Othello | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Course Hero, "Othello Study Guide," December 20, 2016, accessed September 25, 2018, https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Othello/.

Othello | Plot Summary

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Summary

The play is set in Venice in the mid-1500s, during a time of conflict between the Turks and Venetians. As the play begins, Turkey is preparing for war against Venice and is likely to attack either the Venetian island of Cyprus or Rhodes. Othello, a Moor from North Africa and a successful Venetian general, has eloped with a young Venetian noblewoman named Desdemona.

When the news gets out, Roderigo, a gentleman who is in love with Desdemona, complains to Iago, Othello's ensign (third in command to Othello), about the secret marriage. Iago had agreed to help Roderigo court and win Desdemona, but only if Roderigo kept him supplied with money. Iago is irritated at Othello for promoting another man to lieutenant (second in command), Cassio, instead of himself. Iago and Roderigo go together to Brabantio's home and reveal that Brabantio's daughter Desdemona has gone away secretly with Othello. Iago leaves before his identity is known and goes back to Othello. Soon Cassio joins them, bringing a message from the Duke of Venice that Othello is required to turn back the Turkish attack on Cyprus. Othello leaves to go to the Duke, and Brabantio follows along, hoping to confront Othello about Desdemona.

The Duke, however, takes Othello's side in the matter, partially because Othello is so earnest in his professions of love for Desdemona and his description of how they had fallen in love. Desdemona arrives and supports Othello's argument, and Brabantio is forced to accept the marriage. Othello makes arrangements to leave right away for Cyprus, and Desdemona plans to accompany him.

The next day, Desdemona, Iago and his wife, Emilia, Roderigo, and Cassio arrive on Cyprus before Othello. Cassio holds Desdemona's hand for a moment in greeting, and this small gesture gives Iago an idea of how to get back at both Cassio and Othello. Then Othello arrives. Miraculously, the Turkish ships on their way to invade Cyprus have been destroyed by a storm, so they celebrate this turn of events at a banquet that evening. At the celebration, Iago encourages Cassio to get drunk and then encourages Roderigo to fight Cassio. Montano tries to break up the fight, and Cassio ends up stabbing him in the leg. When Othello finds out, he takes away Cassio's high rank. Iago tells Cassio he should appeal to Desdemona, who can go to Othello on Cassio's behalf. When Cassio leaves, Iago reveals to the audience he plans to make Othello think Cassio and Desdemona are having an affair. As Cassio approaches Desdemona, and Desdemona asks Othello to reconsider Cassio's case, Iago plants the seeds of suspicion in Othello's mind.

When Desdemona accidentally drops her handkerchief, Emilia picks it up and gives it to her husband. Iago drops the handkerchief in Cassio's room, and Cassio finds it. Later, Iago stages a scene with Cassio meant to convince Othello, observing from a hidden place just out of earshot, that Cassio is sleeping with Desdemona. As a result, Othello becomes wild with jealousy.

As Iago orchestrates another fight between Cassio and Roderigo, and ends up killing Roderigo, Othello plans Desdemona's death. That night, he smothers Desdemona in her bed. Emilia reveals that she was the one who picked up the handkerchief and gave it to Iago, and Othello realizes he has been manipulated. He tries to kill Iago, but Iago kills Emilia instead. Then Othello kills himself, and Iago is arrested.

Othello Plot Diagram

Falling ActionRising ActionResolutionClimax123456789101112Introduction

Introduction

1 Desdemona elopes with Othello, a Moor and Venetian general.

Rising Action

2 Desdemona goes with Othello and his soldiers to Cyprus.

3 Iago plots to convince Othello that Desdemona is unfaithful.

4 Iago gets Cassio drunk. Cassio is demoted.

5 Cassio asks Desdemona to speak to Othello; she agrees.

6 Desdemona loses a handkerchief given to her by Othello.

7 Emilia finds the handkerchief and gives it to Iago.

8 Iago uses the handkerchief to show Desdemona's infidelity.

Climax

9 Othello commits to killing Desdemona.

Falling Action

10 Othello kills Desdemona.

11 Emilia betrays Iago, who kills her; Othello kills himself.

Resolution

12 Iago is arrested.

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