Act 1 Scene 1
The Shakespearian play Othello begins on a street in Venice, with an argument between Roderigo and Iago. The rich Roderigo has been paying Iago to help him get Desdemona love, but he has seen no progress. Roderigo has just found out that Desdemona has married Othello, a general whom Iago serves as a wingman. Iago reassures Roderigo that he hates Othello. Iago’s reason for this hatred is Othello’s recent promotion of Michael Cassio to the post of lieutenant. Othello chose to give the position to a Cassio who had experience to lead men in battle. Iago only pretends to serves Othello because he is waiting for his opportunity to get revenge. The action of the first scene elevates the audience’s anticipation of Othello’s first appearance. We learn Iago’s name in the second line of the play and Roderigo’s soon afterward. Othello is not once mentioned by his name. Rather, he is constantly referred to as “he” and “him.” He is also called “the Moor”, “the thick-lips”, and “a Barbary horse”. All these names signify that Othello is black skinned.
Act1 Scene 2
Iago arrives at Othello’s lodgings, where he warns the general that Brabantio will try to separate Desdemona and Othello. Othello sees a group of men approaching. Iago thinks Brabantio’s men have arrived and counsels Othello to retreat indoors. The party turns out to be Cassio and officers from the Venetian court. They give Othello a message that he is wanted by the duke of Venice about a matter concerning Cyprus, an island in the Mediterranean Sea controlled by Venice. As Cassio and his men prepare to leave, Iago mentions that Othello is married. Before Iago can say any more, Brabantio, Roderigo, and Brabantio’s men arrive to harm Othello. Brabanzio orders his men to attack and control Othello. Othello brings the confrontation to a halt by calmly and respectfully telling both sides to put down their swords. Hearing that the duke has summoned Othello to the court, Brabantio decides to bring his cause before the duke himself.
Act 1 Scene 3
Brabantio and Othello enter the assembled Venetian leaders, who are discussing this military matter, and Brabantio announces his grievance against Othello for marrying his daughter. Othello confronts the leaders, admitting that he did marry Desdemona, but stole her heart with stories, and did her no wrong. Desdemona comes to speak, and she supports Othello’s words; Brabantio’s words are denied, and Desdemona will stay with Othello. However, Othello is called to fight in Cyprus, to help with the conflict there. He begs to the Duke if Desdemona would be able to go with him, since they have just become husband and wife. Othello and Desdemona win their appeal, and Desdemona stays with Iago, until she can come to Cyprus and meet Othello there. On the other hand, Roderigo is upset that Desdemona and Othello’s union was allowed, since he lusts after Desdemona. But Iago assures him that Othello and Desdemona’s love will not last long, and at any time, Desdemona would come rushing to him. Iago wants to break up the couple, using Roderigo as his pawn. Act 2 Scene 1
A terrible storm has struck Cyprus, just as the Turks were about to approach. This might mean that the Turkish attack will not happen; but it also bad for Othello’s ship. A messenger enters, and confirms that the Turkish fleet was broken apart by the storm, and that Cassio has arrived, but Othello is still at sea. They spot a ship coming forth; but Iago, Desdemona, and Emilia are on it. Cassio greets them all, especially praising Desdemona. Iago and Desdemona enter into an argument about what women are, and Iago shows how little praise he believes women deserve. Othello arrives at last, and is very glad to see his wife arrived, much earlier than expected. He and Desdemona make public signs of their love (kissing), and then depart. Iago speaks to Roderigo, convincing him that Desdemona will stray from Othello, as she has already done with Cassio. He convinces Roderigo to attack Cassio that night, as he plans to do some mischief on both Othello and Cassio. Act 2 Scene 2
Othello’s herald announces that the Turks are not going to attack and this is a very joyful victory. All should celebrate with general Othello and include the joys of his recent marriage. Act 2 Scene 3
