Read our detailed notes on the play Othello by William Shakespeare. Our notes cover Othello summary, themes, characters, and a detailed analysis.
Othello, also titled The Tragedy of Othello, The Moor of Venice, is a tragic play written by William Shakespeare in 1603 (as accepted by most scholars). The play was first staged on November 1st, 1604 and 1st published in 1622 by Thomas Walkley. The idea of comes from Italian writer’s play The Moorish Captain, published in 1565. Shakespeare molded the play and fit it according to his own age and place.
The time and place of the setting of play is the 16th century during the war between Venice and Turkey and set in Venice, respectively. Othello is the protagonist of the play who marries to Desdemona despite the difference between their ages. Iago, the antagonist of the play, interrupted the play by convincing Othello that Desdemona is unfaithful. The main themes of the play include love, an inconsistency of the military heroism, and fear of isolation. The symbols of the play are the handkerchief, and the song “willow”.
Othello by William Shakespeare Summary
The play opens on the street of Venice, in the mid of conversation between Roderigo, a wealthy man, and Iago, the antagonist. Earlier Roderigo has been remunerating Iago to help in marrying Desdemona, however, now they have learned that Desdemona has just got married to Othello, a general whom Iago served. Iago claims that he hates Othello as he, in favor of soldier Cassio, has promoted to the rank of lieutenant and passed over Iago.
Iago and Roderigo go to inform Brabanzio that his daughter Desdemona has been kidnapped and married to Othello, the Moor. Brabanzio gathers some officers in search of Othello. Iago plays a double game and goes to Othello before Brabanzio finds him out, not wanting that his hatred for Othello reveals to him.
Meanwhile, Cassio comes to Othello in an emergency with a message from the duke that his (Othello’s) helps is needed in a matter of Turkish invasion. Soon Brabanzio, along with Roderigo and some other officer, arrives at Othello’s place to accuse him of stealing his daughter via witchcraft. There they find out that Othello is gone to have a meeting with the duke so Brabanzio decides to accuse Othello in front of the duke and accumulated senate.
The plan of Brabanzio backfires. The Senate and the duke are on the side of Othello and shows sympathy toward him. Othello is given a chance to defend himself. He explains that he doesn’t marry Desdemona through witchcraft but impressed her through his stories of travels and adventures in wars. The duke seems to be convincing with Othello’s explanation.
Moreover, Desdemona herself enters and defends her choice and her husband. Disappointed Brabanzio acquiesces and lets the meeting to resume. The duke, in the meeting, expresses that Othello must go to aid the protection against the Turks. Desdemona insisted to accompany her husband on the war.
The following day, in Cyprus, the news arrives that the Turkish Fleet has been worn-out at sea. In the meanwhile, three of the ships from Venice arrived safely and didn’t suffer the same fate. Cassio, Iago, Iago’s wife (Emilia) Roderigo, Desdemona, and Othello all landed safely at Cyprus.
Othello was in the last ship and arrives late from his wife, Desdemona. When he arrives, he meets his wife and announces they will celebrating their triumph over Turks this evening.
After the announcement, everyone leaves for their rooms, but Roderigo stays and complains to Iago that he will not be able to break up Othello’s marriage. Iago guarantees him that soon Desdemona will get bored of Othello as he is ugly and will find someone else for sexual satisfaction.
Moreover, he warns Roderigo of that “someone” and claims him to be Cassio. Iago, at the same time, directs Roderigo to have a fight with Cassio at the celebration by disgracing him. To ruin Othello, the 1st step should be to eliminate Cassio from Othello’s life, says Iago in isolation.
At the evening celebration, Roderigo does what he was directed to do. The drunk Cassio starts chasing Roderigo across the stage. When Governor Montano attempts to calm Cassio, Cassio bashes at him. Roderigo is sent by Iago to raise alarm in the town.
Rodrigo rings the alarm due to which Othello arrives in an emergency to investigate the matter (Othello had left the party earlier in order to celebrate her marriage life with his wife, Desdemona). When Othello inquires about the matter, Iago pretends as if he doesn’t want to involve Cassio, however, conveys the matter indirectly.
Consequently, Othello asks Cassio to surrender his rank of lieutenant. Extremely dishearten by this treatment, Cassio laments before Iago that his reputation has been ruined forever. Iago cunningly convinces Cassio that if he wants to restore his position before Othello, he must use the favor of Desdemona as an intermediary person. Iago plans that he will frame Desdemona and Cassio as lovers to Othello to make him jealous and his target, simultaneously will be achieved.
