Othello opens on the dark streets of Venice. Roderigo has news, which his "friend" Iago pretends not to know: Desdemona, the daughter of a respected Venetian senator, has eloped with Venice's greatest general: Othello, a Moor. Roderigo is jealous because he is in love with Desdemona. Iago relates that he hates Othello because he passed him over for a promotion, and Iago explains how he will disguise his true intentions to trick and destroy Othello. The two go to wake the senator, Brabanzio. Iago, unseen in the darkness, shouts crude suggestions that Brabanzio's daughter is now having sex with a Moor. When Brabanzio comes down from his house, Iago runs, and Roderigo explains what has happened. Brabanzio sends officers to arrest Othello and goes to see the Duke to explain the situation.
The Duke is already in council. A Turkish fleet is approaching Cyprus, and the Duke has summoned Othello to consult with them on the matter. Meanwhile, Iago has told Othello what else has happened: that someone has informed Desdemona's father of their secret marriage. Othello and Brabanzio arrive at the Duke's. The Duke is worried about Cyprus, but Brabanzio interrupts with his own news: a Moor has stolen his daughter, perhaps using drugs or magic. The Duke promises punishment, but, when he learns the Moor is Othello, quickly retracts. Othello explains how he won Desdemona's love with his stories of adventures and victories and asks that Desdemona be brought to confirm his claims. She enters and acknowledges that she does love, and has married Othello. Brabanzio curses his daughter and warns Othello of her treachery. Meanwhile, Othello is to go to Cyprus to defend the island, and Desdemona insists on going with him.
In Cyprus, the governor Montano learns that a terrible storm has struck all the ships approaching his island. He finds out that, thankfully, the Turkish fleet has been driven back but worries about the safety of Othello. A ship carrying Desdemona and her escort, Iago, arrives, and all anxiously wait Othello. Cassio, the man who got Iago's promotion is with them, and, observing him talk with Desdemona, Iago explains how he will suggest to Othello that his wife is sleeping with Cassio, since he believes that Othello slept with his own wife, Emilia. When Othello finally arrives, he greets his wife and is overjoyed to learn that the victory of the Turks is already won. A herald enters and declares that tonight will be a night for celebration.
Meanwhile, Iago has contrived a fight between Roderigo and Cassio; he gets Cassio drunk enough to attack Roderigo when provoked. When the fight breaks out, Montano intervenes to protect Roderigo and is killed by Cassio. Othello comes down and learns what has happened. Over Iago's feigned objections, Othello fires Cassio and returns to bed with Desdemona. Iago convinces Cassio that the best way to get his job back is to have Desdemona plead his case. Once Cassio agrees and leaves, Iago explains his plot: Desdemona will be pleading to Othello about Cassio just as Iago is telling Othello that the two are having an affair behind his back.
Cassio meets with Desdemona in private, and she promises to do anything she can to get his job back. Iago, meanwhile, is walking with Othello. By Iago's design, the two approach Cassio and Desdemona, and Cassio immediately leaves. When Othello approaches Desdemona, she immediately pleads with Othello to meet with Cassio and give him his job back. Othello, a bit reluctantly, agrees to consider her plea. Once Desdemona leaves, Iago asks repeated questions about Cassio and Desdemona. Othello demands to know what he's getting at. He admits, finally, that he suspects that something is going on between them - and, feigning certainty that Desdemona is faithful, advises Othello to keep an eye on his wife. Othello says that he will believe nothing without proof, but thanks Othello for his honesty. Alone, Othello worries that what Iago has said might be true - he could not forgive Desdemona, he says, if it were. Desdemona returns with Emilia. Othello complains of a headache, and Desdemona wipes his brow with a handkerchief. She accidentally drops it, and when the couple leaves, Emilia picks it up to bring to her husband, who has asked for it. Iago returns and takes the handkerchief from his wife. Alone, Iago unfolds his plan: he will put Desdemona's handkerchief in Cassio's room - the "proof" that Othello wants.
Othello returns. He is now furious with Iago for suggesting these ideas that he now cannot get out of his head. Taking Iago by the throat, he vows that he will destroy Iago if he cannot prove his accusations. Apologetic, Iago mentions that he has heard Cassio talking in his sleep about Desdemona, and, further, recently saw him holding Desdemona's handkerchief. At this, Othello is enraged. He commands Iago to kill Cassio within three days and vows to take care of Desdemona himself. The two men kneel together and vow their loyalty to each other. Soon, Othello finds Desdemona and demands to see the handkerchief, which she admits she doesn't have. Othello shouts furiously and leaves. Desdemona is worried about her husband, but Iago promises her that he will calm down Othello.
Meanwhile, Cassio has found the handkerchief and gives it to a prostitute, Bianca. Iago arranges a meeting with Cassio, which Othello will watch from hiding. When Cassio enters, Iago asks him about Bianca, though Othello thinks he is asking about Desdemona. Cassio laughs and mocks her excessive love for him. Bianca enters and gives Cassio the handkerchief, which she thinks was a gift from some other woman. Once she and Cassio are gone, Othello, who has seen all of this, comes forward. He again gives Iago the task of killing Cassio and himself that of killing his wife. He asks for poison but accepts Iago's suggestion: to strangle her in bed.
Lodovico, a Venetian, has arrived in Cyprus with orders for Othello to return home to Venice and for Cassio to take his place. Desdemona seems happy at the news, and Othello strikes her. Seeing this, Lodovico is shocked, and Iago admits that he is as well. Meanwhile, Desdemona has retired to bed. She asks Emilia to lay down her wedding sheets and sings fragments a song about a woman who died for love.
Iago has concocted a plan for Roderigo to fight with Cassio again but to kill him this time. Cassio instead stabs Roderigo when attacked. Iago, seeing this, cuts Cassio in the leg and runs. He immediately returns, pretending to offer help, and asks Cassio who attacked him. Cassio points to Roderigo, and Iago stabs and kills him, pretending to revenge Cassio. Bianca enters and goes to comfort Cassio, but Iago suggests that she is somehow the cause of the deadly fight.
Othello enters his bedroom, where Desdemona is sleeping. He kisses her, reluctant to go through with his act, and she wakes. Othello informs Desdemona that she should confess her sins because she is about to die. She refuses to admit anything, only angering Othello more. He smothers her with a pillow. Emilia is banging at the door. Othello lets her in and she sees Desdemona dying on her bed. Asked who is responsible, Desdemona blames herself, and dies. Othello at once admits that it was he who killed her, but explains that Iago had told him she was unfaithful. Hearing this, Emilia shouts "Murder!" and the visitors from Venice enter, along with Iago. Emilia explains what Iago has done. He stabs his wife, killing her, and runs. Iago is captured and brought back and vows to never speak again. Othello stabs him but fails to kill him. Lodovico announces that Othello will be brought back to Venice and that Iago will suffer the worst tortures know. Othello asks to speak once more: he tells of his services to Venice, and stabs himself, falling beside Desdemona to die. Iago is taken away. Lodovico says he will return to Venice to inform the Venetians of what has happened.
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Points to Ponder
Did You Know
Scenes 1.1 and 1.2
Scenes 2.1 and 2.2
Scenes 3.1 and 3.2
Scenes 4.2 and 4.3