People would put horns up behind your head and laugh at you.] As Harold Bloom points out, a man's fear of being cuckolded and being sexually inadequate is the fear of his mortality.

Shakespeare's general source for the outline of Othello is an Italian story by a man named Giraldi Cinthio from 1565 (about 40 years before Shakespeare wrote this play). Here are the major parallels and differences between the two (summarized from Harley Granville-Barker):

The radical women of the play. [Discussion Topic: women in Othello]

The Fishburne/Branagh Film

To what degree does race matter in Othello? [Discussion Topic 1: Does race matter in Othello—OthFilm1]