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Othello Summary and the Character of Iago

Updated on March 14, 2012
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Act I

Act I of Othello opens with Iago and Roderigo in the streets, arguing that even though the rich Roderigo pays Iago to help him win Desdemona’s heart, Desdemona will never love him because she is married to Othello. Iago persuades Roderigo to try to get rid of Othello by making Desdemona’s family hate Othello. When the two men stand outside the house of Brabantio (Desdemona’s father), they shout to him that he has been robbed. Roderigo and Iago tell Brabantio that Desdemona and Othello are in a sexual relationship, which angers Brabantio because Othello is a moore. Roderigo then leads Brabantio’s man to Othello.

Just after Cassio tells Othello he is requested by the duke of Venice, Brabantio’s men enter and Brabantio accuses Othello of using charms and spells to steal his daughter. Brabantio then follows Othello to the duke and accuses Othello of stealing Desdemona, but Othello explains that he and Desdemona married after she fell in love with him and his stories. Desdemona states that, because of the marriage, her loyalty stays with Othello (as opposed to her father). She then decides to go with Othello to Cyprus as he plans to defend the island from the Turks. Afterwards, Iago meets with Roderigo and convinces him to grant him more money for his services. After Roderigo leaves, Iago tells the audience how he plans to deceive Othello into thinking that Desdemona is cheating with Cassio.

Act II

Act II begins with Montano predicting that the Turkish fleet would not be able to survive the storm, and he is correct. The first ship from Venice arrives safely, however, carrying: Iago, Emilia, Desdemona, and Roderigo. While Iago rants about the evil ways of women, Cassio pulls Desdemona aside to talk to her. Iago notices that Cassio holds Desdemona’s hand as he talks to her, so he concocts a plan to make it seem as if Cassio has a liking for Desdemona. As all the people exit to celebrate the drowning of the Turks, Iago and Roderigo stay. Iago convinces Roderigo that Desdemona will soon leave Othello, but instead for Cassio. He also convinces Roderigo to start a fight with Cassio.

At Othello’s celebration of both safety from Turks and his wedding, Cassio is on guard, but intoxicated. When other men are around, also intoxicated, Cassio charges Roderigo, but is held down by the other men. Roderigo flees to report a mutiny, and as the other men try to hold Cassio down, he stabs Montano. When Othello comes to find out what happened, Iago pretends to defend Cassio. Suspecting Iago is only trying to keep Cassio safe, Othello dismisses him. Immediately after, however, Iago convinces Cassio to appeal to Desdemona for help, setting up Cassio to be framed for sleeping with Desdemona.

Act III

In the beginning of Act III, Cassio sends musicians to play outside Othello’s window as a gift, but Othello sends his clown to shoo them away. Cassio asks the clown to search out Emilia, who then lets him in to talk with Desdemona. When Othello and Iago enter, however, Cassio flees (creating more suspicion on himself). Desdemona tries to convince Othello take Cassio back into service. Othello agrees to, but refuses to tell his wife when.

Then alone with Othello, Iago starts to press the idea of a relationship between Cassio and Desdemona. After a short while, Iago moves on from the topic, but the damage has already been done. Othello is now very suspicious of his wife, and when she offers him her handkerchief at dinner, he pushes her away. Iago retrieves the lost handkerchief from Emilia and uses it to convince Othello, along with other false stories, that Desdemona is unchaste. Othello vows to attain vengeance against Cassio and Desdemona, and then promotes Iago to the position of lieutenant. Othello yells at Desdemona for not having the handkerchief (which Iago now has), but the unaware Desdemona believes that Othello is just stressing over a political matter. Meanwhile, Cassio is visited by Bianca, a prostitute.

Act IV

Act IV starts with Iago talking to Othello. Iago tells Othello that he will talk to Cassio and ask him about his sexual relations with Desdemona, allowing Othello to listen in on the conversation. When Cassio comes to talk however, Iago asks him instead about Bianca, and Cassio boasts of his sexual relationship with the prostitute. Othello hears these stories, but he does not know they are about Bianca.

Later that night, Othello finds out he will be going back to Venice, with Cassio serving as his replacement. When Desdemona expresses happiness towards this, Othello takes it the wrong way and strikes her in public. When Othello asks Emilia if Desdemona has been unfaithful she tells him no, but he does not believe her. After Iago lies to Desdemona and tells her that Othello is simply stressed because of a political issue, she tells Emilia to set her wedding sheets on the bed for that night. After Othello sends her to bed and tells her he will be with her shortly, Desdemona expects that he will kill her.

Act V

In the beginning of Act V, Roderigo tries to stab Cassio, but cannot pierce his armor. When Cassio retaliates by stabbing him, Iago comes from behind and stabs Cassio without giving away his identity. Meanwhile, Othello kisses his wife for the last time, then proceeds to smother her with a pillow. When Emilia comes in to tell Othello of Cassio’s injury, Desdemona is not completely dead, but as she dies she shouts that she is killing herself (in order to protect Othello from prosecution). Othello takes the blame, however, admitting that he killed his wife.

The truth comes out about Iago’s deception because of Emilia. Angered, Iago stabs and kills her. When Lodovico, Montano, Cassio and Iago enter, Iago is taken prisoner and stabbed by Othello, but does not die. Othello finds out the truth and is told that he will be stripped of his power and taken back to Venice. Instead of giving in to arrest, Othello pulls out a third knife and stabs himself, falling into bed with his dead wife. The play ends with Gratiano as Othello’s heir, Montano in charge of executing Iago, Cassio as governor of Cyprus, and Lodovico preparing to leave to return to Venice.

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