Conflict in literature involves a struggle between opposing forces, such as between a protagonist and an antagonist. Such conflict is external, but conflict can also be internal, as when a character struggles to come to terms about whether to commit an act or not. External conflict may even exist between a character and his or her circumstances, the weather conditions, and so forth.
The play exhibits many examples of both external and internal conflict. The first of these is displayed in Act 1, Scene 1, where there exists an apparent conflict between what Iago wants and what Othello has decided. The general's agent is apparently bitter that Othello has appointed a foreigner, Cassio, as his lieutenant instead of choosing him, a loyal, long-serving, and experienced soldier. Iago is enraged and promises to avenge the humiliation Othello has served upon him. Othello is, of course, blithely unaware of his ancient's resentment and wholly trusts him. Iago, however, has made his intentions clear to Roderigo, who is his confidante and gullible puppet. He tells him ,"I follow him to serve my turn upon him." This sentiment indicates an obvious external conflict.
A further example of such conflict is indicated in the verbal altercation between Brabantio, Desdemona's father; Iago; and Roderigo, when the latter two try to convince the former that his daughter has fallen prey to Othello, who, they claim, has abducted his daughter. Brabantio initially refuses to believe them and threatens Roderigo by saying, "I have charged thee not to haunt about my doors." He calls Iago a "profane wretch" and a "villain." The conflict is resolved, though, when Brabantio believes the two men and calls upon his servants to bring light so that they may search for his daughter and Othello.
Iago and Roderigo's devious lies also create conflict between Brabantio and Othello. Brabantio also later turns against his daughter when he believes that she has betrayed him by choosing to be with the Moor rather than him. He tells Othello in Scene 3 of Act 1:
Look to her, Moor, if thou hast eyes to see:
She has deceived her father, and may thee.
Brabantio unintentionally plants a pernicious seed in the general's mind that will add to Othello's inner conflict and exacerbate his external conflict with Desdemona later in the play. The consequences of these will prove to be devastatingly tragic.
Another example of external conflict occurs during Othello's journey to Cyprus. In this instance, the weather conditions pose severe difficulties, and the rough seas make it doubtful that the general will ever reach his destination, as the following quotes from Act 2, Scene 1 suggest:
And prays the Moor be safe; for they were parted
With foul and violent tempest.
O, let the heavens
Give him defence against the elements,
For I have lost us him on a dangerous sea.
Othello, fortunately, overcomes this situation and arrives safely. Iago's manipulation later brings the general into serious conflict with what he feels he has to do and his love for Desdemona. He is most apparently traumatized by what Iago has told him and the supposed proof of Desdemona's infidelity when he sees his precious gift, a handkerchief, in the hands of Michael Cassio's girlfriend. In the final scene of the play, Othello declares in a voice filled with despair:
Should I repent me: but once put out thy light,
Thou cunning'st pattern of excelling nature,
I know not where is that Promethean heat
That can thy light relume. When I have pluck'd the rose,
I cannot give it vital growth again.
Ah balmy breath, that dost almost persuade
Justice to break her sword! One more, one more.
Be thus when thou art dead, and I will kill thee,
And love thee after.
He later suffocates the innocent Desdemona, and, in a final act of desperate sacrifice and atonement for his terrible deed, he eventually commits suicide.