On the street in Venice, a debate takes place between Roderigo, a nobleman, and Iago, an ancient (captain) in the defense forces. Roderigo is in love with Desdemona, and he paid Iago large sums of money, provided that Iago would give him gifts and praise him with her. Roderigo hopes to win Desdemona's love and marry her. However, they now have news that Desdemona left the house of her father, Brabantio, a senator, and fled and married Othello, a Moor who is a Venetian general in the defense forces.
Roderigo fears he has lost both, the woman he's in love with and his money. Iago reveals to Roderigo that it is in his (Iago's) nature to conspire and tell lies in order to get what he wants, but that he has a plan. He hates Othello for promoting Cassio to the position of lieutenant, a position Iago wanted for himself.
Iago plans to bring Othello to ruin, and Roderigo will get Desdemona. First, they must awaken Brabantio and provoke his displeasure over Desdemona's departure by telling him that she was abducted and that she was married to Moor Othello. They knocked and shouted until Brabantio came out on the balcony. Iago told him that Desdemona has been kidnapped, and Brabantio, furious, joins Roderico to wake up the neighbors and organize a search.
Iago warns Othello that he can legally try to annul the marriage, but Othello knows his military value to Venice and talks to the duke and senators with confidence. Cassio was sent to bring him to an emergency meeting on the situation in Cyprus.
Iago tells Cassio about Othello's marriage. Brabantio arrives, threatens Othello with violence, and accuses him of using sorcery to seduce Desdemona, claiming that she would never agree to marry Othello. Othello explains to him that he didn't win over Desdemona by sorcery and witchcraft but by his war stories and the adventures he experienced during his travels.
Brabantio calls for Othello's arrest and imprisonment but gives priority to the duke's call for an emergency meeting of the Senate
Several reports have arrived from Cyprus, all pointing to the Turkish fleet planning the attack. Reports vary in fleet size, but all speak of danger as the combined force turned back to Cyprus. Othello enters into an argument with Cassius, Brabantio, Iago, and others, and the duke immediately appoints Othello to lead the forces for the defense of Cyprus.
At this moment, the duke notices Brabantio, who believes that his daughter was deceived by magic potions, because, according to him, she would never voluntarily marry such a man as Othello. At first, the duke promises him support in prosecuting witchcraft, a capital crime, against the man who seduced his daughter, and calls on the general to defend himself against his crimes.
Othello describes his courtship of Desdemona in a dignified and convincing speech and begs the Duke to call Desdemona so she can speak for herself. Iago leads a group to pick her up.
"She loved me for the dangers I had passed,
And I loved her that she did pity them.
This only is the witchcraft I have used."
When Othello finished his speech, the Duke declared in support of Othello:
"…these things to hear
Would Desdemona seriously incline.
But still the house affairs would draw her (thence),"
Desdemona then speaks, gently making such a strong argument that she ends the whole discussion: she owes obedience and thanks to her father for the upbringing, but now that she is married, she is loyal to her husband, just as her mother's loyalty to Brabantio. Fathers must give way to husbands.
"My noble father,
I do perceive here a divided duty.
To you I am bound for life and education.
My life and education both do learn me
How to respect you. You are the lord of duty.
I am hitherto your daughter. But here's my
And so much duty as my mother showed
To you, preferring you before her father,
So much I challenge that I may profess
Due to the Moor my lord."
Othello must leave immediately for Cyprus to take command of the defense, and Desdemona asks to go with him as well.
"That I love the Moor to live with him
My downright violence and storm of fortunes
May trumpet to the world. My heart's subdued
Even to the very quality of my lord."
The Duke fulfills her wish, and Othello, who must leave that night, delegates Iago to follow him later on another ship, bringing Desdemona and all that is needed. Iago's wife Emilia will take care of Desdemona as her maid. As Othello leaves, Barbantio warns Othello that she deceived her father, and she may have deceived him, but Othello is sure of Desdemona's fidelity.
"BRABANTIO: Look to her, Moor, if thou hast eyes to see.
She has deceived her father, and may thee.He exits.
OTHELLO: My life upon her faith!"
Iago and Roderigo remain on stage. Roderigo is insidious and talks about drowning himself. Iago replies with disgust that such misery is nonsense and convinces Roderigo to go to Cyprus and wait for Desdemona to come to him because she will surely soon get bored of Othello. Iago, because he hates Othello, says that he will help Roderigo have Desdemona and reminds him that he brings him a lot of money.
Iago, alone on stage, considers the situation: He has agreed on his source of money and has heard a rumor that Othello was in an intimate relationship with his wife Emilia. Although he does not believe the rumors, he will behave in a way that will feed hatred.
