A letter from Othello

Querini, Nicolò, Venetian patrician (fl. 1533-1545), model for Shakespeare's Othello. Autograph letter signed.

N. p., 22. III. 1545.

4to. ½ p. With address and traces of seal.


Letter of recommendation to Girolamo Polcastro: "magn[ifi]co quanto fratelo onorando la presente e per pregar vostra Segnoria che la vol gader contenta per amor mio et voler resolver el presente lator nostro gastaldo [...] che el poveromo resti da far el fato suo non diro altro solon [!] che il continuo a vostra segnoria mi ancho mando et ofero".

In 1901, the Italian historian Cesare Augusto Levi (1856-1927) unveiled a copy from 1542 of slightly earlier letters by Antonio Calgeri, a Venetian living in Candia (Crete), decrying the physical abuse of Palma Querini at the hands of her jealous husband and cousin Nicolò Querini. Unlike Othello, Querini did not murder his wife, who returned to her family, but the similarities between Calgeri's account and Shakespeare's tragedy are striking. In one of the letters, Calgeri even prompted the recipient to bring the case to the attention of the Council of Ten. At some point, Querini sued his wife's family and was ordered to Venice for an investigation, where he was murdered several years later. The nickname "moro" was common in Venice for people with a darker complexion, not necessarily indicating African or Arabian ancestry. Shakespeare's plot is undoubtedly based on Giovanni Battista Giraldi Cinthio's 1565 tale "Un Capitano Moro" that might have been inspired by the story of Nicolò and Palma Querini. The fact that the wealthy and powerful Querini were excluded from the office of the Doges for participation in Bajamonte Tiepolo's conspiracy against the Doge Pietro Gradenigo in 1310 certainly added zest to stories about members of the family. Finally, several family members participated in the Venetian wars against the Ottomans in the Mediterranean.

The letter's recipient is likely a descendant of the physician Sigismondo Polcastro (1384-1473), professor at Padua. This interesting letter documents long-standing ties between the two families, as the politician Girolamo Polcastro (1763-1839) was married to Caterina Querini Stampalia.

With two tears from breaking the seal. Lower right corner clipped. Very light browning.


C. A. Levi, "Zur Urgeschichte des historischen Othello und der Desdemona", in: Wiener Fremdenblatt, 4 August 1901.

Stock Code: BN#1945 Tags: ,