Setting (Time, place, influence)

Othello is set most likely between 1470 and 1522, initially in Venice. During this age it was not permitted for the general of the Venetian army to be a citizen, thus Othello the Moor holds the position. Though the play begins in Venice, most of it is set in Cyprus, where Othello and his forces must go to finish resolving a military conflict. Because Shakespeare was English, it is likely that his knowledge of Venice and Cyprus was limited and based partly on stereotypes. Because his audience was primarily English, he includes “shoutouts” to them, such as when he commends their drinking prowess. Many of the specific scenes are described vaguely, such as “a street” or “a room in the castle,” evidence of Shakespeare’s priorities in his productions: dialogue and content over aesthetics and detailed sets. (CBerk)


Act I

The play begins in the middle of a conversation between Roderigo and Iago at night in Venice. Iago tells Roderigo he hates Othello, a Moorish general, because he promoted Michael Cassio as lieutenant instead of Iago. Embittered by a decision he perceives as ludicrously unfair, he tells Roderigo, "I follow him to serve my turn upon him," i.e. secretly prepare for revenge. Roderigo is also lovesick for Desdemona, the most beautiful woman in Venice, who has eloped with Othello. Iago manipulates a forlorn Roderigo by telling him they should tell Brabantio, the father of Desdemona, his daughter has married an old, black man. After discovering her empty bedroom, Brabantio’s prejudices lead him angrily to an inn in order to confront Othello. Iago plays his part cunningly in scene two by warning Othello of Brabantio’s newfound knowledge and claims he vehemently upheld his kind general’s honor. Brabantio attacks Othello, claiming Othello should be punished for magically casting his daughter under a foreign spell and brings matters to the Duke of Venice. At the same time this is happening, Venice is in a war with the Turks. The Duke soon arrives, recognizes Othello is vital to winning the war, hears Desdemona’s claims she is truly in love with Othello, and allows her to accompany him to Cyprus where the army is assembling. Iago also convinces Roderigo to travel to Cyprus to ruin Othello and acquire the love of Desdemona. At the end of act I scene iii, Iago states he will destroy Cassio and convince Othello Cassio and Desdemona are lovers. (Aashna)

Act II

Montano, current head of the government in Cyprus, and three gentlemen express their concern for Othello’s safe arrival due to the violent storm on the seas. Finally, the joyous news arrives that the storm has destroyed the Turkish fleet and that Michael Cassio’s ship has come upon shore safely. Montano, now grateful for Cassio’s safety, prays for Othello’s arrival by proclaiming, “Pray Heavens he be [safe], / For I have served him, and the man commands / Like a full soldier” (2.1.34-36). The following ship docks with Othello’s fair wife, Desdemona, along with Iago, Emilia, and Roderigo. Desdemona is plagued by anxiety at Othello’s prolonged absence and kills time by engaging in an argument with duplicitous Iago about women’s roles and expectations, which Desdemona sees as “old fond paradoxes to make fools laugh i’ / the alehouse” (2.1.138-139). Once Othello comes on shore, he and Desdemona retire together in insurmountable happiness. Iago then uses this time effectively to scheme with Roderigo as a game piece. Roderigo is to disguise himself and provoke Cassio into a fight. Iago gives Roderigo reason to act because he says that if charming Cassio were to remain Lieutenant, Desdemona would eventually become his lover, and Roderigo, deeply infatuated with Desdemona, becomes angered at this thought. Roderigo, who has impulsively sold his land to win Desdemona’s heart in Cyprus, willingly agrees to the plan.
Since the war against the Turks has officially ended, celebrations in Cyprus begin at five and go until eleven. Cassio and Iago are to keep watch as night-guards, and since Iago knows that Casso is an easy drunk, he encourages Cassio to drink and lose composure by singing English tunes. Cassio flees from the scene, and Iago is left relaying to Montano that Cassio is a regular drunkard by exclaiming, “And do but see his vice. / ‘Tis to his virtue a just equinox, / The one as long as the other” to which Montano exclaims that perhaps Othello should be made aware of Cassio’s misconduct (2.3.104-106). Cassio then stumbles in fighting with Roderigo, while Montano tries to restrain Cassio, but then Cassio gets into a brawl with Montano. Iago pretends to pursue Roderigo but soon returns and is pleased to hear Othello relieve Cassio of his position.
Cassio remains untouched by Iago’s consoling words and fears for his ruined reputation and public image. Iago advises Cassio to win back Othello’s good graces through Desdemona, as she will plead Cassio’s case to the Moor. Roderigo, overly trusting and gullible, is convinced by Iago to stay patient for Desdemona’s love in Cyprus. Cassio, rather hopeful, retires as Iago continues to plot how he will find Desdemona cheating with Cassio. Malicious manipulator Iago ruminates on and praises his “honest” advice to Cassio and waits for his plan to unfold. (CChiaroni)


