Othello: The Moor of Venice - Summary

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      Othello, The Moor of Venice is a tragedy by William Shakespeare, published in Quarto in 1622 as well as in the First Folio of 1623. The source is a story in the Hecatommithi of Giraldo Cinthio (1565).

      Othello, a Moor who has become a trusted general of the Venetian army, has secretly married Desdemona, daughter of a senator, Brabantio. It is immediately revealed to the audience that Othello’s ensign Iago, whom Othello believes to be utterly loyal and ‘honest’, is scheming against him, ostensibly but perhaps no more than partially, because Othello chose Michael Cassio as his lieutenant in preference to ago. It is at Iago’s prompting that Roderigo, a foolish suitor for Desdemona’s hand, reports the marriage to Brabantio. The Outraged father demands Othello’s arrest, but has to accept the whole-heartedness of Desdemona’s love when she appears before the senate. The news that the Turks are planning an attack on Cyprus requires Othello’s immediate departure. He is joined in Cyprus by Desdemona, Iago, Cassio and Roderigo.

      The dispersal of the Turkish fleet leaves Iago free to pursue his schemes in Cyprus. He contrives to discredit Cassio, whom Othello dismisses. Iago advises Cassio to appeal to Desdemona, and implants in Othello’s mind a suspicion that Desdemona is more than friendly with Cassio. Her support of Cassio, together with Iago’s torrent of innuendo, deepens the suspicion. Iago takes full advantage of Desdemona's accidental dropping of a handkerchief, the very one that Othello gave her as the first token of his love. He secretes it among Cassio’s possessions, and the luckless Cassio gives it to his mistress, Bianca. When Othello sees the handkerchief in Bianca’s possession, he is convinced of Desdemona’s infidelity and humiliates her in public, to the dismay not least of Iago’s increasingly troubled wife, Emilia.

      Iago incites Roderigo to kill Cassio, but Roderigo manages only to wound him. Iago kills Roderigo to ensure his silence, and Othello, overwhelmed by the horror of a tarnished love, kills Desdemona. In the presence of Venetian emissaries, Emilia now tells the details that reveal Iago’s guilt. Iago kills her, is wounded by Othello and escapes. The remorseful Othello stabs himself, the recaptured Iago is condemned to torture and prison, and Cassio is appointed to take command in Cyprus.

      Whilst affairs of state are prominent in, Othello, the domestic tragedy of a fine marriage vindictively destroyed is the play’s dominant, concern. This narrow focus makes the play unique among Shakespeare’s great tragedies, but the towering achievement of both craft and imagination is the plotting and portrayal of the relationship between Iago and Othello. No’ attempt to explain the motives for Iago’s malice can adequately account for its impact. An antagonism that masquerades as friendship is embodied even in the language of the two men. The manner in which Othello’s rhetoric is mocked by the prosaic Iago has been the basis of many famous stage rivalries. Very few actors of Othello have been able to hold their own against the undermining thrusts of clever Iago’s.

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