Othello by William Shakespeare
Shakespeare is one of the most famous authors ever. Born in England in 1564, he started out as an actor and then started writing. Shakespeare’s plays fall into three categories – histories, tragedies, and comedies. "Othello" is a tragedy, so don’t expect a happy ending. Back when he wrote these plays, Shakespeare had the productions staged in a round theater, with the seats all around the stage. The kings and queens sat up in the balconies and the poor people (called groundlings) sat on the floor.
Othello: The hero of the story. He is a Moor (An Islamic Arab who comes from northwest Africa), so he is black. He is a professional soldier -- people hire him to help them win wars. Othello is an all around great guy -- respected on the battlefield, liked as a person, honest, brave, and romantic.
Iago: A soldier under Othello’s command. Iago is the bad guy in the story. Even though he’s honest and smart, he has no morals and does some bad things. He has a jealous streak, too.
Desdemona: Othello’s girl, she falls in love with Othello even though her father objects to their love (because Othello is a black guy and she is white). She is really sweet and nice and honest. She loves Othello a lot. They get married.
Cassio: He is a nice young man who is Othello’s lieutenant. He is a loyal friend but gets fired by Othello because he screws up.
Emilia: She is this chick who is Iago’s wife and friends with Desdemona. She starts off a little bitchy, but has a heart in the end.
Roderigo: Desdemona’s ex-boyfriend. He still loves her and wants her back but she loves Othello now, so Roderigo is out of luck. He almost kills Cassio because he thought Cassio was doing Desdemona. (Iago made up the lie).
Brabantio: A senator in Venice, he is Desdemona’s father. He is really pissed when his daughter marries Othello.
Roderigo is pissed because he finds out that his ex-girlfriend, Desdemona, just married Othello. We learn that Othello is a General, who was hired by Venice to lead their army in a war against the Turks. Anyway, Roderigo is also pissed at Iago who was supposed to hook him up with Desdemona. Iago is pissed at Othello because Othello chose Cassio as a Lieutenant, not Iago. So as payback, Iago goes and tells Desdemona’s father that her daughter ran off with a black guy, and that Othello seduced her with magic. Then the two-faced Iago finds Othello and tells him Brabantio is mad. Then Cassio tells Othello there is an important Senate meeting. When Othello arrives at the meeting Brabantio wants Othello put in jail. But Othello wants to let the Duke decide if he is wrong. Desdemona shows up and tells everyone that she loves Othello, so it turns out he didn’t seduce her with magic. Othello is sent out to Cyprus to fight in the war. Meanwhile, Iago is formulating a plan to get rid of Othello and get Cassio’s job.
Othello and his troops win the war. They go back to Venice to celebrate the victory and Othello’s marriage to Desdemona. At the party, Iago gets Cassio drunk and Cassio starts a fight with Roderigo. Montana (ex-governor) is injured trying to stop the fight. When Othello sees all this he fires Cassio.
Cassio goes to Desdemona to try and get his job back. Iago tells Othello that Cassio and Desdemona are having sex. Othello asks Iago to prove it. So Iago plants a handkerchief (a gift Othello gave Desdemona) in Cassio’s house. Cassio finds this handkerchief and because he doesn’t know whom it belongs to, he gives it to his girlfriend, Bianca. Then two things happen that make Desdemona look like she’s sleeping with Cassio. She asks Othello to give Cassio his job back, and when Othello asks Desdemona to show him the handkerchief, she says she can’t show it to him.
Then Iago gets Othello to eavesdrop on Cassio. Cassio is talking about Bianca, his girlfriend, but Iago tells Othello he is talking about Desdemona. Othello is really pissed and asks Iago to kill Cassio. Othello then makes plans to kill Desdemona. Then Othello gets a letter from Venice asking him to return there and to give Cassio control of Cyprus. Desdemona is happy but because Othello is so jealous he think she’s happy because of Cassio’s news. So he smacks her in public at a party. Othello asks Emilia, Iago’s wife, if Desdemona is cheating on him. She says no. He doesn’t believe her. Then Iago tells Roderigo that if he kills Cassio, Desdemona will probably love him again.
Roderigo tries to kill Cassio but only wounds him. Then Iago stabs Cassio in the leg. When people come to see what is going on, Iago pretends to save Cassio and kills Roderigo, just so Roderigo won’t tell everyone about Iago’s evil plans. Othello smothers Desdemona with a pillow and kills her. Then Emilia tells him the real story behind the handkerchief and tells him her husband is evil. Then Iago kills Emilia (to protect himself) and runs away. Then everyone finds out that Iago is a big ass and all these events were his evil plans. Othello, feeling guilty, kills himself and dies next to his wife. Cassio is given control of Cyprus and Iago is given a death sentence.
