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THE PLAY - SHORT PLOT SUMMARY (SYNOPSIS)

THE PLOT

ACT I

Shakespeare's story of jealousy, betrayal, and murder begins on a street in Venice in the middle of the night. Roderigo has just learned that Desdemona, the woman he loves, has eloped with Othello, a Moorish general hired to lead the Venetian army against the Turks. Roderigo is angry at Iago, the young Venetian he's been paying to play "matchmaker-" for him and Desdemona.

But Iago has other problems. He's furious with Othello for having chosen Michael Cassio as his Lieutenant instead of himself, who has served loyally as Othello's ensign. Iago hides an evil nature under a mask of honesty, and he delights in the suffering of others. With his jealousy as a partial excuse, he sets out to arrange Othello's downfall.

Roderigo and Iago awaken Brabantio, a Venetian Senator and Desdemona's father, to tell him that his daughter has run off with Othello. Despite the respect Brabantio has for Othello as a soldier, he is suspicious of him personally because he is a foreigner. Iago convinces Brabantio that Othello seduced Desdemona using charms and spells.

Iago finds Othello at the inn where he and Desdemona are spending their honeymoon. Iago warns him that Brabantio's angry, but Othello feels he has done no wrong. A group of men, led by Cassio, arrives to summon Othello to the Senate for an emergency war council. Immediately following, Brabantio arrives with his supporters to put Othello in prison. Othello calmly suggests that they all go to the Senate and let the Duke decide who is in the right.

In the Senate chambers, Othello explains how he and Desdemona fell in love: as he told her of his adventures throughout the world, she listened with awe and sympathy. Their mutual attraction was undeniable, and it happened without charms or potions.


Desdemona is sent for, and she not only confirms Othello's story but pledges her love for him. Brabantio, seeing that he's defeated, is devastated.

Othello is sent to Cyprus to fight the Turks. Desdemona will join him there, accompanied by Iago and his wife, Emilia.

Meanwhile, Iago formulates a plan capitalizing on Othello's open and trusting nature and Cassio's good looks. The details of the plan are still tentative, but Iago's objectives are firm: to see Othello ruined and to win Cassio's job as lieutenant.

ACT II

The war ends suddenly and unexpectedly when the Turkish fleet retreats, overpowered by a storm. Othello arrives and is joyfully reunited with Desdemona. The Moor calls for a celebration in honor of his marriage and the end of the war.

That night, Iago urges Roderigo (who has come to Cyprus in the hopes of winning Desdemona after all) to pick a fight with Cassio and get the young lieutenant in so much trouble that he will lose his job. Iago gets Cassio drunk, Roderigo starts an argument that leads to a sword fight, and Montano, the retiring governor of Cyprus, is injured trying to stop the brawl. Othello is awakened by the ruckus and promptly fires Cassio. The humiliated lieutenant is encouraged by Iago's advice to approach Desdemona and beg for his job. Cassio doesn't realize that this is all part of Iago's plan.

ACT III

Cassio goes to Desdemona, who promises to help. Seeing them together, Othello-prompted by Iagofeels the stirrings of jealousy. When Desdemona asks her husband to give back Cassio's job, Iago quickly points out to Othello that her behavior is indeed suspicious.

Othello demands that Iago prove his insinuations regarding Cassio and Desdemona. Unfortunately for her, Desdemona has dropped the handkerchief given to her by Othello. Iago "plants" the handkerchief in Cassio's room and cites it as the "proof" Othello demands. Cassio, suspecting nothing, gives the handkerchief to Bianca, his mistress.

Meanwhile, Iago tells Othello that he has seen the handkerchief in Cassio's hands. When Othello asks Desdemona to show him the handkerchief, she lies and says she still has it, but can't show it to him. Othello, convinced of her guilt, resolves that she and Cassio will die.

ACT IV

Though a lot has happened, Iago has just begun. He arranges for Othello to eavesdrop as he maneuvers Cassio into talking about Bianca's love for him. Othello thinks he's referring to Desdemona. In a fury, Othello vows to strangle Desdemona that very night. He asks Iago to kill Cassio.

Lodovico, a relative of Desdemona, arrives from Venice. He brings a letter from the Venetian Senate asking Othello to return to Venice, and giving Cassio control of Cyprus. Desdemona is delighted by the news, and Othello, thinking her joy is for Cassio, hits her in front of their guests.

That night, Othello tries to pressure Emilia into admitting that Desdemona has cheated on him, but Emilia swears that her mistress is pure and innocent. Othello refuses to believe her.

Iago persuades Roderigo that killing Cassio is the best way for him to win Desdemona. With premonitions of death on her mind, Desdemona prepares for bed.

ACT V

Roderigo attacks Cassio, but only wounds him. Cassio, in turn, manages to wound Roderigo, and Iago, hidden in the dark, stabs Cassio in the leg. Cassio's cries bring Lodovico and others running from their rooms. Cassio identifies Roderigo as his attacker, and Iago, pretending to avenge the lieutenant, kills Roderigo to prevent him from confessing their plot.

In Desdemona's bedroom, Othello looks at her sleeping figure with a combination of love and hate. She awakens, and he announces his intention to kill her for her acts of adultery. Desdemona protests that she is innocent, but Othello smothers her, certain that the murder is an act of justice.

Emilia comes in with news of Roderigo's death. Othello admits to having killed Desdemona, but says he had to because she was unfaithful. The grief-stricken Emilia protests, until Othello tells her Iago told him of Desdemona's affair with Cassio. Emilia cries out, and Lodovico, Iago, and others come running.

When Othello cites the handkerchief as proof of his wife's infidelity, Emilia finally realizes that her husband's evil. Iago kills her to protect himself, then makes a run for it.

Montano and Gratiano rush out to chase Iago, and when they return with the unrepentant villain, Othello tries to stab him. He only wounds him, though, and Lodovico orders Othello's sword be taken from him.

Lodovico tells of letters found in Roderigo's pocket linking Iago with the conspiracy to kill Cassio. With his last words, Roderigo also accuses Iago.

After bidding those around him to remember him as "one that loved not wisely, but too well," Othello stabs himself with a dagger he had hidden in his cloak. Kissing Desdemona, he dies.

Lodovico takes charge, ordering Cassio to govern Cyprus and sentencing Iago to death.

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