For reconciliation with Othello, Othello arranges some instrumentalists to play underneath Othello’s window. Irritated with this, Othello asks his clown to go and send the instrumentalists away. Cassio asks Othello’s clown to send Emilia to him in order to arrange a meeting with Desdemona.
When the clown departs, Iago again fills in Cassio’s mind that he should meet Desdemona in complete isolation. For this Iago will help him to get Othello out of the way. Iago makes Othello and another gentleman to inspect the town’s fortification.
Desdemona seems to be quite sympathetic to Cassio when he tells her the whole story. Desdemona assures him that she will help him so that Othello forgives him and return him his former rank of Lieutenant. When Cassio was leaving Desdemona’s room, Iago and Othello reaches there and watch him leave. On Othello’s confirmation that whether he was Cassio or not, Iago starts igniting a fire of jealousy in Othello.
Due to this, Othello turns out to be upset and moody. Iago, to achieve his goal, suggests to Othello that Cassio and Desdemona might have some affair. On the other hand, Desdemona’s favor toward Cassio adds to Othello’s conviction that Desdemona is unfaithful to him.
Soon after a conservation between Othello and Iago, Desdemona comes to call Othello for a dinner where she finds that Othello is feeling unwell. She offers her handkerchief that he find too small and eventfully it fells down. This handkerchief is picked by Emilia remembering that Iago always wanted her to steal it from Desdemona.
Emilia gives the handkerchief to Iago that makes him overjoyed. Iago places the handkerchief in Cassio’s room as proof of Desdemona’s affair with Cassio. On Othello’s demand for evidence for the unfaithfulness of his wife, Iago tells him that he sees Cassio wiping his beard with the handkerchief that he gave Desdemona as a gift. On that point, Othello vows to avenge Desdemona and Cassio, while Iago vows to help him in this regard.
Later that evening, Othello demands from Desdemona to return him the handkerchief he gifted her, Desdemona says that she doesn’t have it and changes the topic. This makes Othello super angry and burst out. Later, Cassio comes across the handkerchief in his chamber and wonders about it. He gives that handkerchief to Bianca, a prostitute to copy its embroidery for him.
Too much consumed by jealousy, Othello falls into abstraction and has fits of epilepsy. Othello writes something on the ground, meanwhile, Cassio enters but Iago tells him to return a few minutes back. Here Iago plays another game. He, on the one side, tells Othello, as he recovers, that he is going to arrange a meeting with Cassio where he will confess his affair with Desdemona while on the other side he asks Cassio to say something about Bianca.
This creates a misunderstanding once more and Othello’s suspicions were confirmed. The scene catches fire when Bianca herself enters with the handkerchief chiding Cassio for making her a copy of it for him and he received it as a token of love given by some other woman. Desdemona also enters and gives Othello a letter from Venice. Othello is called back to home and instructed to appoint Cassio in place of him. This makes Othello super angry and strikes Desdemona.
Desdemona and Othello have fought and Othello accuses her of being a whore. Desdemona protested that was accompanied by Emilia but he ignores her and asks her to wait for her in the bedchamber tonight. Desdemona waits for him while sends Emilia away. Meanwhile, Iago convinces Roderigo that if he wants Desdemona he should kill Cassio.
Roderigo was instructed by Iago to kill Cassio, However, in an attempt to kill Cassio, Roderigo gets wounded by Cassio. Watching the scene and taking advantage of the moment, Iago attacks Cassio but fails to kill him rather wounds him. Othello, by hearing Cassio’s cry, assumes that he has been murdered by Iago as he had promised him to do so. Shortly after they discover that Roderigo has been killed. The clown takes Cassio to dress his wounds.
Meanwhile, in the bedchamber, Othello prepares himself to kill his sleeping wife. Desdemona wakes up and begged Othello. She confirms him her innocence but Othello oppresses her. Emilia enters with the news of Rodrigo’s death and Othello asks her if Cassio is dead or not that Emilia negates.
Soon Othello wounds Desdemona, she cries out claiming that she has committed a suicide. Emilia returns hearing the cries and asks Othello that what happened. He tells her that he has killed Desdemona for her faithfulness that was brought into attention by Iago.
Everyone else comes to the bedchamber. Emilia realizes immediately that what has been done by Iago and speaks up. Iago tries to silence Emilia. Othello, at first sided Iago and refers the handkerchief as a proof.
However, this confusion soon dispatches when Emilia tells him that she found the handkerchief and gave it to Iago. The crushed Othello attempts to kill Iago but he soon flees away after killing Emilia. He is immediately caught by the clowns. Othello tries to kill Iago but is disarmed. Othello makes a speech and kills himself. The ended with Lodovico’s speech who announces to hand over Othello’s house to Graziano and orders the execution of Iago.
