Othello Summary: Shakespeare Explained

Othello Summary: Shakespeare Explained
Page content

Act I

Scene 1: Roderigo wants Desdemona. He has paid Iago a large sum of money to help him but has gotten nowhere. Roderigo learns

that Desdemona has married Othello. Iago explains to Roderigo of his hatred for Othello because Othello gave Michael Cassio a promotion over him. Iago tells Roderigo he has a plan, the first step being Roderigo stirring up trouble between Othello and Desdemona’s family. Desdemona’s father dislikes Roderigo and suspects tomfoolery. Iago arrives and vulgarly notifies Desdemona’s father that Desdemona and Othello are enjoying sexual relations and are married. Brabanzio, Desdemona’s father, searches for his daughter.

Scene 2: Michael Cassio arrives at Othello’s house where he is conversing with Iago. Cassio informs Othello that he must go to Cyprus. Brabanzio and his men arrive accusing Othello of bewitching his daughter and looking to fight. Othello calms them down.

Scene 3: Brabanzio interrupts the Duke’s military meeting and requests the Duke rule on the matter of Othello’s bewitching of Desdemona. Othello tells the story of his courtship of Desdemona and the Duke rules in favor of Othello. Desdemona confirms Othello’s story and pleads her allegiance to him. Roderigo, alone with Iago, threatens to drown himself. Iago convinces him all is not lost and that he should accompany them to Cyprus where he will concoct a plan to separate Desdemona from her husband. Iago soliloquizes his plan to get Roderigo’s money and fool Othello into thinking Michael Cassio slept with his wife.

Act II

Othello Poster

The play shifts to Cyprus where Othello and his troops are to defend the Venetian-controlled island from the Turks.

Scene 1: A storm destroys the Turkish fleet. Iago, Desdemona, Roderigo, and Emilia arrive safely. Iago plans to use Desdemona’s friendliness with Michael Cassio to get him removed from being Lieutenant. Othello arrives. Iago speaks with Roderigo and convinces him to start a fight with Cassio that evening. He suspects his own wife of sleeping with Othello, so Iago soliloquizes his true intentions–revenge.

Scene 2: Othello announces a party to celebrate victory over the Turks and his new marriage.

Scene 3: Desdemona and Othello leave the party for their own “private activity.” Cassio is assigned guard duty and Othello urges him to restrain himself during the festivities. Iago persuades Cassio to get drunk. Cassio and Roderigo fight. Montano attempts to break it up and is attacked. Iago tells Roderigo to leave and publish news of a mutiny. Cassio stabs Montano. Alarms ring. Othello arrives. Iago gives an account of what happened, pretending he doesn’t want to incriminate Cassio. Cassio is dismissed from Othello’s service. Iago encourages Cassio to persuade Desdemona to plead his case to Othello. Roderigo returns, upset that all his money has gone to Iago with little result


Scene 1: Desdemona pleads for Cassio’s reinstatement. Othello fears that Montano’s popularity in Cyprus makes his reinstatement difficult.

Scene 2: Othello gives Iago letters to deliver as he checks out the town’s defenses.

Scene 3: Desdemona informs Cassio that she will do whatever it takes to get him reinstated. Othello enters the room and Cassio exits. Iago uses reverse psychology to make Cassio look guilty. Othello insinuates that an affair between Cassio and Desdemona is imminent. Othello suspects adultery and asks Iago to have Emilia spy on Desdemona. Othello fears his skin color, his age, and his social status have made Desdemona not love him anymore. Desdemona drops her handkerchief. Emilia picks it up and gives it to Iago. Othello demands visual evidence from Iago of Desdemona’s unfaithfulness. Iago claims to have seen Cassio wiping his beard with Desdemona’s handkerchief. Othello vows revenge on Desdemona.

Scene 4: Othello requests the handkerchief. Othello is angry after Desdemona is unable to produce it. Desdemona believes Othello is upset by a political matter. Cassio is visited by a prostitute who complains he doesn’t visit her enough. He requests that Bianca, the aforementioned prostitute, copy the embroidery of a handkerchief he found in his room.

Act IV

Scene 1: Iago continues to discuss the handkerchief, finally “admitting” that Cassio has told him about sleeping with Desdemona. Othello falls into a trance. Othello awakes. Iago informs him that Cassio will be returning shortly and that he should hide and observe the two as they discuss Cassio’s affair with Desdemona. Iago speaks to Cassio about his affair with Bianca. Othello sees Cassio laughing, mistakenly assumes he’s laughing about Desdemona’s advances toward him. Bianca arrives with the handkerchief and demands Cassio come see her that evening. Cassio leaves. Othello determines to poison Desdemona, but Iago convinces him that strangling her in his bed would be a better plan. Iago plans Cassio’s death. Lodovico arrives with a letter calling Othello back to Venice. Desdemona is happy. Othello strikes her.

Scene 2: Othello accuses Desdemona of being a prostitute. She denies it. Desdemona and Emilia question Iago as to why Othello treats Desdemona like this. Roderigo enters. He is angry and tells Iago he plans on getting his jewels back from Desdemona. Iago tells Roderigo that Othello is being sent to Africa and the only way to prevent it is to kill Cassio.

Scene 3: Desdemona goes to bed, suspecting that she will never wake up.

Act V

Othello and Desdemona

You probably don’t need to read this part of the summary of Othello to figure out something bad will happen in Act V.

Scene 1: Iago sets up an ambush for Cassio. As he walks by, Roderigo stabs Cassio but is unable to harm him. Cassio stabs Roderigo and Iago stabs Cassio, although Cassio does not realize who it is that stabs him. The two men cry out. Iago pretends to show up and comfort Cassio. He stabs and kills Roderigo immediately. Bianca enters and cries after seeing the fallen Cassio. Iago arrests Bianca and sends for Othello.

Scene 2: Othello kills Desdemona. He lets Emilia in and confesses he killed Desdemona because of her infidelity. Emilia calls for help. Iago’s villainy is exposed. Othello realizes his mistake, stabs Iago, kills himself and falls on the dead Desdemona.

There’s no need to commit treacherous acts in order to pass the test. Reading and understanding Shakespeare will be easy now that you’ve read this summary of Othello.

Public domain images courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

This post is part of the series: Othello Study Guide

Don’t be tricked into killing your loved ones on the next test. Read this Othello study guide instead.

  1. Scene Summaries of William Shakespeare’s Othello
  2. Help Analyzing Othello Quotes on Jealousy