thello takes place in Venice (in northern Italy) and Cyprus (an island in the eastern Mediterranean about forty miles

south of present-day Turkey). The time is between 1489 and 1571. It is interesting to note that Venice is the setting for both major Shakespeare plays dealing in part with racial prejudice, Othello and The Merchant of Venice.As one of the world’s leading sea powers, Venice was the center of commercialism and materialism and, therefore, corruption and conflict arising from avarice, social status, and fierce competition. Cyprus–as a strategically located island which yielded substantial harvests of olives, grapes and various grains–was much prized throughout its history. Assyrians, Greeks, Egyptians, Romans, and Byzantines all fought over and occupied it. England’s King Richard I, the Lion-Hearted, conquered Cyprus in 1191 but later ceded it to the French. Venice seized the island in 1489 and in 1571 the Ottoman Turks brought Cyprus under its control. Protagonist: Othello Antagonist: Iago Foils of Othello: Michael Cassio, Iago Othello: Black Moor who is the greatest army general in Venice. He is intelligent, courageous, and honorable. His marriage to beautiful Desdemona, the daughter of a prominent Venetian, provokes racial slurs against him. But he carries on with nobility and dignity as he leads an army against Turks on Cyprus. His dedication to duty is eclipsed only by his dedication to Desdemona, who follows him to Cyprus. So passionately does he love her that he cannot endure the thought of another man even looking at her. And therein lies his Achilles' heel, jealousy. Iago: Military officer who schemes against Othello because the Moor did not promote him. He is evil through and through, taking great pleasure in bringing down the great Othello. Desdemona: Daughter of Brabantio, wife of Othello, and victim of Iago's machinations and Othello's jealousy. She is the noblest and most unselfish character in the play. Michael Cassio: Othello's lieutenant, who is manipulated by Iago. Cassio is a hinge on which the play turns. On the one hand, it is his promotion that arouses Iago's jealously. On the other, it is his alleged (but nonexistent) love affair with Desdemona that arouses Othello's jealousy. Duke of Venice: Ruler who finds in favor of Othello when Desdemona's father attacks Othello's character. Brabantio: Senator and father of Desdemona. A bigot whose racism is

Because he has conquered the Turks. aspires to rise in the ranks. he despises Othello. gentlemen. Immediately he begins a campaign to poison Venice against Othello. no action. Cyprus. Roderigo: Venetian gentleman and former suitor of Desdemona. a gentleman of the city. Minor Characters: Sailor.. messenger. inflames Brabantio against Othello: For shame. attendants. In other words. He enlists Roderigo. officers. on the other hand. Othello’s ensign. Montano: Othello's predecessor in the government of Cyprus. Iago tells the gullible Roderigo. .Othello. it is also to do what he most enjoys: evil. When Othello elopes with Desdemona. Then Iago. On a Venetian street. that Cassio is untested in battle and that his soldierly abilities consist of “mere prattle. to awaken Desdemona’s father late at night. daughter of Senator Brabantio. who bears a message from the duke recalling Othello to Venice. The goal of Iago’s plot against the highly respected Moor is not only to gain revenge. he says. Iago realizes he has the perfect opening to get back at Othello. . Othello promotes his men on the merits of their political and personal connections. She is blind to his evil until she discovers that it was he who plotted against Othello and Desdemona. a black Moor. Emilia: Wife of Iago. Cassio is all talk. using crude racist metaphors. Bianca: Cassio's mistress. .. 1. put on your gown. without practise” (1. Clown: Servant to Othello.inflamed by Iago. 28).. herald. Lodovico: Brabantio's kinsman. and elsewhere against Christian and heathen alike. the Venetians esteem him highly as a military leader. Iago smolders with deadly anger for being passed over. has proved his military prowess in battles at Rhodes. a former suitor of Desdemona. not on their soldierly skills. But when Othello promotes the Florentine Michael Cassio to the position of personal lieutenant. is a general in the service of Venice. Iago says that he himself. Iago.. Apparently. musicians. Second Senator Gratiano: Brabantio's brother.. First Senator.. He is manipulated by Iago.

