Othello condensed

At the time of the play, Venice was recognized as a leading international shipping and trading center.  It was also more of a city-state than a city, controlling Cyprus; Cyprus being the setting for the play.  This play focuses on the life of Othello, a Moor from North Africa and a senior general in the Venetian army.  Othello struggles with two competing forces: his love for his wife, Desdemona, and his wickedly clever junior officer Iago; Iago seeking revenge, having been appointed by Othello as his Ancient, the lowest officer level. We’re given a heads-up early in the play when Iago tells his friend Roderigo “in following the Moor, I follow but myself. I am not what I seem.” 

Act 1. The play opens early in the morning with Iago and Roderigo telling Desdemona’s father that Othello has run off and married his daughter.  Her father is very upset.  We also quickly learn that the Turkish navy is heading for Cyprus, threatening the island.  Cassio, Othello’s lieutenant, finds Othello, letting him know the duke of Venice is looking for him, the duke wanting him to lead their forces in Cyprus.  Othello returns to Venice.  Desdemona’s father, a Venetian senator, demands that he be sent “to prison.” Othello responds “What if I obey,” knowing the duke wants him to lead things in Cyprus.  Desdemona tells her angry father “Here’s my husband.  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.”  Her father backs off, saying “God be with you!”  Desdemona receives permission to go to Cyprus with her husband.  Cassio and Iago will also go the Cyprus.  A despondent Roderigo, having been Desdemona’s boyfriend, lets Iago talk him into joining him in Cyprus.

Act 2. We learn that the Turkish fleet has been lost in a severe storm in the Mediterranean Sea.  All the Venetians arrive in Cyprus safely.  Roderigo is depressed over his lost love, having said “I will immediately drown myself” at the moment he had heard Desdemona publicly declare her love for the Moor.  Iago says to a naive Roderigo “let us unite in our revenge against him.”  Roderigo agrees.  Iago lets us know that his plan is to cause Othello to become suspect of his wife; to convince him that Desdemona and Cassio are more than just casual friends.  Othello throws a party, celebrating the Venetians’ good fortune. Iago talks Cassio into drinking too much, Cassio having said “I have very poor brains for drinking.” Iago talks Roderigo into starting a fight with Cassio, which turns into a fight between Cassio and a Cypriot official, which irritates Othello, who lifts Cassio’s commission as an officer.  Cassio is devastated. Iago suggests Cassio “confess himself freely to Desdemona,” which he does.  Iago tells us of his plan to tell Othello of Cassio’s “lustful” interest in his wife and that she will “strive to do Cassio good.”  Iago’s wife is Emilia, and she is Desdemona’s aide. 

Act 3. Sweetheart Desdemona tells Cassio that “I will do all my abilities in thy behalf.”  As Othello and Iago enter, Cassio quietly slips away, noted by Othello. Iago reopens his quest to cause Othello to question his wife’s faithfulness, again commenting on what he sees as a too-friendly relationship between Cassio and Desdemona.  As Iago exits, Othello says to himself “this honest creature doubtless sees and knows more than he unfolds.” Later, Othello returns home, complaining of a headache. Desdemona presses her handkerchief to his forehead; it later falls and is picked up by Emilia.  Iago grabs it from her, telling her “not to admit to knowing about it.”  Iago plants the handkerchief in Cassio’s bedroom, the “handkerchief spotted with strawberries.” Reflecting on what Iago has been saying, an angry Othello challenges Iago, saying “Give me ocular proof.”  Iago tells him he saw Cassio with a handkerchief “spotted with strawberries,” Othello responding “’Twas my first gift to her.”  When Iago pledges his loyalty to Othello, Othello says “within these three days let me hear thee say that Cassio’s not alive.”  Iago says “my friend is dead.” Othello says “Now art thou my lieutenant.” Othello gets further upset with his wife when he asks her for the handkerchief and she can’t produce it.  

Act 4. Overhearing Cassio on the street talking about the handkerchief, Othello asks Iago to “Get me some poison.”  Iago responds “strangle her in her bed.”  An official arrives from Venice to let Othello know that he is to be replaced in Cyprus by Cassio and is to return to Venice.  Othello is dismayed.  Kind and innocent Desdemona tells the official that her husband is upset with Cassio and that she is upset about it “for the love I bear for Cassio.” Overhearing the comment, Othello strikes her.  The official stands there in disbelief.  Desdemona cries “what ignorant sin have I committed?” She seeks sympathy from Iago. Iago tells Roderigo that Cassio is their problem and that the two of them need “by some accident to remove Cassio.” Othello demands Desdemona return home, and to “dismiss your assistant there,” meaning Emilia. 

Act 5. Late that night on a dark street in Cyprus, Roderigo tries to kill Cassio, but fails, instead seriously injuring himself. Cassio is only slightly injured and exits. Iago happens by, sees a badly wounded and defenseless Roderigo and kills him, fearing truth will out. Desdemona, having followed her husband’s instructions, goes home and goes to bed.  Othello arrives and suffocates her with her pillow.  Othello soon comes to realize that he has been duped by Iago.  Another official from Venice arrives, hears about recent events and says “Poor Desdemon, I am glad thy father’s dead.”  Emilia won’t stop telling anyone who will listen what has happened and who has done what.  Iago kills her and is captured.  Othello, realizing how desperate things are for him says “in my sense ‘tis happiness to die.” The official announces “Cassio rules in Cyprus.” Othello kills himself.  A guarded Iago is turned over to Cassio.