ACT BY ACT/SCENE BY SCENE
- Iago and Roderigo argue. Roderigo has been paying Iago to help him get Desdemona back. Iago has failed.
- Iago tells Roderigo he hates Othello because Othello gave Cassio the army job that Iago wanted.
- Iago and Roderigo scream and wake up Brabantio, Desdemona’s father. They tell him that his daughter ran away with Othello, a black dude. He also tells him that Othello used magic and drugs to get her.
- Brabantio is angry and gets some weapons to kick Othello’s ass.
- Two-faced Iago finds Othello and tells him that he (Iago) defended Othello, and that Roderigo is the bad guy.
- He also tells him Brabantio is coming, but Othello is not afraid.
- Cassio arrives and tells Othello he is wanted at some emergency senate meeting. Brabantio is there and wants to put Othello in prison.
- Othello tells Brabantio that the love with his daughter is mutual and that he didn’t use any drugs to get her.
- They go to the council to decide Othello’s fate.
- Brabantio says that Desdemona was kidnapped, but Othello says that they are in love.
- They are in this council meeting to see what will happen to Othello.
- We learn that Othello used to hang out in Brabantio’s house all the time. He met Desdemona and she fell in love with his great stories.
- Desdemona steps forward at the meeting and tells everyone that she was not kidnapped and that she loves Othello.
- Brabantio is really upset and is mad because his daughter got married behind his back and that she married a black guy.
- Iago starts to hatch a plan to destroy Othello.
- Othello goes out to Cyprus to lead his army into battle. There is a storm and people don’t think the Turkish army will survive the storm
- The Turks retreat because of the storm. Othello wins the war.
- Cassio arrives and Othello is still out at sea. Then Desdemona, Iago, and Emilia all show up in Cyprus. All of them talk about men and women.
- Othello returns. Iago tells Roderigo that Desdemona and Cassio are getting it on.
- Roderigo can’t believe it because Desdemona and Othello are in love.
- Iago says that their relationship is unnatural because he is black and she is white. Also, Cassio is a young stud.
- Iago tells Roderigo to pick a fight with Cassio to get him fired for disgracing the army.
- Iago says that this act will convince Desdemona to love Roderigo again.
- Othello has a huge party to celebrate the war victory and his new marriage to Desdemona.
- Cassio is put on guard duty that night.
- Later that night, Iago gets some guys together and gets Cassio and Roderigo drunk.
- Roderigo starts insulting Cassio and then picks a fight with Cassio. In the fight, Montana, the ex governor, tries to stop it and Cassio, who is drunk, turns on him and slashes him with his sword.
- Othello wakes up to find this drunken fight. He then fires Cassio.
- Cassio is pissed because he lost Othello’s respect and he lost his job.
- Iago, still thinking about his evil plan, tells Cassio to ask Desdemona to get Othello to give him his job back
- Iago Reassures Roderigo that his plan is working and that Roderigo should not give up hope because he will soon have Desdemona back.
- Iago thinks to himself that he needs to have Othello see Cassio asking Desdemona for his favor.
- Cassio and Iago come to the castle to talk to Othello and Desdemona.
- Some musicians play for Othello and some clowns make fart jokes (seriously).
- Iago arranges a private meeting between Cassio and Desdemona.
- Othello doesn’t want to give Cassio his job back right away because then Othello would look like a softy.
- Othello gets Iago to go over some business stuff. Then he and Iago inspect the fort.
- Iago wanted to get Othello away from Desdemona, and now they are.
- He wants them to return in time to catch Cassio talking to her.
- Cassio talks to Desdemona and she promises to help him get his job back.
- They talk about Iago being upset about the situation. Iago has fooled everyone. He is evil.
- Othello and Iago return to find Cassio leaving in a hurry. Iago makes Othello wonder about it.
- Then Desdemona asks Othello to give Cassio his job back.
- Finally Othello gives in and says he’ll consider it.
- Then Iago talks to Othello about Cassio and talks a lot of lies about them.
- He makes Othello doubt Desdemona’s love, and makes him really jealous of Cassio and Desdemona.
- When Desdemona sees Othello, he looks like he’s in pain (from being jealous).
- She offers him a handkerchief (gift from Othello to her) and it drops to the ground.
- Emilia (Iago’s loyal wife) finds it. But Iago sees her with it and takes it from her.
- Iago plans to put it in Cassio’s room and let Othello find it, which would make him even more jealous.
- Iago then shows Othello Cassio using the handkerchief. Othello is really mad now.