1. he then says. very now. 181-182). Iago also tells Roderigo they must first act to discredit Cassio to prevent Desdemona from taking up with him. arise. Cassio. upending its attack. Othello tells her all is well. an old black ram1 Is tupping2 your white ewe3. Playing the innocent. Iago’s wife Emilia has found a handkerchief dropped by . Is it not reasonable to believe that Desdemona has something going with Cassio? Meanwhile. the Venetian Senate decides to send Othello to Cyprus to defend it and become the new governor. But after hearing Othello speak of his love for Desdemona. Meanwhile. who tells Roderigo that Desdemona will eventually tire of Othello. A celebration follows. now. then has Roderigo start an argument with him. After all. says he regrets his behavior. a raging storm devastates the Turkish fleet. Brabantio complains to the Duke of Venice. Othello tells Cassio that he will never more serve as the Moor’s officer. intervenes. Having duly established himself as an unbiased onlooker. the duke finds in favor of Othello. Even now. that look'st dead with grieving / Speak. She decides to follow him to Cypress. he asks: “Honest Iago. Lovely Desdemona appears and inquires about the disturbance. 3. to speak the truth. Othello orders Iago to accompany his wife. and they go off to bed. 183). Iago tells him he can yet regain favor with Othello by having Desdemona intercede on his behalf. After Othello arrives at the scene of the commotion. Iago replies: “I had rather have this tongue cut from my mouth / Than it should do offense to Michael Cassio” (2. although the ships from Venice arrive safely at Cyprus. who began this?” (2. claiming Othello used spells and charms to win Desdemona's favor. However. Unaware that Iago was behind Brabantio's earlier protests against the elopement. When Cassio presents his case to Othello’s wife. When she does so in an innocent attempt to be helpful. 135-136). Arise. Cassio is far younger than Othello–and terribly handsome. and Cassio wounds him. she agrees to speak with her husband on Cassio’s behalf. Montano is led away for treatment of his injury. I persuade myself. During the senate meeting. the duke listens to Brabantio's charges against Othello. Awake the snorting citizens with the bell. After Iago recounts for Othello what happened during the fray. you have lost half your soul. Roderigo goes along at the urging of Iago. now alone with Iago. she arouses Othello’s jealousy. How else could a vile black man have won her favor? When a fleet of Turks threatens Cyprus. ''Yet. Montano. Iago–implementing his plan to discredit Cassio–gets Cassio drunk. On the evening of the first night in Cyprus. the outgoing governor of Cyprus. and Brabantio relinquishes his daughter to the Moor. implicating Cassio. . . Or else the devil will make a grandsire of you: Outraged.Your heart is burst. 3.” (3.

Cassio (carried on a chair). Montano and others pursue him. still in love with his wife. he is a liar. Cassio is taken away for treatment. . he sees an opportunity to advance his scheme and snatches it away. Othello says. wounds Cassio in the leg. For this seemingly untoward gesture. saying he has use for it. At long last. Emilia immediately impugns Iago: “You told a lie. Iago says. Emilia dies and Montano returns. Othello strikes at Iago with a sword and wounds him. 4. he says. Othello reveals that he killed his wife because she was having an affair with Cassio. Othello then tells Iago he plans to poison Desdemona. he tells her that it was a valued heirloom given to his mother by an Egyptian woman. 2. / Upon my soul. Iago then plants the handkerchief in Cassio’s room and tells Othello that Cassio has come into possession of it. If Iago reported otherwise. 2. Desdemona cries out. as Iago can attest. Iago again uses the hapless Roderigo. and Iago (held as a prisoner). gave the handkerchief to him as she lay dying. Believing Iago has been good to his word. kisses her awake. recalling Othello to Venice and naming Cassio the new governor of Cyprus. saying Desdemona gave it to Cassio. an odious damned lie. but Iago advises him to “strangle her in her bed. Othello. Iago. Othello. 1. Emilia arrives to report the death of Roderigo. Iago’s whole sordid plot unravels. Iago. When Othello lunges at him. requesting that he give it to his future wife. the Moor goes back to the castle for the awful task of executing his wife. brings up the matter of the handkerchief. and Montano. 2. As for Cassio. shocked. Emilia calls for help. Othello had given it to his wife as a gift. Cassio in turn wounds Roderigo. Emilia. 184). says Desdemona was always “heavenly true” (5.“To lose ’t or give ’t away were such perdition / As nothing else could match” (3.Othello arrives to observe from a distance. At an opportune moment he steals aside and finishes off Roderigo with a dagger thrust. As others are drawn to the scene of the fray between Roderigo and Cassio. he becomes convinced that she gave it to Cassio and has been having affair with him. Emilia then discloses that she found the handkerchief and gave it to her husband at his insistence. she says.Desdemona. in turn. Iago stabs his wife and runs off. and others respond. Iago. persuading him to kill Cassio for him. a lie. asks her to prepare her soul for death. “[L]et me be his undertaker” (4. 149). 165) to Othello. When he further presses Desdemona to produce the handkerchief and she cannot. As Desdemona lies dying. Kind-hearted Desdemona praises Cassio. 215-216). that he has killed Cassio. He says his mother. 1. darting by unseen. Letters from the Duke of Venice arrive with Lodovico. To further his plan. When Othello asks his wife for the handkerchief and she cannot produce it. can verify her infidelity. still convinced of Desdemona’s guilt. and–after an exchange of accusations and denials–smothers her with a pillow. even the bed she hath contaminated (4. When Emilia shows it to Iago. then breathes her last. Iago returns with a lantern as if he is just discovering the melee. On a dark street Roderigo thrusts at Cassio but fails to kill him. a wicked lie” (5. “A guiltless death I die” (5. 69-70). 182). Othello strikes and berates her. With him are Lodovico.