Themes in Othello
Love and the Discordancy of Military Heroism
As Othello was a soldier, we see throughout the play that his married life is much affected. Just as he gets married, he is sent to Cyprus. In Cyprus when he tries to enjoy his marriage, an emergency alarm is rung in the whole town, though the matter was not that serious. We see that he asks for “fit disposition” for his wife.
While, on the other hand, we see Desdemona be very compromising a d compassionate wife. She only accompanies Othello to Cyprus but supports her and seems to be calm and untroubled with his husband’s going war. She doesn’t mind when she is awakened by the emergency alarm, however, was more curious than furious. Desdemona supports Othello in every situation and never let him feel down regarding any matter. She may also be called as Othello’s “rational warrior” and he, too, feels happy when she is around during everything.
Othello’s marriage to Desdemona provides Othello a certificate to enter to a Venetian society, previously, this society, in the play, seems to be fearful of Othello’s social status in white society; however, his marriage earn him a respect in Venetian’s society as a soldier.
Othello, consider that his success in love is just because he is a successful soldier, as he wins Desdemona’s heart by telling him the stories of wars, military travels, etc.
Moreover, Othello goes to Cyprus to fight against Turks, however, they are drowned by the natural disaster and Othello doesn’t get a chance to show his battle skills to Desdemona.
In Cyprus, they have nothing left to do. The last time we find him doing a military action is when he views fortification and that too was an extremely short scene in Act Ⅲ. Othello starts feeling uneasy in his private setting for not getting a chance to prove his manhood in public or in court.
Moreover, Iago takes advantage of the situation by calling his “epilepsy fit” the passion most unsuitable for such a brave soldier. Moreover, Iago also backbites Cassio and mentions him to Othello that Cassio has a very low opinion of him and think him as an enfeebling dream.
Othello confuses his identities (being soldier and lover) while desperately adhering to his former identity i.e. of a soldier. The manifestation of his possessiveness rapidly transfers from the conformist i.e. “Farewell the peaceful mind” to the bizarre. One can easily guess that Othello is leaving bad habit and is completely occupied with his identity as a soldier.
However, his attitude to discerning is rather warranted by its seductiveness to the spectators as well. The audience and the Critics both seem to find comfort and nobility in the final speech of Othello plus the anecdote he tells but still, he depends upon his identity as a soldier to deliver that speech not a lover and attempts to make the audience forget about his disastrous marital life.
The Danger of Isolation
In the play Othello, the action shifts to Cyprus from the city of Venice. The city of Cyprus faces little some external dander that is why it is highly protected by military defenses and natural forces as well. the army of Turks is destroyed by the natural disaster and once Othello, Desdemona, Iago, Roderigo, Cassio, and Emilia, the main characters of the play, reach Cyprus, they have nothing else to do but to spy and make prey on one another.
Throughout the play, isolation among characters imparts special effect, for instance. The soliloquies of Iago provide us knowledge of what he is going to do; the standing apart of Othello while the conversation between Iago and Cassio is going on. Everyone leaves the stage while Othello is alone with dead bodies of Emilia and Desdemona for some time.
More importantly, Othello is considered a man from another nation and is subject to isolation because of his physical appearance and the color of his skin. Iago manipulates the distance among character to achieve his cunning plans.
The characters in the play cannot be isolated, however, the play delivers a lesson that to isolate oneself in order to preserve oneself causes an ultimate self-destruction. In the play, such isolation causes the disastrous deaths of the main Character: Iago, Othello, Roderigo, and even Emilia falls in this category.
Othello Characters Analysis
He is the protagonist and the hero of the play. Othello, a Moor, and an army general at the city of Venice, has an expressive personality and powerful stature. He is respected by everyone around him. Despite his high status, he never gets rid of his insecurities due to his age, race, and life as a soldier. He is master of “free and open” nature that has been used by Iago to screw his love for his life partner, Desdemona, and changes it to prevailing and disparaging distrust.
She is the daughter of the senator of Venetian society, Brabanzio. When the plays open, we come to know that Othello and Desdemona are married secretly. However, in many ways, we see that Desdemona is stereotypical, pure and humble. Desdemona is very strong-minded and confident. She defends her marriage by jesting bawdily towards Iago and responds to Othello’s jealousy with dignity.
He is Othello’s ensign (an ancient job), and the antagonist of the play. He is about Twenty-eight years old. He deliberately hates Othello just because he has been promoted to the rank of lieutenant. Iago’s seeks revenge from the Othello by making him against his dear ones. His motivations, throughout the play, are never expressed clearly as if they originate in obsessive and he seems to find aesthetic joy in destruction and manipulation people.
