Believed to have been written around 1603, Shakespeare's The Tragedy of Othello, The Moor of Venice tackles the issue of race, a theme uncommon in the playwright's works. The work features four central characters: Othello, a Moorish general of the Venetian Army; his wife, Desdemona; Cassio, Othello's lieutenant; and Iago, Othello's devious, but trusted advisor.
More than a retelling, this aptly termed "reconceptualization" provocatively modernizes Shakespeare's play. As in the original, the middle-aged general Othello the ``moor'' and young European noblewoman Desdemona fall in love and marry secretly. But Lester (To Be a Slave; John Henry) transplants the action from Venice and Cyprus to Elizabethan England and turns Iago and Emily into Africans like Othello, so that the three of them share a distinctly non-European point of view. Iago's envy of Othello and ability to whip him into a jealous rage at Desdemona are thus cast in a new light, though the tragic outcome remains the same. While the ending feels abrupt, Lester's novel succeeds in holding up a mirror to contemporary society. Phrases and passages directly based on Shakespeare's language are printed in a different typeface, a device that may distract the reader but eases comparisons with the original work. Ages 8-12.