Othello: A Short Synopsis
The great tragedy of Shakespeare starts under the night cover in the city of Venice, a city-state renowned for its military strength and as a hub of trade. Roderigo, a gentleman who tried to woo Desdemona, Senator Brabantio ‘s lovely daughter, has just discovered she’s secretly married Othello, a valiant Moorish general in service to the Venetian state. Iago, the ensign of Othello, speaks of his hatred for the Moor and persuades Roderigo to wake up Brabantio and inform him of the elopement. The enraged Brabantio is setting out to find his daughter and calling for officers to arrest the Moor.
Feigning friendship and concern, Iago warns Othello of the Brabantio’s reaction. Cassio, a lieutenant newly promoted by Othello to the position Iago had wished for, arrives with the Duke’s urgent message: Othello’s support is needed to avert a Turkish takeover of Cyprus’ Venetian-controlled island.
Brabantio accuses Othello of seducing his daughter with witchcraft in the Senate Chamber. Othello, in his defense, explains that he won the heart of Desdemona by telling her stories about his adventurous life. When Desdemona is called to the Senate Chamber, she declares her love for Othello and tells her father that her allegiance is now with her husband.
Seeing no crime committed, the Duke attempted to pacify Brabantio, and then turned his attention to the imminent Turkish threat and orders, Othello, to Cyprus. Othello welcomes the order, and Desdemona asks permission to go with her husband. It is arranged for her to travel with Iago on the following day, as her husband must leave immediately. Iago assures the rebellious Roderigo that Desdemona ‘s love for the Moor will soon fade, and convinces him to travel to Cyprus with a military fleet. Alone, Iago begins to lay down plans to use Cassio as an instrument to destroy Othello.
In Cyprus, Othello ‘s arrival is eagerly awaited, following reports of a violent seastorm. When Othello ‘s ship is a dock, he informs everyone that the Turkish fleet has been destroyed. In honour of his marriage and the defeat of the Turks, Othello allows time for his troops to celebrate.
During the festivities, Iago gets Cassio drunk. Roderigo, under Iago’s direction, begins a quarrel with the drunken lieutenant, which soon escalates into a brawl which culminates in Cassio stabbing Montano, an important Cypriot. Furious about the unrest that ensues, Othello immediately dismisses Cassio from his office as a lieutenant. Cassio grieves over the loss of his position and his reputation, but Iago comforts him by suggesting that Desdemona will plead with Othello to have him reinstated. Alone on stage, Iago outlines his plan of action.
In a private meeting arranged by Iago, Desdemona promised Cassio that she would intercede with her husband on his behalf. As Othello returns with Iago, Cassio hastens to leave. Iago comments on Cassio’s abrupt departure, stating that Cassio seems to be trying to avoid Othello. Desdemona pleads with enthusiasm for Cassio and promises never to cease until her husband forgives his friend. Othello is very sympathetic to her petition. As Desdemona and Emilia (Iago ‘s wife) set out, Iago planted the seeds of doubt in Othello, insinuating that Cassio and Desdemona had an affair right under Othello ‘s nose.
As Desdemona returns to call Othello for dinner, Othello ‘s doubts about her fidelity are already beginning to take hold. Seeing her husband angry, but not knowing the cause, Desdemona offered him her handkerchief, her precious first gift from the Moor. As he refuses to do so, it falls to the ground, and Emilia picks it up and gives it to Iago.
Beset by uncertainty and anxiety, Othello asks for some evidence that Desdemona is unfaithful. Iago tells the Moor that he has seen Cassio with the cherished handkerchief of Desdemona. Othello asks Desdemona for the handkerchief, but not having it, she changes the subject and again pleads for Othello to be reconciled with Cassio. Othello is leaving in rage, and Emilia suggests that Othello may be jealous. Desdemona claims that he has absolutely no cause for jealousy. As the two women leave, Bianca, a courtesan in love with Cassio, enters to search for him. He gives her the handkerchief (which Iago had planted in his room) and asks Bianca to have his embroidery copied.
Iago promises to give Othello additional proof of his wife’s affair. As Othello is hiding and listening, Iago and Cassio are talking about a woman. Cunningly, Iago is talking about Bianca to Cassio. Othello, however, assumes that they are talking about Desdemona and is now fully convinced of her guilt. He’s vowing to kill Desdemona and Iago is vowing to kill Cassio. The letters from Othello to Venice are brought by Lodovico. When Desdemona talks to Lodovico about Cassio’s recent troubles, Othello gets angry, hits his wife, and sends her away.
Meanwhile, Iago convinces the rebellious Roderigo that the only hope to win Desdemona ‘s love is to kill Cassio. Late that night, Cassio was attacked in the street. There’s a quick skirmish, and both Roderigo and Cassio are injured. The cries are aroused
Othello, who thinks that Iago has murdered Cassio as promised. Lodovico hurries to see what’s going on, and Iago appears on the scene. Taking control of the situation, Iago kills Roderigo, then feigns grief over the death of his “friend.”
Othello comes to Desdemona in her bed-chamber, determined to kill her. He accuses her of committing adultery with Cassio and, although Desdemona pleads her innocence, he smothers her. Emilia brings news of the street fight and the death of Roderigo. When she sees the murdered Desdemona and hears Othello’s infidelity indictment, she raises the alarm. This brings Iago, Lodovico, and Montano into the room. Emilia discovers the ruse and the role of her husband in it. He stabs her and escapes from the scene as she denounces Iago. When the full truth is revealed, it is brought back.
Othello, realizing his guilt, asks that he be remembered as “one that loved not wisely but too well.” Then he stabs himself and falls to the bed next to his wife, where he dies. The silent Iago has been arrested and taken away.
Who’s Who in Othello
Othello—A Moorish general in the service of Venice, well-respected for his honesty , integrity and outstanding military skills. He’s secretly marries the beautiful Desdemona fair. When his jealousy is spurred on by Iago ‘s deception, it overtakes him, and his entire world collapses.
Iago—Othello’s “honest” ensign, who sows the seeds of envy in his general that contributed to the downfall of Othello, Desdemona, Cassio, Roderigo, and Emilia.
Desdemona—The only daughter of Senator Brabantio, she is known for her integrity and sincerity. Secretly marries to Othello, she loves and respects her husband even though he wrongly accuses her of adultery.
Emilia—Wife to Iago, she inadvertently supports her husband’s jealous scheme by sending him Desdemona’s fallen handkerchief. She dies at the side of Iago as she protects the dignity of Desdemona.
Cassio—An honourable lieutenant promoted by Othello to the very post which Iago had desired to gain.
Roderigo—A gullible gentleman of Venice, who craves to marry Desdemona. When his wishes are rejected, he is easily manipulated and becomes a pawn in Iago’s plot against Othello.
The Duke of Venice—Leader of the Venetian government and one of Othello’s greatest supporters.
Brabantio—A Senator of Venice who goes into a rage when he discovers that his only daughter, Desdemona, has secretly married Othello, a Moor.
Lodovico —A Veneti a Senator and Desdemona’s cousin.
Montano—The high-ranking Cypriot.
Bianca—A courtesan in love with Cassio.