Iago will also aim to get Cassi's lieutenant position, which he thinks he should have received.
The second act (and all subsequent acts) takes place in Cyprus, in the Venetian forts. Cypriot Governor Montano is waiting for the arrival of Venetian forces, delayed by a strong storm at sea. A messenger arrives with the news that the Turkish fleet has been so damaged by the storm that they no longer pose a threat to Cyprus. Cassio's ship, followed by Desdemona's, was the first Venetian ship to land. Desdemona's first question is whether they have any news about Othello, but it seems that he is "stuck" in the storm, but that he will soon arrive with a victory.
The two spend time together, waiting for news, and Iago watches, planning to catch Cassio in his kindness. Emilia, Iago's wife, arrives and the two of them talk while Iago comments and jokes about the women.
Othello finally arrives, and he, Desdemona, and the others go to the fortress. Iago remains to tell Roderigo that Desdemona is now in love with Cassio and convinces him to clash with him to provoke a rebellion and remove him. Iago, in his second excuse, speaks again of his hatred of Othello. The details are not yet clear, but Iago plans to declare Othello insane.
The news proclaim a night of general ceremonies to celebrate the destruction of the Turkish fleet and Othello's recent marriage.
Cassio, commanding the night watch during the celebration, takes orders from Othello, who instructs the soldiers to drink in moderation and maintain peace. Cassio and Iago, his second commander, need to take care of that. Then Othello and Desdemona retire to their room, the first night they will spend together since their marriage.
Iago gives suggestive remarks about Desdemona to Cassio, which Cassio rejects, and then Iago invites him for a drink. Cassio refuses, but Iago doesn't give up and persuades him until Cassio finally indulges in a drink. Iago encourages Roderigo to fight Cassio; others join in, and Cassio gets extremely angry and attacks Montana, the Cypriot governor who has tried to calm the situation. At that moment, Iago sends Roderigo to ring the alarm bell and wake up Othello to bring armed men.
Othello demands to know who started this fight, and out of reluctance, Iago names Cassio as the first to start. Othello on the spot relieves Cassio of his duties, who now regrets his actions. Then he and Desdemona return to the room.
Iago advises Cassio to ask Desdemona to speak on his behalf with his wife.
"You or any man living may be drunk at a time,
man. I'll tell you what you shall do. Our general's
wife is now the general: I may say so in this
respect, for that he hath devoted and given up
himself to the contemplation, mark, and denotement
of her parts and graces. Confess yourself
freely to her. Importune her help to put you in your
place again. She is of so free, so kind, so apt, so
blessed a disposition she holds it a vice in her
goodness not to do more than she is requested. This
broken joint between you and her husband entreat
her to splinter, and, my fortunes against any lay
worth naming, this crack of your love shall grow
stronger than it was before."
Cassio agrees, and Iago uses his wife Emilia to arrange a private meeting between Cassio and Desdemona.
Cassio meets a group of musicians and a clown (countryman) whom he sends to find Emilia. Iago sends Emilia out to talk to him, and she reports that Desdemona and Othello are talking about last night's events. Desdemona talked to Cassio, and Othello, who he liked, pledged to get him back on duty when the time came.
Othello sends a letter by boat to Venice and inspects the forts. A letter to Venice says that Cyprus is safe after the destruction of the Turkish fleet. While Othello inspects the forts, Iago brings Cassio to Desdemona.
Cassio talks to Desdemona, asking her to talk to Othello on his behalf. Desdemona agrees, knowing that Cassio is an old friend of Othello's. She promises to talk about it with her husband several times until the quarrel is resolved and Cassio is reinstated.
"I'll intermingle everything he does
With Cassio's suit. Therefore be merry, Cassio"
When Othello and Iago enter, Cassio, ashamed of the madness he had done the night before, hugs Desdemona and sets off. Iago takes the opportunity to underline the comment - "Ha, I like not that." - and to be interested in Othello's opinion on it. Desdemona tells Othello about Cassio, begs him to return him to duty, and he, to please her, agrees, but is disturbed by private thoughts that Iago may have been right when he said that Desdemona was involved in infidelity.
In a conversation with Iago, in which Iago still implies that he knows something which he refuses to reveal, Othello denies indulging in jealousy.
"O, beware, my lord, of jealousy!
It is the green-eyed monster which doth mock
The meat it feeds on. That cuckold lives in bliss
Who, certain of his fate, loves not his wronger;
But O, what damnèd minutes tells he o'er
Who dotes, yet doubts; suspects, yet strongly loves!"