Iago and Cassio are on the watch together, looking for any intruders. Iago gets Cassio to drink some alcohol, knowing that he cannot bare the liquor. Iago then tries to get Cassio’s feelings about Desdemona, and make her seem attractive to him.Cassio intentions are innocent and friendly, so Iago fails at his approach. Cassio leaves for a while, and Iago says that he intends to get Cassio drunk. Iago wants to see Cassio get fired by his actions, so that he might take Cassio’s place. Iago entertains Montano and the others with small talk and a song. Soon after, Cassio is drunk, and Roderigo has approached him. Cassio fights offstage with Roderigo then chases him. Montano tries to control Cassio, but Cassio just ends up injuring Montano. The entire ruckus awakens Othello, who comes down to figure out what has happened. Montano tells all that he has seen and Iago fills in the rest with rumours sure to fill Othello with jealous ideas. Cassio is demoted from his rank and everyone leaves him with Iago. Act 3 Scene 1
The third act begins with a little bit of comic relief; a clown is mincing words with a few musicians. Then he has a little wordplay with Cassio, who bids the clown to go and see if Desdemona will speak with him. Iago enters, and Cassio tells him that he needs to speak to Desdemona, so that she may clear things up with Othello. Emilia comes out, and requests Cassio to come in and speak with Desdemona about his tarnished reputation. Act 3 Scene 2
Othello gives Iago some letters that need to be delivered back to Venice, which Iago is supposed to give to a ship’s pilot who is sailing back to Venice. Act 3 Scene 3
Desdemona decides that she wants to advocate for Cassio. She tells Emilia so, and that she believes Cassio is a good person, and has been wronged in this case; she pledges to do everything she can to persuade her husband to take Cassio back. Cassio speaks with her briefly, but leaves just as Othello enters because he does not wish for a confrontation. Iago seizes on this opportunity to play on Othello’s insecurities, and make Cassio’s exit seem guilty and incriminating. Othello then speaks to Desdemona, and Desdemona expresses her concern for Cassio; she is persistent in his suit, which Othello is not too pleased about. Othello says he will humor her, and the subject is dropped for a while. Iago then plays on Othello’s insecurities about Desdemona, and gets Othello to believe, through insinuation, that there is something going on between Desdemona and Cassio. Othello seizes on this, and then Iago works at building up his suspicions. Soon, Othello begins to doubt his wife, as Iago lets his insinuations gain the force of an accusation against her.
Othello begins to voice his insecurities when it comes to Desdemona, and himself as well. Desdemona enters, and they have a brief conversation; Othello admits that he is troubled, though he will not state the cause. Desdemona drops the handkerchief that Othello gave her on their honeymoon; Emilia knew that her husband had wanted it for something, so she doesn’t feel too guilty about taking it. Emilia gives it to Iago, who decides to use the handkerchief for his own devices. Othello re-enters, and tells Iago that he now doubts his wife; Othello demands “ocular proof” of Desdemona’s dishonesty, so Iago sets about making stories up about Cassio talking in his sleep, and says that Cassio has the handkerchief that Othello gave to Desdemona. Iago knows how important this handkerchief is to Othello; it was his first gift to Desdemona, and was given to him by his mother. Othello is incensed to hear that Desdemona would give away something so valuable, and is persuaded by Iago’s insinuations and claims to believe that Desdemona is guilty. Othello then swears to have Cassio dead, and to be revenged upon Desdemona for the non-existent affair. Act 3 Scene 4
Desdemona asks the clown where Cassio is. The clown goes off to get him. Desdemona is looking everywhere for the handkerchief, and is very sorry to have lost it. She knows that losing it will upset Othello greatly, even though she is certain he is not so jealous that he will think shamefully of the loss. Othello enters, and asks for Desdemona’s handkerchief. She admits that she does not have it, and then Othello tells her of its significance and alleged magical powers. Desdemona does not like Othello’s tone. He seems obsessed with this object, and Desdemona is so frightened by him that she wishes she had nothing to do with it. She interrupts Othello’s inquiry by bringing up Cassio’s attempt to get back into Othello’s favor; Othello becomes angry, and storms out. Desdemona and Emilia both note that Othello is much changed; he is unkind and seems jealous, and they are suspicious of the change in him.
