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Othello Summary Act 1, Scene 1:
This play begins on a street in Venice. Roderigo and Iago are arguing with each other. Roderigo has been paying Iago to help him win Desdemona’s hand in marriage. He learns that Desdemona has married Othello. Othello is a general whom Iago serves as ensign. Iago assures Roderigo that he hates Othello. The chief reason for this hatred is Othello’s promotion of Cassio to the post of lieutenant.
Iago advises Roderigo to spoil Othello’s pleasure in his marriage by rousing Desdemona’s family against Othello. Roderigo and Iago come to the street outside the house of Desdemona’s father, Brabanzio. They cry out that he has been robbed by “thieves.” Brabanzio at first doesn’t believe what he hears.
Iago tells the senator that his daughter and Othello are having sex. Brabanzio decides to search for his daughter. Seeing the success of his plan, Iago leaves Roderigo alone and goes to attend on Othello. As Iago departs, Brabanzio comes out of his house. He declares that his daughter has been stolen from him by magic “charms.”
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Othello Summary Act 1, Scene 2:
Iago arrives at Othello’s house. He warns Othello that Brabanzio will try to force a divorce between Othello and Desdemona. Othello sees a party of men approaching. The party turns out to be Cassio and officers from the Venetian court. They bring Othello the message that he is wanted by the duke of Venice about a matter concerning Cyprus.
As Cassio and his men prepare to leave, Brabanzio, Roderigo, and Brabanzio’s men arrive to accost Othello. Brabanzio orders his men to attack and subdue Othello. Othello tells both sides to put up their swords. Hearing that the duke has called Othello to the court, Brabanzio decides to bring his cause before the duke himself.
Othello Summary Act 1, Scene 3:
The Duke wanted to have a meeting with his senators about the imminent Turkish invasion of Cyprus.
A messenger arrives to report that the Turks have joined with more forces and are heading toward Cyprus. Cyprus is an island controlled by Venice.
This meeting is interrupted by the arrival of Brabanzio, Othello, Cassio, Iago, Roderigo, and officers. Brabanzio says that his daughter has been stolen from him by spells and potions. The duke gives Othello the chance to speak for himself. Othello admits that he married Desdemona. He explains that Brabanzio frequently invited him to his house and questioned him about his life story. Desdemona overheard parts of the story and later on asked Othello to retell it to her. Desdemona was moved by Othello’s story and she fell in love with Othello.
The duke is persuaded by Othello’s tale. Desdemona enters. She confirms that she married Othello of her own free will.
The duke decides that Othello must go to Cyprus to defend the island from the Turks. Othello is willing and ready to go. Desdemona asks to be allowed to go with Othello. The couple then leaves to prepare for the night’s voyage.
The stage is cleared, leaving only Roderigo and Iago. Iago promises to work everything out from Cyprus. When Roderigo leaves, Iago delivers his first soliloquy. He declares his hatred for Othello and his suspicion that Othello has slept with his wife, Emilia. He plans to cheat Roderigo out of his money and to convince Othello that Cassio has slept with Desdemona.
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Othello Summary Act 2, Scene 1:
Cassio’s ship traveled from Venice to the shores of Cyprus. He saw that the Turks lost most of their fleet in the tempest. It is uncertain whether Othello’s ship has been able to survive the storm. A new ship is sighted but it turns out to be carrying Iago, Emilia, Desdemona, and Roderigo. Meanwhile, the arrival of a third ship is announced.
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Cassio takes Desdemona away to speak with her privately about Othello’s arrival. Iago notices that Cassio takes Desdemona’s hand as he talks to her. He plots to use Cassio’s hand-holding.
Othello arrives safely and greets Desdemona. He orders Iago to unload the ship. Roderigo tries to argue that Cassio was merely being polite by taking Desdemona’s hand, but Iago convinces Roderigo to start a quarrel with Cassio that evening.
Left alone again, Iago explains his actions to the audience in a soliloquy. He secretly lusts after Desdemona, partially because he suspects that Othello has slept with Emilia. But if he is unable to get his revenge by sleeping with Desdemona, Roderigo’s accusation of Cassio will make Othello suspect Cassio of sleeping with his wife.
Othello Summary Act 2, Scene 2:
It is announced that Othello plans a party for the evening in celebration of Cyprus’s safety from the Turks. And also in celebration of his marriage to Desdemona.
Othello Summary Act 2, Scene 3:
Othello leaves Cassio on guard during the party. Othello and Desdemona leave to consummate their marriage. Once Othello is gone, Iago enters. He tells Cassio that he suspects Desdemona to be a temptress, but Cassio maintains that she is modest. Iago persuades Cassio to take a drink and to invite some revelers.
Cassio leaves to fetch the revelers. Cassio returns with Montano and his attendants. Montano is the governor of Cyprus. Cassio is already drinking. He becomes intoxicated and wanders offstage.
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Roderigo enters, and Iago points him in Cassio’s direction. Cassio chases Roderigo, threatening to beat him. Montano steps in to prevent the fight and is attacked by Cassio. Iago orders Roderigo to leave. Montano and others attempt to hold Cassio. Cassio stabs Montano. An alarm bell is rung, and Othello arrives.