. and accomplished. all things are not what they seem. Othello is revealed as a victim of his emotions. when Iago uses racism as a spark to inflame Desdemona’s father. are up to the new governor of Cyprus. . Hatred is often skin deep. Cassio. and Iago as a disloyal and evil man. character flaws. and Iago presents himself as loyal and trustworthy. the Moor says he believes him and asks his pardon.Despondent with self-recrimination.. Themes Jealousy has the power to destroy. Desdemona is pure and innocent.. In the real world. Chance. Desdemona marries Othello knowing well that his color. he wonders whether he is worthy of Desdemona–and whether she has turned her attentions toward a handsome white man. True love sometimes requires courage.. Iago cannot brook the fact that he must take orders from a black. Lodovico presents letters found in Roderigo’s pocket that disclose further details of Iago’s nefarious plot.. Iago–often militate against happy endings. bad things happen to good people. Othello appears strong and self-disciplined. and the presence of evil–in this case. the ideal husband. 2.Among the vilest characters in all of Shakespeare is Iago.. against Othello. . As in Macbeth.. even when her own father–a prominent Venetian–speaks out against the Moor. Othello stabs himself. Racial prejudice is a crucial issue in the play. Lodovico says.... At the beginning. as Iago maintains. “The time. Audiences attending Othello begin learning the extent of his villainy in the opening scene of the play. But she never wavers in her love for him. the ideal wife. As such. telling Brabantio that the black Moor . Iago is held for punishment. Cassio. loving.When Cassio declares that he never wronged Othello.. Iago then uses vulgar animal imagery to slur Othello. Later.. for it isolates Othello. and his advanced age will arouse controversy. It destroys both Iago (jealous that Michael Cassio has received an appointment over him) and Othello (jealous that his wife may love Cassio).. falls on the bed. and dies.. she never allows the bigotry of others to affect her.After Iago and Roderigo raise a clamor outside Brabantio’s house late one evening.. Brabantio and Iago are the most bigoted characters. Othello is noble. Senator Brabantio. the senator awakens and comes to a window. making him feel like a defective and an outcast. then kills himself.. the torture” (5. 427). Brabantio is horrified that his daughter has eloped with a Moor who will give him dark-skinned children.. his cultural background. Bad things happen to good people. Here is the scene: . the place.. But he murders Desdemona.

