How would you explain the play to a modern audience?
A black man murders his white wife after he thinks she's been cheating on him with a younger white man. Sound familiar? It's the O.J. Simplson murder case...
It's a domestic tragedy of a military husband who falls victim to the "green-eyed monster" of jealousy, as he finds it hard adapting to domestic life. He's been in the military so long that he's become sexist and jealous. He's great in battle; bad at home. A terrible husband. He's begging for a fight. Why not with his wife? It doesn't take much to convince him that his wife is cheating on him.
It's a morality tale, like the Genesis Garden of Eden story. Othello is Adam, Desdemona is Eve, the handkerchief (Desdemona's love) is the apple, Iago is the serpent. Except, the serpent goes after Adam first. And Adam kills Eve.
It's "Beauty & the Beast," though in reverse. Instead of starting out a beast, Othello is the handsome general of Venice. Once in Cyprus, he becomes a beast overcome with jealousy. He loves Desdemona, but becomes so ashamed of his black, animalistic behavior that he can't tell her. Instead of a single magical rose, we have a single magical handkerchief spotted with strawberries.
It's a court case. Othello is a tale of a man who wins and loses his wife with language. Othello is an astute lawyer in Act I, and he defeats Brabantio in court using a wonderful monologue. Later, outside the realm of court on Cyprus, he is reduced to a seizure-induced monosyllabic mute. Communication breakdown dooms the marriage.
It's a modern day Oedipus. Othello becomes deaf, dumb, and blind to the truth, due to his own pride. And with a little maneuvering from Iago. Othello should have married someone like his mother (who gives him the handkerchief); instead, he marries a woman so unlike his mother that she loses the damn thing. Instead of someone's eyes being gouged out, Iago loses his tongue in the end. Finally, the guy shuts up!