In Act III Cassio beseeches Desdemona to speak to Othello on his behalf, in hope to regain Othello’s favor. Othello enters the scene observing his wife and Cassio, and accompanied by Iago who states that “I cannot think …That he would steal away so guilty like/ Seeing you coming,” and begins to plant a seed of doubt in Othello’s heart (3.2 40) Desdemona sees Othello and immediately speaks about Cassio’s loyalty and service in attempt to convince Othello of Cassio’s innocence. After Desdemona leaves, Othello, hearing Iago’s words, begin to doubt his wife’s fidelity and Cassio’s loyalty. Although Othello appears to be certain of Desdemona’s purity, Iago uses vague and suggestive words to advice that Othello to “perceive him [Cassio] and his means” because Iago has “ fears” about Cassio and Desdemona (3.2 250) Othello doubts Desdemona slightly, but when she reappears, he immediately forgets his qualms. However, upon reentering, Desdemona tries to cure Othello’s headache with her handkerchief, which she loses hold of. Later Emilia finds the handkerchief and gives it to Iago in hope to gain his appreciation. Later Iago uses the handkerchief as a means of convincing Othello of Cassio and Desdemona’s adultery by lying about seeing Cassio “wipe his beard with” it, and how Cassio muttered words about Desdemona in his sleep(3.3 439). Othello, Infuriated and filled with jealousy confronts Desdemona in scene four, and Desdemona, not knowing what happened to Othello continues her quest on speaking for Cassio, thus further angering Othello. Othello leaves and speaking to Emilia, Desdemona blames herself for not being helpful to her husband, revealing her purity and gentle heart. Later Bianca enters the scene with Cassio, inquiring about his absence and Cassio hands Desdemona’s handkerchief, found in his chamber (left by Iago), to Bianca. Bianca becomes jealous but takes the handkerchief and leaves. (Tai)

Act IV

In the first scene of Act IV, Iago tells Othello directly that Cassio has been bragging about being with Desdemona. Then he tells Othello to hide while he questions Cassio about Desdemona, but in reality he questions him about Bianca. Othello witnesses their conversation, assuming they are speaking about his wife, and he becomes filled with rage, especially after Bianca enters with Desdemona's handkerchief. This is enough proof for Othello, and he decides to strangle his wife in bed. Desdemona enters with Lodovico, who is fresh from Venice, and Othello hits her, making Lodovico question his character. In the second scene, Othello questions Emilia about Desdemona's faithfulness. Desdemona enters, and Othello yells at her. Desdemona asks Iago for advice, ironically, and then Roderigo comes in wondering where his jewels are. In the third scene, Desdemona and Emilia talk about the nature of men, and Desdemona sings the willow song. (HW)

Act V

Act V starts on a street in Cyprus. Iago and Roderigo await Cassio's arrival (where he meets Bianca), and while Iago hides in the shadows, Roderigo attacks Cassio. Cassio stabs Roderigo, and Iago creeps up to stab Cassio undetected. Othello enters, hearing Cassio's cries, thinks Iago has "kept his word" to slay Cassio, and goes off to Desdemona. Next, Lodovico and Gratiano enter, unable to identify faces because of the darkness until Iago comes with a light, and they find Cassio injured. Iago then stabs Roderigo to tie up the loose ends, and suggests that Roderigo is to blame (for Cassio did not see his assailant). Enters Emilia, who then blames Bianca for being a whore, and sends her to let Othello and Desdemona know. In the next scene, we Othello standing over a sleeping Desdemona saying that he must murder her lest she cheat other men. She wakes, Othello confronts her about Cassio, she pleads innocent, Othello says Cassio admitted it but can no longer speak, he brings up the hankerchief ordeal, and then he smothers her. Emilia is heard from outside the door telling him that Cassio lives, Desdemona wakes up (???) and cries murder by her own hand. Othello admits to her murder, Emilia tells him the truth, the rest of the gang enter the room. Next, they realize Iago is a lying bastard but he escapes after slaying Emilia, only to later return bounded. When he is returned, Othello slashes him and then kills himself. Then Gratiano is named Othello's successor, leaving the nobility to restore order. (Win)



