The Story That Started It All
William Shakespeare based his play "Othello" on a story called "Hecatommithi" by Giraldi Cinthio's. This was a collection of a hundred tales that was printed in Italy in the sixteenth century. It is thought that Shakespeare read the original Italian version and got inspired to write his own. In writing his own version, Shakespeare kept most of the original ideas but also added some of his own twists.
Giraldi, Giovanni Battista , 1504-73, Italian author, known also as Cinthio, Cintio, Cinzio, or Cyntius. He wrote tragedies, lyric verse, and tales. Some of the stories in his Hecatommithi [one hundred tales] (1565) were translated by Whetstone and other 16th-century English writers (Info Please).
The plot of Shakespeare's "Othello" is largely taken from Giraldi Cinthio's "Hecatommithi", a tale of love, jealousy, and betrayal; however, the characters, themes, and attitudes of the works are vastly different, with Shakespeare's play being a more involved study of human nature and psychology.
There are, however, a few deviations from Shakespeare's source, one of which being the motivations of the Iago figure. Cinthio's Iago was driven to revenge when Desdemona refused to have an affair with him; Iago's motivations are not nearly so plain in Shakespeare's version. Shakespeare tired to get the point of jealousy across more then revenge. (Othello)
The idea of Othello returning to the bestial state through the bare-handed murder of Desdemona is wholly Shakespeare's. In the main source for Othello, "Hecatommithi" the murder of Desdemona (or Disdemona as she is named in the story) is a stunningly violent act. In "Hecatommithi", Iago beats