you’re robb’d. 1.. 119) . “I am one.By and by. now convinced of the truth of the story. his daughter.. Or put upon you what restraint and grievance The law–with all his might to enforce it on– Will give him cable. 10) after hearing of his and Desdemona’s elopement. you have lost half your soul. 87).. arise! Awake the snorting citizens with the bell. 1. put on your gown. 131). 2. an old black ram Is tupping5 your white ewe6.Afterward. Your heart is burst. Roderigo adds that Desdemona is indeed in the “gross clasps of a lascivious Moor” (1. 2. for shame.. on a street in another location. you’ll have coursers for cousins and gennets8 for germans. now. you are one of those that will not serve God if the devil bid you. Brabantio.. (1. with “scurvy and provoking terms” (1. Iago then says.. Iago says... Iago replies with a metaphor that this time compares Othello to a horse: ’Zounds! sir. 2. 92-97) When Brabantio reacts with incredulity. Or else the devil will make a grandsire of you.Roderigo.9 (1. 2. Iago meets with Othello to inflame him against Brabantio. Arise. Even now. The senator. . ’Zounds!4 sir... you’ll have your daughter covered with a Barbary horse. Iago also says that he will divorce you. after denouncing Othello for taking Desdemona to his “sooty bosom” (1.. (1. 1. tells Roderigo to summon help. whom Iago uses as a cat’s-paw. your daughter and the Moor are now making the beast with two backs” (1. 1. sir. very now... Because we come to do you service and you think we are ruffians. The latter had denounced Othello.. supports Iago’s story.. you’ll have your nephews7 neigh to you.. 90) and “drugs or minerals” to .. that comes to tell you.has seized his greatest treasure. 17-20) . and at that very moment is defiling her. Brabantio and others appear. 121).. accuses the Moor of having used “foul charms” (1.

he sometimes inserts the word black to remind listeners that the Moor is different.. where the Duke and other senators are preparing for war against the Turks... To mourn a mischief that is past and gone . After Othello speaks eloquently of his love for Desdemona and she speaks on his behalf. (1. saying he will tell the whole truth (round unvarnish’d tale).. ..Having lost a battle. still using racism as one of his weapons.. Consider that in referring to Othello. after referring to Othello in Act 1 as a “black ram. “Your son-in-law is more fair than black” (1. Imagery . the imagery remains vivid throughout the play.. a man to be isolated. Although the characters speak in prose as well as verse. 3. implying that fairness is superior to blackness.. the Duke exonerates Othello. I have a stoup of wine. But in doing so. Iago continues to plot to win the war. I will a round unvarnish’d tale deliver.. 1. For example.. prides himself on his ability to give false impressions.weaken Desdemona’s will.The matter becomes an issue in the Venetian council chamber.. “Come. . of course..” he tells Michael Cassio in Act 2. Brabantio reluctantly accepts the ruling. and here without are a brace of Cyprus gallants that would fain have a measure to the health of black Othello” (25). Iago comments on what he would do if he were like other men who make no attempt to hide their true feelings.. Scene 2. 104) Othello defends himself against accusations that he abducted Desdmona. Iago.. 67-68) In a metaphor comparing his heart to bird food. Among the most frequently quoted passages are the following: But I will wear my heart upon my sleeve For daws to peck at. in a Freudian slip–telling Brabantio.. 311)....Othello is rich in memorable figures of speech. several of which have become part of our language. 3. a man apart. (1. the Duke obliquely denigrates Othello because of his race–apparently unintentionally. lieutenant. .

274-275) In a metaphor comparing emotional anguish to an injury to the body. 3. 3.) Reputation is an idle and most false imposition. 3. Iago compares current events to food. Iago’s observation is also an example of irony. in that Iago is attempting to inflame Othello with jealousy and in that Iago himself suffers from jealousy aimed at Michael Cassio. 191-193) In this metaphor. he compares the taste of the food to the delicious taste of locusts. (1. (3. (Coloquintida is an alternate name for colocynth. Poor and content is rich. The robb’d that smiles steals something from the thief. 198) . He predicts that the sweetness of Othello’s life will soon turn bitter. 333) In a metaphor. O! beware. 3. 3. (1. in a simile. Iago scolds Roderigo for complaining when his plans go awry. and lost without deserving. 3. (1. my lord. Virtue! a fig! (1. It is the green-ey’d monster which doth mock The meat it feeds on. (3. and rich enough. a vine that bears a tart fruit resembling a lemon. 230) After the Duke of Venice exonerates Othello before the council of Venice. the Duke of Venice advises Brabantio not to fret over a lost cause. oft got without merit. 226-227) Using alliteration (mourn a mischief). 331) In this metaphor. he advises Brabantio in this paradox to accept the verdict in good humor rather to protest it with petty grumbling. 3. How poor are they that have not patience! What wound did ever heal but by degrees? (2. The food that to him now is as luscious as locusts.Is the next way to draw new mischief on. 226) Iago tells Cassio that reputation is not as important as the latter thinks it. of jealousy. shall be to him shortly as bitter as coloquintida. 3. Iago belittles virtue. (2. Iago tells Othello that jealousy is monstrous.