Othello the Moor, the tragic hero, is the black general of Venice. Recently married to and infatuated with Desdemona, Othello is sent to Cyprus by the Duke of Venice on business. There, Iago takes advantage of Othello’s trusting nature by convincing him that Desdemona is having an affair with his Lieutenant Cassio. In a fit of rage Othello murders Desdemona while portraying himself as representative of all men betrayed by women. After discovering Iago’s deceit and his own error, Othello is wracked with guilt, and begs that he be remembered not as a man easily jealous, but as one taken advantage of by Iago. (Luke Hedrick)

Othello is so readily taken in by Iago’s lies because of his natural inclination to place his trust in a friend without reservation. As General, Othello is a respected man and therefore never expects to be taken advantage of; his pride allows him to overlook such a possibility. It would have been wise for Othello to use a greater amount of caution, due to the fact that he is from a different country and of a different race than the others in the play, but once again he is blinded by the kind, persuasive words of Iago. His demise came about from his decision to trust Iago, though he cannot be entirely blamed for his thoughts, and, tragically, he lost his true love out of sheer stupidity. (ElizC)

Although jealousy is often seen as the main cause for Othello to be so easily swayed by Iago, insecurity plays a role in Othello killing his wife. Othello, with the help of Iago and Brabantio, has convinced himself that he is not naturally right for Desdemona. He believes he does not deserve her because of their roots; she is Venetian Royalty and he is a Moor. Othello is constantly addressed as the “Moor,” reminding him of his different back ground.
Also, Othello killing Desdemona for “revenge” seems extreme. But, Othello is a war general and the usual punishment for betrayal in war is execution. This does not mean that Othello killing his wife is justified, but it helps to understand where Othello was coming from. (MMcG)


Desdemona is the daughter of Venitian senator Barbantio. In an act uncharacteristic of women of her class, Desdemona falls in love with and marries Othello, the black general of the army. Their period of happiness, however is short lived as Iago influences Othello to believe that Desdemona has been cheating on him with the Lieutenant, Cassio. Because of Desdemona's kindness and willingness to aid Cassio in getting back into Othello's good graces, she is easy to incriminate with out solid evidence. Ultimately, Desdemona is murdered by her husband for a crime she did not commit. However, even in her dying breath, Desdemona attempts to defend Othello by not revealing him as her murderer. (AsedaG-T)

With the exception of deceiving her father to marry Othello, Desdemona comes across as the perfectly devoted wife to Othello throughout the play. Her kindness, caring nature, and love are emphasized as she attempts to advocate Cassio's plight to Othello and also remains faithful and loyal in her relationship with Othello. Her undoing comes about because of Iago's perversion of these same characteristics; additionally, these characteristics contrast to those of all the other characters in the play. Eventually, Iago manipulates Othello into believing that Desdemona is cheating on him, using her admirable characteristics to prove her supposed infidelity. Desdemona is murdered by Othello in the final act; however, she attempts to clear herself before she dies, exposing Iago. (CarolineKelly)


The jerk who can be blamed for Othello's downfall, the murder of Desdemona, the death of Roderigo, injury of Cassio, and just the general tragedy that defines this play. He manipulates people's emotions and traits to control situations. He is able to suggest to Othello that Desdemona is cheating on him without actually saying it. He makes a bold statement then quickly withdrawals so that Othello remains hooked. Personally, I think Iago is a psychological genius. He is able to twist everything to his advantage. Its the definition of passive aggressive behavior. I respect his ability to get what he wants out of any situation. Plus, his name always reminds me of the parrot in Aladdin. (ECL)

Iago is Othello’s treacherous ancient (third in command) who, driven by jealousy, vengeance, and often just pure sadism, brings Othello’s life crashing down about him. Iago is as manipulative as he is intelligent. His astonishing ability to cause confusion and destruction comes from his unmatched skill of playing people off one another. Iago is, in a word, sociopathic. Unlike the archetypes of single-minded villains bent only on ruthless destruction (thanks to being raped as a child, being rejected from art school, being obsessed with domination or power or money or god or death, etc.), Iago is so powerful because he can manipulate himself in order to manipulate others. He is a trusted advisor to Othello, an amiable comrade to Cassio, a frightening master to Roderigo, a caring figure to Desdemona, and a misogynist bastard to Emilia, his wife. Iago is no average “bad guy.” He is evil in the highest sense: he does not inflict pain by simply ordering the destruction of human life. Instead, he makes sure he has everyone around him bound to him by trust or obedience, marionettes to the cruel puppet master’s god-like fingers, and then twists their lives into misfortune, contorting their wills and emotions into a wretched show. Iago doesn’t just kill. He tortures, watches his victims squirm, watches them act and react, always unaware of the whole truth, always stumbling over to him (of all people!) for advice. It would almost seem that Iago is the self-appointed punisher of virtuous people, as he takes pleasure in ruining Roderigo (OK, maybe Roderigo isn’t notably virtuous) with the fool’s own love (lust? obsession?) and corrupting Othello’s nobility. The only justification for Desdemona’s misfortune is that she is virtuous—and that is hardly justification at all. Iago is more than just a jealous jerk; he is a frightening reminder of the capability of humans to so effortlessly and unsympathetically injure those around them. Iago is an evil to be feared more than some murderous villain, as he is unpredictable, shows no signs of remorse, and his true motives are largely untraceable. (pbowman)