In his denial, he proves to be the most vulnerable. Doubt takes over. Othello expresses his fears that Brabantio is right, that it is unnatural for Desdemona to love him, that he is too terrible to be loved and that his relationship cannot last. Iago leaves, and Othello thinks about his situation: he could be deceived, he married a woman who is already looking at other men, and he is afraid that he will have to break her heart. He tries to tell himself that's not true.
When Desdemona returns, Othello's opinion changes; he watches her carefully, looking for signs, and she hands him a napkin to wrap around his head because he doesn't seem to look well. Othello refused the napkin, throwing it on the floor. They go to lunch, and Emilia takes a napkin, the one her husband Iago often begged her to steal from Desdemona. Emilia decides to perform a new, identical napkin to give to her husband.
"I am glad I have found this napkin.
This was her first remembrance from the Moor.
My wayward husband hath a hundred times
Wooed me to steal it. But she so loves the token
(For he conjured her she should ever keep it)
That she reserves it evermore about her
To kiss and talk to. I'll have the work ta'en out
And give 't Iago. What he will do with it
Heaven knows, not I.
I nothing but to please his fantasy."
But Iago enters, sees the napkin, and takes it, overjoyed that he will now finally be able to carry out his plan and plant it in Cassio's room as "proof" of Desdemona's infidelity.
When Othello enters, Iago sees how Othello cannot regain his peace of mind. His speech is awful, sweeping, and frantic; he believes his wife was unfaithful. Othello then insists with savage intensity and demands to see proof of Desdemona's infidelity. In the corners of his mind, Iago creates a perfect story that will make Othello even more jealous: he tells Othello that he saw Cassio wipe his forehead with a napkin decorated with strawberries; Othello recognizes this napkin because it was he who gave it to Desdemona, which belonged to his late mother.
Othello rejects his love for Desdemona and calls for revenge.
"O, blood, blood, blood!"
Certainty freed his mind from doubt and confusion, now he is the one who swears by the action, and Iago swears that he will help him in his intentions to take revenge. Othello wants Cassio dead, Iago agrees, and then Othello thinks about how to kill Desdemona.
Desdemona tells Cassio that she talked to Othello, but worries that she lost a napkin. When Othello enters, he claims that he has a headache and asks her to give him a napkin with strawberries to tie around his head. In vain, Desdemona tries to get away from the napkin question, talking about Cassio again. Othello comes out furiously.
Desdemona and Emilia comment on Othello's change in behavior and how, in a short time, he became jealous. Cassio and Iago arrive and Desdemona promises Cassio that she will talk to Othello about his case when Othello calms down.
Cassio meets the prostitute Bianca, who visits him often, and who tells him that she found a napkin with strawberries in his chambers, suspecting that he has another mistress. She admires the napkin, and Cassio tells her that it is Desdemona's napkin and that Iago placed it there. He begs Bianca to make a copy for him, as he will have to return the original to the same place.
In a conversation with Othello, Iago says that Cassio admitted that he was in an intimate relationship with Desdemona.
"Lie with her? Lie on her? We say "lie on her"
when they belie her. Lie with her - Zounds, that's
fulsome! Handkerchief - confessions - handkerchief.
To confess and be hanged for his labor.
First to be hanged and then to confess - I tremble
at it. Nature would not invest herself in such shadowing
passion without some instruction. It is not
words that shakes me thus. Pish! Noses, ears, and
lips - is 't possible? Confess - handkerchief - O,
This discovery was too much for Othello, who becomes incoherent and insane and faints. When Cassio enters, Iago claims that Othello has epilepsy and has had seizures before.
Instead of helping him regain consciousness, they have to let him regain consciousness on his own. Iago sends Cassio out of his chambers, telling him to come back later. Othello, returning to consciousness, speaks of himself as one of many cuckolds, but Iago tells him to hide and watch Cassio, who is just returning. Iago says he will extract details from Cassio about his love affair with Desdemona.
Othello withdraws and hides, too emotionally involved to realize that Iago is manipulating him, and Iago is talking to Cassio about Bianca. Othello sees his smiles and facial expression, but can't hear the details and believes he's talking about how much Desdemona loves him.
Then Bianca enters with Desdemona's napkin which she throws at Cassio. Seeing his wife's napkin in the hands of Cassio's mistress is for Othello the "obvious proof" he was looking for. He is now convinced of Desdemona's infidelity and knows he must kill both Cassio and Desdemona that same night.
Othello plans to strangle Desdemona in the bed, and Iago will make sure Cassio dies.