- Othello asks Iago to kill Cassio, and Othello has plans to kill wife.
- Othello is completely fooled by Iago’s plan and his lies.
- Desdemona tells Cassio that Othello has agreed to see him about getting his job back.
- Desdemona realizes she doesn’t have her gift handkerchief.
- When Othello asks her about she lies and says that she has it but cannot show him for some reason.
- Bianca (Cassio’s lover) sees Cassio. Cassio gives her the handkerchief and tells her to have a copy made.
- She thinks it belongs to another woman but she does it anyway.
- Iago keeps getting Othello mad and jealous by hinting at Cassio and Desdemona having sex.
- Cassio shows up but Iago tells him to go away because Othello is ill.
- Then Iago tells Othello he will talk to Cassio and have Othello eavesdrop to see how Cassio talks about Desdemona in private.
- But… Iago tells Cassio to talk about Bianca (his only love) and Othello thinks he’s talking about Desdemona.
- Then Bianca shows up and gives Cassio the handkerchief.
- Othello sees this and sees the handkerchief and now is convinced that Cassio and Desdemona are having sex.
- Othello decides to kill Desdemona because he thinks that she’s cheating on him. He wants to poison her but Iago tells him to strangle her.
- Othello gets a letter from the Venice Senate asking him to return to Venice and to give Cassio control of Cyprus.
- Desdemona is happy because she gets to go back to Venice. But Othello thinks she is happy because Cassio gets Cyprus, so he hits her in front of some people.
- Othello is slowly becoming a deranged madman… mad because of jealousy.
- Othello asks Emilia if Desdemona is sleeping with Cassio. She says no, but Othello does not believe her.
- Othello finally talks to Desdemona about Cassio. She has no idea what he is talking about.
- Roderigo shows up again and is mad that he paid Iago to get him Desdemona and he hasn’t yet.
- Iago tells Roderigo to kill Cassio. Iago tells Roderigo that with Cassio dead, Desdemona will need a new love toy.
- He hints that her new affair might be with Roderigo. (Iago is fooling EVERYONE because Desdemona never cheated on Othello ever)
- Emilia has some suspicions about Iago and his motives and Iago gets nervous that people might be onto his plan.
- Othello tells Desdemona to get to bed. Emilia sees that Othello is calm and much nicer than he was before. She’s very suspicious of him.
- Emilia sees Desdemona and they talk about adultery.
- Emilia gives some reason why adultery is okay.
- Iago’s plan unfolds. Roderigo prepares to kill Cassio.
- When Cassio walks home, Roderigo attacks him.
- Cassio is wearing armor and survives Roderigo’s attack.
- Then Iago lunges from a hiding place and stabs Cassio.
- Then Iago runs away before Cassio recognizes him.
- Cassio yells in pain and Othello wakes up. Othello thinks Iago killed Cassio (Remember, he still thinks Cassio is sleeping with his wife).
- So Othello then prepares to kill Desdemona.
- Iago’s big plan isn’t working because Cassio is still alive.
- Othello prepares to kill Desdemona. While she is sleeping he talks to her about how he has to kill her in the name of justice.
- Desdemona wakes up and says she is innocent. Othello does not believe her and smothers her with a pillow.
- Emilia shows up and finds out that Desdemona is dead. She tells Othello that Desdemona was not sleeping around, and that it was Iago’s story.
- Emilia calls everyone to see Desdemona dead, and people show up. We then learn that Brabantio has also died. They say he died of a broken heart from his daughter marrying Othello.
- All the people start getting mad at Othello for killing Desdemona. He tells them the story of her having sex with Cassio.
- Then Emilia figures out that this whole thing was Iago’s evil plan and she tells everyone.
- Iago realizes he has been found out as a bad guy, and he stabs Emilia and runs away. They capture Iago and bring back Cassio (who’s injured, but still alive).
- When Othello talks to Iago and asks him why he messed his life up, Iago refuses to speak.
- Othello kills himself.
- Iago is sentenced to death.
THINGS TO MAKE YOU LOOK SMART
- A primary issue in this play is jealousy. Shakepeare sets up a good guy/bad guy situation, but has both characters give in to their jealous feelings.
- Discrimination is another factor in this book. Othello’s race prevents Desdemona’s father from accepting his daughter’s marriage.
- Shakepeare seems to suggest the dangers of acting on instinct – the tragedy of this story is the ruin of love that was pure.
- Iago tries to control the actions of many for his own gain whereas Othello wants to compensate for his own loss.
- Consider the ideas of belonging in this play – like being accepted for your race and nationality – and belonging to, as a parent/child or husband/wife.