Cassio then enters, with Iago; he laments that his suit is not successful, and that Othello does not seem likely to take him back. Desdemona is sorry for this, since she knows that Cassio is a man of worth; she tells Cassio and Iago that Othello has been acting strange, and is upset, and Iago goes to look for him, feigning concern. Emilia thinks that Othello’s change has something to do with Desdemona, or Othello’s jealous nature; they still cannot fathom what has happened, and exit, leaving Cassio. Bianca comes in, and Cassio asks her to copy the handkerchief that he found in his room; it is Desdemona’s handkerchief, though Cassio has no idea. He claims he does not love her, and gets angry at her for allegedly suspecting that the handkerchief is a gift of another woman. But, Bianca is not disturbed, and leaves with the handkerchief. Act 4 Scene 1
Othello is trying, even after swearing that Desdemona was unfaithful, not to condemn her too harshly. He is talking with Iago about the handkerchief still, and its significance in being found; but, soon, Iago whips Othello into an even greater fury through mere insinuation, and Othello takes the bait. Othello falls into a trance of rage, and Iago decides to hammer home his false ideas about his wife. Iago calls Cassio in, while Othello hides; Iago speaks to Cassio of Bianca, but Othello, in his disturbed state, believes that Cassio is talking of Desdemona, which is the last “proof” he needs before declaring his wife guilty. Bianca comes in, and gives the handkerchief back to Cassio, since she swears she will have nothing to do with it. Othello is incensed by Cassio, still believing that he was speaking of Desdemona, rather than Bianca. Now, Othello is resolved to kill Desdemona himself, and charges Iago with murdering Cassio. Ludovico, a noble Venetian whom Desdemona knows, has recently landed; Desdemona and Othello welcome him there. But, when Desdemona mentions Cassio, Othello becomes very angry and slaps her in front of everyone; she rushes off, very upset. Ludovico especially is shocked at this change in Othello, and has no idea how such a noble man could act so cruelly. Act 4 Scene 2
Othello questions Emilia about Desdemona’s guilt, or the chance she has had an affair with Cassio. Emilia admits to having seen nothing, though Othello does not believe her. Emilia swears that she has seen and heard all that has gone on between Cassio and Desdemona, and that Desdemona is pure and true. Othello believes that Emilia is in on all this too; he accuses Desdemona, and her insistence that she is innocent only infuriates him further. Othello leaves, and Desdemona and Emilia try to figure out what has happened to Othello, and what they can do; Desdemona feels especially helpless, and Emilia is very angry. Emilia thinks that someone has manipulated Othello into accusing Desdemona, and has poisoned his mind; however, Iago is there to dispel this opinion, so that Emilia does not inquire further into her theory. Upon leaving the women, Iago comes across Roderigo; he is not pleased with how Iago has handled things, and knows that although Iago is promising him Desdemona’s favor, he has done nothing to indicate that he has worked to achieve this. Iago quiets him by making him believe that if he kills Cassio, then he will win Desdemona; Roderigo decides to go along with it, but Iago is coming dangerously close to being revealed.
Act 4 Scene 3
Othello tells Desdemona to go to bed, and dismiss Emilia; Emilia regrets Desdemona’s marriage, although Desdemona cannot say that she does not love Othello. Desdemona knows that she will die soon; she sings a song of sadness and resignation, and decides to give herself to her fate. Desdemona asks Emilia whether she would commit adultery to win her husband the world. Emilia, the more practical one, thinks that it is not too big a price for a small act; Desdemona is too good, and too devout, to say that she would do so. Act 5 Scene 1
Iago has Roderigo poised and ready to pounce on Cassio, and kill him; if either of them is killed, it is to Iago’s benefit, although he would like to have both of them disposed of, so that his devices might not be discovered. Roderigo and Cassio fight, and both are injured;Othello hears the scuffle, is pleased, and then leaves to finish off Desdemona. Iago enters, pretending that he knows nothing of the scuffle; Gratiano and Ludovico also stumble upon the scene, having no idea what has happened. Roderigo is still alive, so Iago feigns a quarrel, and finishes him off. Bianca comes by, and sees Cassio wounded; Iago makes some remark to implicate her; Cassio is carried away, and Roderigo is already dead. Emiliaalso comes in, and pins more blame on Bianca; she has done nothing, but Iago has some quick work to do if he is to exonerate himself in this mess. Act 5 Scene 2
Othello enters Desdemona’s room while she is asleep; and though she is beautiful, and appears innocent, he still is determined to kill her. He justifies this with images, metaphors, and ideas of her rebirth after death, and though his rage is softened, he is still much mistaken about her. Desdemona awakens, and he tells her to repent of any sins before she dies; she believes there is nothing she can do to stop him from killing her, and continues to assert her innocence. Othello tells her that he found her handkerchief with Cassio, though Desdemona insists it must not be true; she pleads with Othello not to kill her right then, but he begins to smother her. Emilia knocks, curious about what is going on; Othello lets her in, but tries to conceal Desdemona, who he thinks is already dead.
Emilia brings the news of Roderigo’s death, and Cassio’s wounding. Emilia soon finds out that Desdemona is nearly dead, by Othello’s hand; Desdemona speaks her last words, and then Emilia pounces on Othello for committing this horrible crime. Othello is not convinced of his folly until Iago confesses his part, and Cassio speaks of the use of the handkerchief; then, Othello is overcome with grief. Iago stabs Emilia for telling all about his plots, and then Emilia dies; the Venetian nobles reveal that Brabantio, Desdemona’s father, is dead, and so cannot be grieved by this tragedy now. Othello stabs Iago when he is brought back in; Othello then tells all present to remember him how he is, and kills himself. Cassio becomes temporary leader of the troops at Cyprus, and Lodovico and Gratiano are supposed to carry the news of the tragedy back to Venice. Iago is taken into custody, and his crimes will be judged back in Venice.