Get me some poison, Iago, this night. I'll not
expostulate with her lest her body and beauty
unprovide my mind again. This night, Iago.
Do it not with poison. Strangle her in her bed,
even the bed she hath contaminated.
Good, good. The justice of it pleases. Very
And for Cassio, let me be his undertaker. You
shall hear more by midnight.
Othello interrogates Emilia about Desdemona, but she assures him that nothing immodest has happened between her and Cassio. Othello, instead of giving up his doubts, thinks that Desdemona is so cunning that she managed to deceive her. Othello talks privately with Desdemona, threatening to expel her, calling her a "prostitute" - accusations she immediately denies.
Emilia enters and Othello leaves. Exhausted, Desdemona knows she was punished, but she doesn't know why. Emilia suspects that someone turned Othello against his wife and aroused his jealousy. When Desdemona asks Iago for advice, he says that Othello is angry only with the state.
Later, in a conversation with Iago, Roderigo admits that he has had enough of romantic dramas and entanglements and plans to retire. Iago decides on a bold move, linking his two conspiracies together: he calls on Roderigo to kill Cassio, explaining that Cassio's death will prevent Othello from being sent to another place and thus keep Desdemona in Cyprus. Roderigo lets him be convinced.
After dinner, Othello orders Desdemona to go to bed and let go of her maid. Desdemona and Emilia discuss the situation; Emilia sees her marriage to Othello as a mistake, but Desdemona does not regret anything. She has a premonition of death and begs Emilia if she needs to die, to wrap her body in one of her wedding dresses, which she has laid out on the bed. Desdemona sings the song, remembering the maid Barbara whose lover got angry and left her, and she died singing this song.
On the street at night, Iago directs Roderigo to ambush Cassio. When Cassio approaches, Roderigo attacks him unsuccessfully and Cassio is wounded. Iago stabs Cassio in the leg from behind and runs away while Cassio cries over the murder. Othello, hearing Cassio's cry, believes that Iago has done the job he undertook to do. After Iago's persuasion, Othello must harden his heart against his wife's temptations and shed her blood in the bed where she betrayed him.
Desdemona sleeps in bed, and Othello enters, terribly calm and confident in what he has to do. Desdemona wakes up and calls him to bed, but he tells her to pray and repent of everything, and he will wait while she prays because he doesn't want to kill her sinful soul.
Suddenly Desdemona realizes that Othello intends to kill her. She's scared, even though she knows she's not guilty. Knowing she can't convince him of her fidelity, Desdemona cries and begs him to expel her, not to kill her, or to let her just explain it to her, but he smothers her.
When Emilia knocks on the door, Othello draws the curtain over the bed, hides Desdemona's body, and opens the door to hear the news. What Emilia reports is not what Othello expected. She says Cassio killed Roderico. Then Desdemona's voice is heard from the bed, saying "O falsely, falsely murdered", and Emilia calls for help. Desdemona says she is innocent, denies that anyone killed her, that she committed suicide and dies.
O, who hath done this deed?
Nobody. I myself. Farewell.
Commend me to my kind lord. O, farewell."
Emilia and Othello clash. Emilia sees herself as a witness and will say what she saw, and Othello declares that he killed Desdemona because of her infidelity. Emilia insists that Desdemona was faithful; Othello replies that Cassio was with her, and Iago knew all about it. Now Emilia remembered the key fact. She says "my husband" over and over again as Othello pours out his heart to justice and how much he loved her and how sincere Iago is. Emilia curses Iago, calls him a liar, and cries for murder to wake everyone up.
Montano, Gratiano, Iago, and others rush to the bedroom where Emilia yells, and she challenges Iago to defend herself, giving him one last chance to confess his sins. Iago says that Desdemona was indeed unfaithful to Cassio, but Emilia knows that is not true. She says she found a napkin, which her husband asked her to steal, and gave it to him. Iago says "Villainous whore!" stabs Emilia and runs outside. As she's dying, Emilia tells Othello that Desdemona loved him. Othello, too late, realizes that he has been deceived and manipulated.
Iago was captured and brought back. Othello and Cassio demand to know why he did it, but Iago refuses to explain and says he will never speak again "I bleed, sir, but not killed". Othello asks men to remember him clearly, his good and bad things.
Then he stabs himself, fall on the bed and say the last words,
"I kissed thee ere I killed thee. No way but this,
Killing myself, to die upon a kiss."
The play ends with Lodovico taking power and giving Othello's house and estate to Gratiano, his cousin. Cassio will be the commander and will be able to convict and execute Iago, and Lodovico will return to Venice with sad news.