A young and inexperienced soldier and Othello’s Lieutenant, whose higher status position is begrudged by Iago. He is truly faithful to Othello and is extremely ashamed of being caught up in the brawl and consequently loses his position as lieutenant. His youth, good looks, and friendship with Desdemona are being used by Iago to make Othello jealous of him and play on Othello’s insecurities.
She is Iago’s wife and attendant to Desdemona. She is a pessimistic and worldly woman, deeply attached to Desdemona and suspicious of her husband.
He is a jealous person and wants to marry Desdemona. He is a young, foolish and rich person who is assured that if he offers some money to Iago, he will help him to marry Desdemona. He gets frustrated when he knows about Desdemona’s marriage with Othello and then Othello takes her to Cyprus. Desperate enough to get Desdemona, he agrees to help Iago to kill Cassio.
She is a prostitute in Cyprus who is much more interested in Cassio, his regular customer. Cassio makes her believe that he will marry her.
He is Desdemona’s father. He is senator of Venetian society who is somewhat loudmouthed and arrogant person. Othello was also his friend who marries his daughter.
Duke Of Venice
He is the only official authority in the city of Venice. He has the great respect for Othello for being a soldier and military servant. In this play, his role is limited to the reconciliation of Othello and Brabanzio in act 1 and then direct Othello to Cyprus.
He was the governor of Cyprus before Othello was appointed. He appears in Act 2 when he verifies the status of the war and waits for Venetians to come.
He is a kinsman of Brabanzio and acts as a messenger from Venice to Cyprus. He appears in Act 4 with a letter for Othello to return to Venice while placing Cassio in his place as the governor of Cyprus.
He, too, is a kinsman who escorts Lodovico to Cyprus. In the middle of the final he reveals a news that Desdemona’s father, Brabanzio has died.
He is Othello’s servant. He only appears in two scenes i.e. Act 3 scene 4 and Act 4 scene 1. His arrivals echo and twist the action and confrontations of the main plots. For instance, his jests on the word “lie” and forestall Othello’s muddle of two connotations of that word.
Othello Literary Analysis
The play Othello is a story of a soldier who is an honorable and principled army general who encountered much military success, but due to errors in judgment and status as an outsider in the Venetian society, destroys his most cherished relationship and himself. The play opens in the grandeur style of military romance reciting on the Mediterranean Sea.
Conversely, the drama ends with a suffocating end in a bedchamber where the protagonist, Othello, kills himself after murdering his innocent wife. The play transfers from huge facades that deliver a background for Othello’s valor to central spaces that offer, both factually and metaphorically, no possibility to breathe.
The contracting trajectory of the play suggests that deleterious sentiments like distrust put a sensitive choke hold on an individual, throttling their capability to think undoubtedly and therefore averting them from performing rationally. The play distinctions the grounds in which Othello is self-assured and influential, such as the external world of an encounter, with the internal spaces in which he is less confident and able to be effortlessly operated.
The tenor of the play Othello mainly mirrors Iago’s view of the world that is considered as pessimism and misgiving. Iago couriers his pessimism often, and predominantly in opening acts of the play. When Roderigo comes to know about Desdemona’s marriage with Othello, he feels so shameful and calls it his virtue, however, Iago condemns him that virtue is a fig and reject the idea that person’s character is set in stone. Iago’s pessimistic attitude of life averts him from feeling regret or sorrowful for his deeds.
According to Iago, he just workouts his willpower on others and cannot be seized responsible if those others are deficient of their inborn disbelief and doubt. To Iago, Othello’s unexperienced confidence in a “truthful Iago” is the real trick, not Iago’s deceitfulness.
The pessimism of Iago sets the platform for the suspicious tone in the second half of the play. When Othello progressively drops in Iago’s influence, just like Iago, he too instigates to speak wary remarks that boom Iago’s skeptical worldview. Othello, not only starts referring to the falseness and unfaithfulness of women but also calls Desdemona a “whore” on her face. His growing uncertainty echoes an all-consuming obsession that strengthens the fervors of distrust.
As he develops progressively paranoid, he inclines into a close to schizophrenic misperception. In an instant of no reason, he suggests that nature would devote herself is such a surveillance passion without some directions. Othello claims that he would not feel so intensely bothered if nothing had actually occurred amid Cassio and Desdemona. Consequently, since he does feel troubled, the custody of infidelity must be well started. Othello who usually is so rational, eloquent, and self-possessed, here employs a disordered reason that platforms the tone of fear that surpasses the play.