Michael Cassio

A gentleman, a soldier, Michael Cassio may be the most natural/believable character in the play. Othello's second-in-command, Cassio is a source of jealousy for Iago. Iago manipulates Cassio's gentlemanly mannerisms (ie: kissing of the hand) in order to convince Othello that Michael Cassio is cuckolding (making his wife cheat on) him. Iago gets Cassio shwasted and allows him to humiliate himself and lose his position and respect from Othello. Furthermore, Iago utilizes his desire to return to good favor with Othello in order to play him off as a lover of Desdemona. As expected, Cassio is innocent; but his virtues are spun by Iago in such a way that Cassio represents all that is evil for Othello during much of the play. Ultimately, Cassio is placed in charge by Lodovico to restore order. On a completely irrelevant note, I believe Cassio is the biggest bro in the play. (BMITT)


Roderigo is essentially Iago's sidekick. He believes that he is in love with Desdemona, the wife of Othello, and will do anything to win her affections. While following Iago's instructions which happen to only benefit Iago, he gives up his land, buys jewels in order to impress and flatter Desdemona through wealth, and gives up his lifestyle. Roderigo gives the jewels to Iago thinking Iago will give them to Desdemona as a present from him, but Iago hoards Roderigo's presents intended for Desdemona. Ultimately, Roderigo dies while following Iago's instruction to injure Cassio, when he is stabbed by Iago, a person he believed was a trusted friend. Roderigo ends up being used as a tool which Iago uses to complete his malicious plan. (Elyse)

Roderigo is another character in the Shakesperian play that is blinded by love. Roderigo foolishly listens to Iago's evil plan even though he knows Iago has tricked him before because he believes that Iago is helping him get Desdemona. Shakespeare paints Roderigo as a dumb character to further the idea of the dangers of love and how it can hinder rational thought and reason. (awan)


Brabantio is Desdemona's father. He is a venetian senator and was a friend of Othello. He is furious when he learns of Desdemona and Othello's relationship and accuses Othello of trickery and disowns his daughter. His accusations allow the audience to realize Othello's complete trust and love in Desdemona as he calls for her to defend their marriage to her father. (LL)

Brabantio is also significant because he warns Othello that Desdemona has deceived him and she might betray her husband (FORESHADOWING!!!). Othello originally “shrugs” this warning off and claims that he has complete faith in his “fair” wife when he says, “She has deceived her father, and may thee” (I. iii. 290). However, later in the play when Iago begins to convince him that Desdemona is being unfaithful, Othello remembers this warning. Perhaps this is another contributing factor to his jealousy! (KWatts)


Emilia is a virtuous and strong woman, who is overshadowed by her immoral husband, Iago. While she has given him no reason to admonish her, he speaks with folly on the inferiority and sexuality of women, so much so that Desdemona must beg Emilia "not [to] learn of him, Emilia, though he be thy husband" (2.1.161). While Emilia appears to stay loyal to Iago, as demonstrated by her compliance in stealing Desdemona's sacred handkerchief, her true loyalty remains with Desdemona. Emilia defends her fair, honest lady to her own death bed, revealing for the first time her husband's deceitful nature. As she rescues Desdemona's reputation of chastity from the accusations of Othello and Iago, she defies the man that society tells her she should unwaveringly stand by in order to preserve the virtue of the only character she still has faith in, thus solidifying her own loyal nature. (gaustin)


She is a prostitute of whom Cassio is a frequent customer. She is in love with Cassio and hopes he will propose to her but does not return this sentiment. Bianca also unknowingly plays a vital part in convincing Othello of Desdemona's unfaithfulness. While Othello is eavesdropping on Cassio, Bianca confronts Cassio about a handkerchief she found in his bedroom. She accuses Cassio of having another lover and betraying her affection. All this confirms Othello's suspicion that Cassio has been speaking around with Desdemona. In a way Bianca is Iago's lucky charm; she accidently provided the visual proof Othello had demanded from Iago to prove his accusations toward Desdemona (SarahB)

