Summary of the Play
On a quiet night in Venice, Iago, ensign to the Moorish general, Othello, enlists the aid of Roderigo in his plot against Othello. Iago secretly hates Othello and tells Roderigo, a rejected suitor to Desdemona, that she has eloped with the Moor. After this revelation, Roderigo and Iago awaken Brabantio, Desdemona’s father, with news that she has been transported into Othello’s hands. Iago informs Othello of Brabantio’s anger. Brabantio arrives with officers to confront Othello, but they are interrupted by Michael Cassio, who summons Othello to the Duke of Venice’s palace.
The duke and senators welcome Othello and inform him of his deployment to Cyprus in a defensive against the Ottomites. Brabantio accuses Othello of winning Desdemona’s affection by magic, after which Othello explains that he won Desdemona’s love by sincere means. Desdemona professes her duty to her husband. Subsequently, Othello is sent to Cyprus, leaving Iago in charge of Desdemona’s safe passage to Cyprus along with Emilia, Iago’s wife and Desdemona’s attendant. Iago suggests that Roderigo follow Desdemona to Cyprus. Once alone, Iago reveals his plan to implicate Michael Cassio in a clandestine affair with Desdemona.
During a raging storm which destroys the Turkish fleet, Othello and his men land at the Cyprian seaport. By telling Roderigo a lie that Desdemona loves Cassio, Iago now urges Roderigo to incite Cassio to violence. Later that evening at Othello’s wedding feast, Iago gets Cassio drunk; as a result, Othello dismisses Cassio from service because of behavior unbecoming a lieutenant. Iago then encourages Cassio to appeal to Desdemona to influence Othello to reinstate Cassio.
Desdemona tells Cassio that she will help him. Cassio leaves quickly, and when Othello arrives, Desdemona pleads for Cassio. Iago uses Cassio’s quick exit and Desdemona’s pleas to cast doubt on her fidelity and Cassio’s integrity.
Desdemona and Emilia enter, and Othello admits to a headache. When Desdemona tries to assuage his illness with her handkerchief, he knocks it down. Emilia picks it up and gives it to Iago. When Othello demands visible proof of Desdemona’s infidelity, Iago asserts that he has seen Cassio with the handkerchief. Having become sufficiently suspicious, Othello vows revenge. Later, Cassio gives the handkerchief that Iago hid in Cassio’s room to Bianca, his jealous mistress, in order for her to copy.
Riled by Iago’s lies and innuendos, Othello succumbs to a trance. After he revives, Iago incites him anew by talking to Cassio about Bianca while Othello eavesdrops on the conversation. Mistakenly, Othello thinks Cassio is boasting about having seduced Desdemona. Bianca enters and throws the handkerchief at Cassio; consequently, Othello, convinced of Desdemona’s guilt, swears to kill her.
Lodovico, Brabantio’s kinsman, arrives with orders from the duke for Othello to return to Venice, leaving Cassio in charge in Cyprus for which Desdemona expresses pleasure. Othello strikes her, and his actions give Iago cause to suggest that Othello is going mad. Iago then convinces Roderigo that killing Cassio will ensure his chances with Desdemona. Later in the evening, Othello orders Desdemona to wait for him alone in their bed chamber. As she prepares to retire, she sings a song about forsaken love.
At Iago’s instigation, Roderigo attacks Cassio, who in turn wounds Roderigo. Iago then stabs Cassio so that Othello thinks Iago has kept a promise to kill Cassio. When Roderigo cries out, Iago kills him.
In the bed chamber, while Othello ponders Desdemona’s beauty and innocence, she awakens, and Othello commands her to pray before she dies. In spite of her supplications, he suffocates her with a pillow. Emilia enters, and Othello justifies his revenge by claiming the handkerchief as proof of her infidelity. Appalled at this act, Emilia reveals Iago’s guilt. Iago enters, kills Emilia, and is arrested. Othello tries to kill Iago, and despite demands for an explanation, Iago remains silent and is led off. Before Othello is led off, he draws a concealed weapon, stabs himself, and kisses Desdemona as he dies.
