Othello by William Shakespeare (1564 - 1616)

by William Shakespeare
(1564 - 1616)

Type of Work:

Tragic, romantic drama


Venice and the island, Cyprus; early sixteenth

Principal Characters

Othello, the Moor of Venice, a black military
man acclaimcd for his conquests

Desdemona, his wife, the beautiful daughter
of a government official

Iago, Othello's devious ensign

Emilia, lago's wife, and attendant to


Cassio, Othello's devoted lieutenant

Story Overveiw

Othello, Moorish commander of the armed
forces of Venice, had secretly married Desdemona, the much younger daughter
of the respected Senator Brabantio. Capitalizing on this news, Othello's
ensign, Iago, who had earlier professed his desires to Desdemona without
receiving her love in return, sought revenge. Also passed over for promotion
as Othello's new lieutenant chief of staff, the Moor having chosen instead
a loyal Florentine, Michael Cassio, Iago now devised a scheme to rid himself
of these sorry reminders of his own failings. He dispatched his inexperienced
follower, Roderigo, to inform Brabantio of the illicit marriage.

The thought of a beguiling Moor's marrying
his beloved daughter without consent, led the Senator with his guards to

Othello's house. However, violence was postponed by the report of an imminent
attack on Cyprus from armed Turkish galleys. The Duke of Venice summoned

Othello to the senate chambers. When Desdemona appeared and professed her
love for Othello, the Duke cleared him of wrongdoing, saying to Brabantio,

"If virtue no delighted beauty lack, / Your son-in-law is far more fair
than black." Then the Duke directed his courageous commander to lead the

Venetian forces to Cyprus in its defense.

With his honor intact, and through Desdemona's
pleas to remain with her love, Othello gained permission to have her sail
with him. For the voyage, Othello entrusted Desdemona to the care of Iago's
wife, Emilia, who did not suspect her husband's treachery. Before the soldier
band could reach its enemy, a storm destroyed the Turkish fleet and dispersed
the Venetian vessels. Fortunately, all of Othello's ships returned safely
to Cyprus and Othello and his bride were reunited.

Iago's hateful plan turned now to lies
and innuendo. Seeing the infatuation his pawn Roderigo had for Desdemona,

Iago engaged Rodcrigo in conversation, promising that he could secure for
him Desdemona's love:

I hate the Moor. My cause is hearted: thine
both no less reason. Let s be conjunctive in our revenge against him. If
thou canst cuckold him, thou dost thyself a pleasure, me a sport.

But then evil Iago demanded a price for

Desdemona: Roderigo would have to engage Cassio in a fight during the lieutenant's
night watch. Iago further fanned Roderigo's readiness to kill Cassio by
claiming that Cassio was Desdcmona's latest love.

That night Iago succeeded in getting Cassio
drunk, and the brawl turned to riot. By way of reprimand, Othello was forced
to demotc Cassio, a severe blow to the high-ranking officer. Desdemona
nobly appealed to her husband on Cassio's behalf, in an attempt to revive
their friendship. This innocent act provided Iago with yet another idea
- a way to convince the Moor of his wife's "natural attraction" to the
handsome young Florentine.

Iago approached the despondent Cassio and
convinced him that a meeting could be arranged between him and Dcsdcmona;
and she could use her influence to have Cassio's position restored. When
the meeting took place, Iago drew Othello aside to cause him to see Cassio
in the act of "soliciting" his wife. He also began his line of subtle allusions
to gossip of a prior romance between the two. His clever suggestions continued,
daily planting seeds of jealousy in Othello's heart.

Meanwhile, Desdemona could sense her husband's
growing despair. Othello's jealous rages grieved not only her, his ill-starred
wife, but also all those under his command. Emilia, Desdemona's loving
caretaker, swore of her mistress' fidelity, but the tormented Othello would
not listen.

Iago's plan was promoted even more when
he obtained a handkerchief Othello had given to Desdemona as a love token.

It had been found by Emilia, who intended to return it to her mistress.

Instead, Iago secretly planted it in Cassio's bed.

Tortured over the weeks, and weary of Iago's
incessant insinuations, Othello finally demanded proof from Iago of Desdemona's

Villain, be sure thou prove my love a whore,

Or by the worth of man's eternal soul,

Thou hadst been better have been born
a dog

Than answer my wak'd wrath ...

Iago swore to have heard Cassio speak words
of love to Desdemona in his sleep. As additional evidence he cited having
seen Cassio wipe his beard with the missing scarf, which Cassio had since
discovered in his quarters. Iago's cunning plan was working; Othello was
finally convinced:

Othello: Get me some poison, Iogo, this

Iago: Do it at with poison. Strangle her
in her bed, even the bed