Bianca also helps to define Cassio's character. Cassio has no problem finding women because he is handsome and charming. Bianca is head-over heals in love with Cassio and she is not shy about voicing this love. Yet, Cassio has no interest in marrying her because she is simply an amusment for him while he is in Cyprus. Bianca's over abundant affection for Cassio as well as her reputation as a prostitute add to Othello's anger because Cassio is able to get women with ease, yet from the events that transpire Othello believes that he choose to take his wife along with the multitudes of others. Bianca's personality and occupation play a vital role in breaking down Othello's trust as well as further defining Cassio as a womanizer. (Molly T)

Themes/Meanings of the Work


One key symbol in the play is Othello’s handkerchief that he presents to Desdemona as the first token of his affections. Aside from the fact that it was woven by a two hundred year old sibyl and is said to possess magical powers, it also holds importance in Othello’s family in that his mother used it to keep her husband faithful. Also, the handkerchief is extremely significant to Othello in that he associated the fabric with Desdemona’s chastity and fidelity. Therefore once Iago cleverly snatches the handkerchief away from Desdemona and urges Othello to ask his wife about the whereabouts of the handkerchief, she hesitates and fails to present his token. Othello then comes to a realization that if Desdemona has lost the symbol of her chastity, than she must be having an affair. The handkerchief itself symbolizes different meanings for the individual characters, but generally represents chastity, love, and commitment. (Tmott)

References to animals are used throughout the play (primarily by Iago) to symbolize prejudices and denote a sense of dehumanization as the characters are depicted as savage beasts. This imagery provides a commentary on the basest nature of man and, as such imagery evolves even in Othello’s speech (initially highbrow and and entirely reasonable), exemplifies Iago’s ability to manipulate the minds of his peers who, ultimately, fall prey to his malevolent scheme. (rlovejoy)

Significance of Opening Scene

Act I Scene I is essential for the greater play because it provides the basic context and sets the stage for the greater conflicts of the play. In a series of long speeches, Iago relates the particulars of his evil plan. He laments about his failure to be promoted over Cassio and argues his superior qualifications. Iago tells Rodrigo of his evil plan, stating that "[he follows] him to serve [his] turn upon him" (1.1.42). Immediately the reader is aware of both Iago's ambition and cunning and his intention to seek revenge against Othello for this perceived injustice. Iago also states that "I am not what I am," which encapsulates so much of Iago's character as he repeatedly portrays himself in such a way to manipulate those around him (1.1.65).
Iago's visit to Barbantio also establishes the tension that underlies Othello's and Desdemona's relationship. Iago uses racist language such as "an old black ram…tupping your white ewe" to tell Barbanito of Othello's relationship with his daughter (1.1.87-88). Immediately, we get the impression that Othello is an outsider and his relationship at best is unusual and at worse sinful. It significant that in the first scene Othello is not conveyed as a magnanimous general but rather portrayed by Iago as essentially lascivious animal. It gives the reader a bad impression of Othello and in a way establishes his weakness as an outsider he will combat later in the play. It also provides immediate evidence of Iago's duplicity as he slanders Othello and then scurries off to maintain the image of loyalty. (W. Almquist)

Significance of Closing Scene

The significance of the closing scene is that it completes the tragedy of Othello, bringing his death along with Desdemona and Emilia's. The scene opens with a soliloquy from Othello that describes his conflicted feelings in killing Desdemona, as he says he will "kill thee,/ And love thee after" (5.2.18-19). Desdemona awakens after this soliloquy, and the only confrontation between Othello and his supposedly unfaithful wife ensues. Othello finally accuses Desdemona to her face of cheating with Cassio, a charge that she denies and pleads to Othello to call on Cassio to clear her name. This plea is reminiscent of Othello's own plea for Desdemona's testimony on his behalf early in the play. While Desdemona begs Othello for her life and maintains that she is innocent, Othello has crossed the point of no return and carries out his plan to kill her, though he does so without harming her outward appearance because he can't stand to do it bloodily. Emilia then comes in, Othello confesses to her that he killed Desdemona on the advice and proddings of Iago. This is where Iago's plan begins to unravel somewhat and he becomes the villain. Emilia finds her voice in this scene, and stands up to Iago despite his threats and protests. Iago stabs Emilia after she reveals his plan, and he then flees only to be caught by Gratiano and Montano. Emilia dies quickly after, and Iago is brought back into the room where he swears himself to silence. Othello makes a final request of the witnesses of his tragedy that they speak of him as the proud and loving man that he was before Iago's tricks made him jealous. Othello then kills himself, completing his tragic fall. (Rlucas)

Fun Stuff

Desdemona singing to the willow tree:

Shakespeare insult kit…lolz

Ian Mckellen actually is Iago…What…