Estimated Reading Time
An average student should plan to spend at least one hour to read each act of the play for the first reading if the text used provides sufficient footnotes. Subsequent readings will take less time as familiarity with the vocabulary, the story line, and the writer’s style increases. Othello comprises five acts with a total of 15 scenes; consequently, the student might feel comfortable reading three to five scenes at each session, which would entail a total reading time of three to five hours.
Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
Iago, an ensign serving under Othello, Moorish commander of the armed forces of Venice, is passed over in promotion when Othello chooses Cassio to be his chief of staff. In revenge, Iago and his follower, Roderigo, arouse from his sleep Brabantio, senator of Venice, to tell him that his daughter, Desdemona, has stolen away and married Othello. Brabantio, incensed that his daughter would marry a Moor, leads his servants to Othello’s quarters.
Meanwhile, the duke of Venice has learned that armed Turkish galleys are preparing to attack the island of Cyprus, and in this emergency he has summoned Othello to the senate chambers. Brabantio and Othello meet in the streets but postpone any violence in the national interest. Othello, upon arriving at the senate, is commanded by the duke to lead the Venetian forces to Cyprus. Then, Brabantio tells the duke that Othello has beguiled his daughter into marriage without her father’s consent. When Brabantio asks the duke for redress, Othello vigorously defends his honor and reputation; he is seconded by Desdemona, who appears during the proceedings. Othello, cleared of all suspicion, prepares to sail for Cyprus immediately. For the time being, he places Desdemona in the care of Iago; Iago’s wife, Emilia, is to be her attendant during the voyage to Cyprus.
A great storm destroys the Turkish fleet and scatters the Venetians. One by one, the ships under Othello’s command head for Cyprus until all are...
(The entire section is 1023 words.)
Summary and Analysis
Act I, Scenes 1-3 Summary and Analysis
Act I, Scene 1
Iago: newly appointed ensign to Othello, Moor of Venice
Roderigo: gentleman, disappointed suitor to Desdemona
Brabantio: Venetian Senator, father to Desdemona
One night on a street in Venice, Iago discloses to Roderigo the nature of his hatred for Othello, the Moor of Venice. It seems that in spite of the petitions of three influential Venetians, Othello has by-passed Iago for promotion to lieutenant. Instead, he has chosen Michael Cassio, a Florentine, and has appointed Iago to the less important position of ensign. Iago then enlists the aid of Roderigo, a disappointed suitor to Desdemona, in waking Brabantio, Desdemona’s father, with the disturbing news that his household has been robbed. Roderigo then proceeds to inform Brabantio that Desdemona has eloped with Othello. Brabantio recognizes Roderigo as the suitor he forbade to come to his home. Iago interjects Roderigo’s information with images of animal lust and leaves telling Roderigo it would not be politic for him to stay, since he is officially Othello’s inferior in rank.
When Roderigo responds to Iago by saying, “Thou told’st me thou didst hold him in thy hate,” it is clear that Iago has previously mentioned his hatred for Othello. Consequently, Iago weaves an intricate plot to undo the Moor. What drives Iago throughout the play is a manipulative duplicity...
(The entire section is 3210 words.)
Act II, Scenes 1-3 Summary and Analysis
Act II, Scene 1
Montano: Governor of Cyprus
Two Gentlemen: converse with the governor
A third Gentlemen: brings news of the Turkish fleet
Emilia: wife to Iago; attendant to Desdemona
At a seaport in Cyprus, near the harbor, Montano and two gentlemen discuss the storm raging off the coast. A third gentleman enters with news that the storm has destroyed the Turkish fleet and that Michael Cassio has arrived. Cassio enters, expressing hopes for Othello’s safe arrival in Cyprus. A messenger arrives with the news of the arrival of another ship, and Cassio directs the second gentleman to find out whose it is. The second gentleman re-enters, announcing the arrival of Iago’s ship. Desdemona enters, asking Cassio for news of Othello, and he assures her that Othello is well. Desdemona and Emilia engage in some banter with Iago, and after the word play, Iago carefully notices how Michael Cassio courteously greets Desdemona.
Othello then enters, content that the war is over and jubilant at seeing Desdemona safe. Subsequently, he directs everyone to the castle and tells Iago to disembark the spoils of war. Alone with Roderigo, Iago tells him that Desdemona is in love with Cassio and that when her appetite for the Moor wanes, Cassio is the one to whom she will turn. Roderigo expresses disbelief at this observation, so Iago describes the warm greeting Cassio gave...
