Shakespeare’s Othello Plot Summary
A succinct plot summary of the play Othello by William Shakespeare.
On a quiet night in Venice, Iago, ancient (ensign, third-in-command) to the Moorish general, Othello, enlists the aid of Roderigo in his plot against Othello. Iago hates Othello and tells Roderigo, a rejected suitor to Desdemona, that she has eloped with the Moor. After this revelation, Roderigo and Iago awaken Brabantio, Desdemona’s father, with news that she has left home to go and marry Othello in secret. Iago informs Othello of Brabantio’s anger. Brabantio arrives with officers to confront and arrest Othello, but they are interrupted by Michael Cassio (Othello’s lieutenant, second-in-command), who summons Othello to the Duke of Venice’s palace on a matter of urgent state business.
The duke and senators welcome Othello warmly and inform him of his deployment to Cyprus to lead a defensive action against the Ottomites. Brabantio accuses Othello of winning Desdemona’s affection using magic. Othello rejects these allegations as nonsense and explains that he won Desdemona’s love by sincere means. Desdemona professes her gratitude to her father for her life and education, but also eloquently and charmingly professes her love for and duty to her new husband, Othello.
Subsequently, the Senate place Othello in command of the offensive against the Turks and he is dispatched to Cyprus forthwith. He leaves Iago in charge of Desdemona’s safe passage to join him in Cyprus. Emilia, wife to Iago and attendant to Desdemona, goes with them.
Iago suggests that Roderigo follow Desdemona to Cyprus, where he will continue to help him win her love and take her away from Othello.
Once alone, Iago (in a famous soliloquy) reveals to the audience his plan to implicate Michael Cassio in a clandestine affair with Desdemona. [The fact that we, the audience, know the truth, while the characters in the drama remain ignorant of it, sets up the conditions necessary for dramatic irony in the play.]
During a raging storm which destroys the Turkish fleet, Othello and his men land at the Cyprian seaport.
By telling Roderigo a lie that Desdemona loves Cassio, Iago now urges Roderigo to incite Cassio to violence. Later that evening at Othello’s wedding feast, as he puts his plan to work, Iago deliberately gets Cassio drunk. Cassio becomes brutish and irresponsible in his behaviour. As a result, Othello dismisses Cassio from service because his behaviour was not becoming of a lieutenant.
Iago then encourages Cassio to appeal to Desdemona to influence Othello to reinstate him as his second in command.
Desdemona tells Cassio that she will help him. Cassio leaves quickly, and when Othello arrives, Desdemona pleads for Cassio. Iago uses Cassio’s quick exit and Desdemona’s pleas to cast doubt on her fidelity and Cassio’s integrity. Iago’s plan is beginning to show results.
Desdemona and Emilia enter, and Othello admits to a headache. When Desdemona tries to sooth his headache with her handkerchief (a gift from her husband and a symbol of his love), he knocks it out of her hands. Emilia picks it up and gives it to Iago who has been badgering her to get it for him.
When Othello demands visible proof of Desdemona’s infidelity, Iago asserts that he has seen Cassio with the handkerchief. Having by now become sufficiently suspicious, Othello vows to take revenge.
Iago secretly puts the handkerchief into Cassio’s chambers where Cassio find it and gives it to Bianca, his jealous mistress, so that she can copy its beautiful design.
Riled and thoroughly upset by what we know to be Iago’s lies and innuendos, Othello falls into a trance/has a type of seizure. After he revives, Iago declares that he is going to provide the evidence that Othello needs to prove, one way or another, the ‘truth’ about Desdemona and Cassio. With Othello keeping out of sight, Iago engages Cassio in conversation. They talk about Cassio’s affair with the Bianca, but Iago stages the conversation in such a way that Othello thinks that they are talking about Desdemona and Cassio’s seduction of her. Bianca enters the scene and throws the handkerchief at Cassio. This convinces Othello beyond a shadow of a doubt that Desdemona has been unfaithful to her and he swears to kill her.
Meanwhile, Lodovico, Brabantio’s kinsman, arrives with orders from the duke for Othello to return to Venice immediately and leave Cassio in charge in Cyprus. When Desdemona expresses pleasure at the news, Othello strikes her, and his actions give Iago the opportunity to suggest that Othello is going mad.
Iago then convinces Roderigo that killing Cassio will ensure his success with Desdemona.
Later that evening, Othello orders Desdemona to wait for him alone in their bed chamber. As she prepares to retire, she sings a song about forsaken love, and then falls into a troubled sleep.
At Iago’s instigation, Roderigo attacks Cassio, who in turn, wounds Roderigo. Iago then stabs Cassio so that Othello thinks Iago has kept a promise to kill Cassio. When Roderigo cries out, Iago kills him.
In the bed chamber, Othello contemplates the sleeping deceitful Desdemona, and is moved by how beautiful and innocent she looks. She awakens and Othello commands her to pray before she dies. In spite of her pleas, he suffocates her with a pillow.
Emilia enters the bedchamber. Othello justifies his revenge by claiming that the handkerchief was proof of her infidelity. Appalled at this act, Emilia reveals Iago’s guilt. Othello is devastated by what he has done. Iago enters, and stabs Emilia when she accuses him of maliciously engineering the situation. He is arrested. Othello tries to kill Iago, and, despite demands for an explanation, Iago remains silent and is led off. Before Othello can be taken into custody, too, he draws a concealed weapon and fatally stabs himself. Full of remorse, he kisses Desdemona as he dies.
Cassio, though wounded, survives and becomes the commander of Cyprus.
I hope you have found Shakespeare’s Othello Plot Summary helpful.