Iago, an ensign serving under Othello, Moorish commander of the armed forces of Venice, is passed over in promotion when Othello chooses Cassio to be his chief of staff. In revenge, Iago and his follower, Roderigo, arouse from his sleep Brabantio, senator of Venice, to tell him that his daughter, Desdemona, has stolen away and married Othello. Brabantio, incensed that his daughter would marry a Moor, leads his servants to Othello’s quarters.
Meanwhile, the duke of Venice has learned that armed Turkish galleys are preparing to attack the island of Cyprus, and in this emergency he has summoned Othello to the senate chambers. Brabantio and Othello meet in the streets but postpone any violence in the national interest. Othello, upon arriving at the senate, is commanded by the duke to lead the Venetian forces to Cyprus. Then, Brabantio tells the duke that Othello has beguiled his daughter into marriage without her father’s consent. When Brabantio asks the duke for redress, Othello vigorously defends his honor and reputation; he is seconded by Desdemona, who appears during the proceedings. Othello, cleared of all suspicion, prepares to sail for Cyprus immediately. For the time being, he places Desdemona in the care of Iago; Iago’s wife, Emilia, is to be her attendant during the voyage to Cyprus.
A great storm destroys the Turkish fleet and scatters the Venetians. One by one, the ships under Othello’s command head for Cyprus until all are safely ashore and Othello and Desdemona are once again united. Still intent on revenge, Iago tells Roderigo that Desdemona is in love with Cassio. Roderigo, himself in love with Desdemona, is promised all of his desires by Iago if he will engage Cassio, who does not know him, in a personal brawl while Cassio is officer of the guard.
Othello declares the night dedicated to celebrating the destruction of the enemy, but he cautions Cassio to keep a careful watch on Venetian troops in the city. Iago talks Cassio into drinking too much, so that when provoked by Roderigo, Cassio loses control of himself and fights with Roderigo. Cries of riot and mutiny spread through the streets. Othello, aroused by the commotion, demotes Cassio for permitting a fight to start. Cassio, his reputation all but ruined, welcomes Iago’s promise to secure Desdemona’s goodwill and through her have Othello restore Cassio’s rank.
Cassio importunes Iago to arrange a meeting between him and Desdemona. While Cassio and Desdemona are talking, Iago entices Othello into view of the pair, and speaks vague innuendoes. Afterward, Iago from time to time asks Othello questions in such a manner as to lead Othello to think there might have been something between Cassio and Desdemona before Desdemona married him. Once Iago has sown these seeds of jealousy, Othello begins to doubt his wife.
When Othello complains to Desdemona of a headache, she offers to bind his head with the handkerchief that had been Othello’s first gift to her. She drops the handkerchief inadvertently, and Emilia picks it up. Iago, seeing an opportunity to further his scheme, takes the handkerchief from his wife and hides it in Cassio’s room. When Othello asks Iago for proof that Desdemona is untrue to him, threatening his life if he cannot produce any evidence, Iago says that he had slept in Cassio’s room and had heard Cassio speak sweet words in his sleep to Desdemona. He reminds Othello of the handkerchief and says that he had seen Cassio wipe his beard that day with that very handkerchief. Othello, completely overcome by passion, vows revenge. He orders Iago to kill Cassio, and he appoints the ensign his new lieutenant.
Othello asks Desdemona to account for the loss of the handkerchief, but she is unable to explain its disappearance. She is mystified by Othello’s shortness of speech, and his dark moods. Goaded by Iago’s continuing innuendoes, the Moor succumbs to mad rages of jealousy in which he falls into fits resembling epilepsy. In the presence of...
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