(The entire section is 2366 words.)
Act III, Scenes 1-4 Summary and Analysis
Act III, Scene 1
Clown: comedic figure from the castle; servant to Othello
In this scene before Othello’s castle, Cassio enters with two musicians and tells them he will pay them to serenade Othello and Desdemona. A clown enters and comments on the musicians’ instruments and tells them that Othello does not want to hear any more music. After the musicians leave, Cassio asks the clown to tell Emilia he wants to see Desdemona. Iago enters and Cassio tells him what he just asked the clown, and Iago tells him he will go get Emilia, and he will keep Othello away. Emilia enters and tells Cassio that Othello and Desdemona are discussing the incident between Cassio and Montano and that she will arrange a meeting.
This scene provides some comic relief from the drama that has transpired in the previous act. Cassio’s request for the musicians to serenade Othello and Desdemona reflects the Elizabethan custom of awakening people of high rank with serenades on special occasions. When they play, a clown comes out and comments on the quality of their music by asking, “Why, masters, have your instruments been at Naples, that they speak i’ th’ nose thus?” An Elizabethan audience would be quick to pick up on the bawdy pun on the word instruments and the suggestion of the poor health conditions of the city of Naples. The clown then sarcastically says that Othello...
(The entire section is 2392 words.)
Act IV, Scenes 1-3 Summary and Analysis
Act IV, Scene 1
Lodovico: a Venetian nobleman, kinsman to Brabantio
Before Othello’s castle, Iago presents images of Desdemona’s infidelity to Othello until he is overcome with emotion and falls into a trance. Cassio enters and asks what is wrong. Iago tells him that Othello has fallen into a fit of epilepsy and will speak to him later. Othello revives, and Iago tells him that Cassio came but will return. Moreover, he tells Othello to hide himself and watch Cassio’s gestures as Iago speaks to him. When Cassio returns, Iago engages him in a conversation about Bianca, but Othello believes Cassio to be speaking about Desdemona and becomes furious. Bianca then enters complaining about the handkerchief he gave her to copy. Othello is convinced that Desdemona has been unfaithful and vows revenge. A trumpet announces the arrival of Lodovico, a Venetian nobleman, who brings letters from the Duke of Venice instructing Othello to return and appointing Cassio in his place. Desdemona, who also arrived, is pleased at this, and an enraged Othello strikes her. Lodovico, surprised at the change in Othello, inquires as to its cause.
Iago continues to play upon the jealousy that he has generated in Othello with images of “a kiss in private” and “to be naked with her friend in bed.” He adds that giving away a handkerchief is a visible act and suggests that honor can be...
(The entire section is 1420 words.)
Act V, Scenes 1-2 Summary and Analysis
Act V, Scene 1
Gratiano: Venetian nobleman; brother to Brabantio
On a street in Cyprus, Iago tells Roderigo to hide and attack Cassio as he walks by. However, when Cassio enters, Roderigo’s attempt fails, and Cassio wounds him. Iago sneaks up behind Cassio and stabs him in the leg. Othello enters, hears Cassio’s cries, and concludes that Iago has kept his word and killed Cassio. Lodovico and Gratiano enter at the confusion and comment on the cries for help coming from the street. Iago appears and asks them who is crying for help. Cassio then appears, is recognized, and says that whoever stabbed him is in the area. Roderigo cries for help and Iago immediately stabs him to death.
Bianca then enters the disturbance, and Iago suggests that she is part of the plot. Iago calls for a litter to bear off the dead Roderigo and wounded Cassio. Emilia now enters and wants to know what has just happened. Iago tells her that Cassio was attacked by Roderigo and others who escaped. He comments that this is the consequence of whoring. Next, he asks Emilia to find out where Cassio dined that evening. When Bianca admits that he was with her, Iago says that she will have some explaining to do.
The opening of this scene provides the action to which all of Iago’s scheming has been a prelude. Iago physically sets Roderigo in a position “behind this bulk” to attack...
(The entire section is 2139 words.)