. a “cunning whore” (4.. though. 180-185) Iago’s Ironic Warning ...... 3.Is the immediate jewel of their souls: . Iago's "Good Name" .. 398-400) Before stabbing himself.... Ironically. masquerades as an honorable man. His mulish refusal to consider confuting evidence and his summary execution of his wife demonstrate that prejudice is an equalopportunity affliction.. in his own words...But he that filches from me my good name .Good name in man and woman... Othello explains that he loved Desdemona deeply– but not wisely......Centuries of analysis and criticism of this play have focused on Othello as the victim of prejudice.... commits a heinous crime..... Iago extols honor..... well) helps make Line 400 memorable. the Ultimate Irony ...Irony plays an important role in Othello.... 2.......Iago consoles (falsely) Othello with a paradox after the latter’s suspicions against Desdemona are aroused. nothing extenuate. ..Who steals my purse steals trash . Alliteration (wisely.......... Use of Irony Othello’s Prejudice... . dear my lord.. 2..And makes me poor indeed.. Othello.. Speak of me as I am...... In fact............... (5. 105) who must pay for her transgression with her life... it is Othello who commits the most heinous act of prejudice in the play–forejudging his innocent wife as.. in one of the better known passages in the play... a good man. must you speak Of one that lov’d not wisely but too well... (3....... For example. ... an evil man.. ....Robs me of that which not enriches him . Nor set down aught in malice: then...... saying: . Iago.

According to the second definition. relies heavily on seemingly incriminating evidence--a fan and a handwritten letter--to implicate an innocent woman..) Murder by .. according to the first definition.In this play.Climax . Murder Methods . Knives.Ironically. .. The 19th Century playwright Oscar Wilde often resorted to such ploys to complicate his plots. when Othello becomes convinced that Desdemona has been unfaithful and resolves to retaliate against her. Lady Windermere's Fan.. (3. 3.The climax of a play or another literary work. such as a short story or a novel.. can be defined as (1) the turning point at which the conflict begins to resolve itself for better or worse. (The stage directions say he "stifles" Desdemona.. in a pretense to make himself seem a friend to Othello. On the other.. or as (2) the final and most exciting event in a series of events. occurs in the third scene of Act III.... it was his promotion that aroused Iago's jealousy. ... The climax of Othello.Michael Cassio is a hinge on which the play turns.Writers often use "planted evidence" as a ploy to impugn an innocent character and thereby thicken the plot. beware. the climax occurs when Othello kills Desdemona and discovers the horrible mistake he has made. What was the planted evidence in Othello that implicated Desdemona? Describe this evidence and explain its role in convincing Othello that his wife was unfaithful.. it is the deceitful Iago who.. It is the green-ey’d monster which doth mock The meat it feeds on. umbrellas. On the one hand. .. caches of jewels. Othello apparently strangles Desdemona or smothers her with a pillow.... it was his alleged (but nonexistent) love affair with Desdemona that aroused Othello's jealousy. . and cigarette lighters have all been used by writers to suggest that an innocent character is guilty.. 191-193) Planted Evidence . my lord.. . speaks of the danger of jealousy: O........ Hinge Character. of jealousy. One of his plays.... guns..

although The Comedy of Errors takes place in Ephesus.. throats are slit and Aaron the Moor is buried up to his chest. oral way. a monk poisons the monarch in the conventional. publisher. For example.. The Taming of the Shrew. Julius Caesar. In Macbeth. and does not derive in any way from his station. It is inherent. the names of many of the characters end with the . His value is not in what the world thinks of him. hired assassins inflict "twenty trenched gashes" upon Banquo's head. "Othello is like a hero of the ancient world in that he is not a man like us. Readings on the Tragedies of William Shakespeare... All's Well That Ends Well.. Clarence is drowned in a barrel of wine.. He seems born to do great deeds and live in legend. a self-made man...pillow or strangulation was only one of a remarkable variety of killing tools and methods Shakespeare used to send his characters to the beyond. without ties of nature or natural duties. then starved. although the world rates him highly. The Two Gentlemen of Verona. the product of a certain kind of life which he has chosen to lead."--Gardner. The latter murder method has been a favorite of assassins since ancient times.. that plays not set in Italy are often well populated with people having Italian names. In Richard III. Guiderius decapitates Clotan.. Cleopatra commits suicide via the bite of an asp. He is. He is a stranger.Shakespeare's works suggest that he might have visited? Consider that more than a dozen of his plays--includingThe Merchant of Venice.. In King John. and The Winter's Tale all have some or all of their scenes set in Italy. San Diego: Greenhaven. But the thing which most sets him apart is his solitariness. in a sense.Hellen Gardner observes. Othello as Hero . 1996 (Page 140). Coriolanus. but a man recognized as extraordinary. Did Shakespeare Visit Italy? . a man of alien race. David. He has the obvious heroic qualities of courage and strength. Turkey. Othello. Consider. In Cymbeline. and no actor can attempt the role who is not physically impressive. In Hamlet. Much Ado About Nothing. Claudius murders his predecessor by pouring poison into his ear.. Parsley was a secret sign from a friend in the kitchen that food was uncontaminated... In Titus Andronicus.. He has the heroic capacity for passion. It is said that the custom of garnishing food with parsley originated in the time of the Caesars. In Antony and Cleopatra. Romeo and Juliet. Quoted in Bender. too. Hellen.

Practically all of the characters in Timon of Athens bear the names of ancient Romans-Lucullus.. Berbers were North African natives who eventually accepted Arab customs and Islam after Arabs invaded North Africa in the Seventh Century A. Study Questions and Essay Topics Brabantio protests the marriage of his daughter. Adriana. Titus... a suitor for the hand of Portia.. Luciana. . . Lucius... Othello introduces an upright and righteous Moor who displays evil near the end when he suspects his wife of infidelity and kills her.Italian ''o'' or ''a'':--Angelo. . "[I]f he have . Dromio. I had rather he should shrive me than wive me.... a racist snob. the complexion of a devil. What Was a Moor? . Portia. to Othello...." . He is the Prince of Morocco. Servillius. In Hamlet's Denmark.. Mauri. the latter mostly of Sudanese origin. The word Moor derives from a Latin word.. Even before he arrives to make his bid for her. Moors in Other Shakespeare Plays . we find characters named Marcellus. claiming Othello used "spells and medicines" to dull her senses so that she . used to name the residents of the ancient Roman province of Mauritania in North Africa.. Flavius.D. for there are white Moors as well as black Moors... Hortensius. Desdemona. it is quite possible that Shakespeare visited Italy only in his imagination.In Titus Andronicus Shakespeare introduces an evil Moor named Aaron who displays goodness near the end when he pleads for his child's life. Sempronius. To refer to Othello as a "black Moor" is not to commit a redundancy..A Moor also appears in The Merchant of Venice.A Moor was a Muslim of mixed Arab and Berber descent. Flaminius.. Bernardo and Francisco. The term has been used to refer in general to Muslims of North Africa and to Muslim conquerors of Spain. Of course. says. .

write an essay that tells what Iago was like as a child. a man who could read the mind of his enemy." Do you think the real reason for Brabantio's protest is the color of Othello's skin? Use passages from the play to support your answer. Using your imagination and what you know about Cassio and Iago from your reading of the play.would marry "against all rules of nature. The play does not address this question. mad scientists coaxing a monster to life. Freely using your imagination. then support it with passages from the play. What was the attitude of Europeans toward blacks during Shakespeare's time? In what ways are Othello and Desdemona similar to Romeo and Juliet? In what ways are they dissimilar? Do you believe Iago despises Othello because Othello is black? (4) Would you marry a person of opposite color? Explain your answer. why was he so easily deceived by Iago? Write an essay explaining why Othello promoted Michael Cassio as his personal lieutenant instead of Iago. prison inmates after an escape. and most scholars ignore it because there is virtually no evidence (prior to the appointment) to support a viewpoint. Write an essay explaining why we root for villains. and miscreants like Iago. venture an opinion. an essay that probes the dark side of the human psyche to find sparks from a primeval fire that has enkindled malevolent voyeurism in all of us. Many of us tend to root for villains--bank robbers on the lam. What do you believe was Shakespeare's attitude toward blacks? Did any blacks live in London during Shakespeare's time? If Othello was such a great general. .

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