Othello demands to know what happened, but both Iago and Cassio claim to have forgotten how the struggle began. Montano insists that he is in too much pain to speak and insists that Iago tell the story. Iago says that Cassio was chasing after Roderigo when the fight between Cassio and Montano began. Othello falls into Iago’s trap. He dismisses Cassio from his service.
Desdemona has been awakened by the commotion. Othello leads her back to bed. Iago and Cassio remain behind. Iago suggests that Cassio appeal to Desdemona. Iago argues that Desdemona will persuade Othello to give Cassio back his lieutenantship if Cassio requests her.
Now that Cassio will be spending time with Desdemona, Iago will find it easier to convince Othello that Desdemona is having an affair with Cassio.
Roderigo enters, he is upset that he has been beaten. He is also angry because Iago has taken all his money. Iago counsels him to be patient and not to return to Venice. He assures Roderigo that everything is going according to plan. Alone, Iago tells the audience that he will convince Emilia to speak to Desdemona on Cassio’s behalf. He will also arrange for Othello to witness Cassio’s attempts to woo Desdemona.
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Othello Summary Act 3, Scene 1:
Cassio asks the clown to request Emilia to come to speak with him. He wants to ask her for access to Desdemona. When the clown leaves, Iago enters and tells Cassio that he will send for Emilia straightaway and figure out a way to take Othello aside so that Cassio and Desdemona can talk privately. After Iago exits, Emilia enters and tells Cassio that Othello and Desdemona have been discussing his case.
Emilia allows Cassio to come in and tells him to wait for Desdemona.
Othello Summary Act 3, Scene 2:
Iago, Othello, and a gentleman walk together at the citadel. Othello gives Iago some letters to deliver and decides to take a look at the town’s fortification.
Othello Summary Act 3, Scene 3:
Desdemona vows to do everything she can on Cassio’s behalf. Othello and Iago enter. Cassio quickly departs, telling Desdemona that he feels too uneasy to do himself any good. Othello asks whether it was Cassio he saw leaving the room, and Iago responds in affirmative.
Desdemona requests Othello to forgive Cassio and appoint him as a lieutenant. Othello assures her that he will speak to Cassio. She criticizes Othello for responding to her hesitantly.
Alone with Othello, Iago reminds Othello that Cassio served as Othello and Desdemona’s go-between during their courtship. Iago plants in Othello’s mind thoughts of adultery, cuckoldry, and hypocrisy until Othello screams at him. Iago suggests that Othello observe his wife closely when she is with Cassio.
Othello orders Iago to tell Emilia to watch Desdemona when she is with Cassio.
Desdemona and Emilia enter to inform Othello that he is expected at dinner. Othello says that he has a pain in his forehead, and Desdemona offers to bind his head with her handkerchief. Othello pushes her handkerchief away, telling her that it is too small. The handkerchief drops to the floor, where it remains as Othello and Desdemona exit. Emilia stays behind. She picks up the handkerchief, saying that her husband has asked her to steal it. Iago enters and he is ecstatic when she gives it to him.
As Iago plots to keep the handkerchief in Cassio’s room, Othello enters. He demands that Iago bring him visual evidence that Desdemona is a whore.
First, he tells Othello that while Cassio and Iago were sharing a bed, Cassio called out Desdemona’s name in his sleep, held Iago’s hand, kissed him hard on the lips, and threw his leg over Iago’s thigh. Iago then claims to have seen Cassio wiping his beard with the handkerchief Othello gave Desdemona as her first gift. Furious, Othello cries out for blood. He kneels and vows to heaven that he will take his revenge on Desdemona and Cassio.
Othello Summary Act 3, Scene 4:
Desdemona wonders to Emilia where her handkerchief might be. Othello enters and asks her to lend him her handkerchief. When Desdemona cannot give the handkerchief he wants to see, Othello explains the handkerchief’s history.
After Othello leaves, Cassio and Iago enter. Desdemona tells Cassio that his timing is unfortunate because Othello is angry. She tells Cassio to wait while she goes to find Othello and bring him to talk with Cassio.
While Cassio waits, Bianca, a prostitute, enters. He asks her to copy the embroidery of a handkerchief he recently found in his room onto another handkerchief.
Othello Summary Act 4, Scene 1:
Othello and Iago enter. Iago says that Cassio has told him he has lain with Desdemona, and Othello falls down in a trance.
Cassio enters. Iago tells him that he would like to speak once Othello has gone. Othello comes out of his trance. Iago explains that Cassio stopped by and that he has arranged to speak with the ex-lieutenant. Iago orders Othello to hide nearby and observe Cassio’s face during their conversation.
Iago explains that he will make Cassio retell the story of where, when, how, and how often he has slept with Desdemona, and when he intends to do so again. When Othello leaves, Iago informs the audience that he will actually joke with Cassio about the prostitute Bianca. Othello will think that Cassio is joking with Iago about Desdemona.
The plan works.
Cassio laughs as he tells Iago the details of Bianca’s love for him. Bianca enters with the handkerchief and again accuses Cassio of giving her a love token given to him by another woman.
Othello has recognized his handkerchief and starts wondering how he should murder his former lieutenant. He suggests that he will poison his wife, but Iago advises him to strangle her in the bed.
Desdemona enters with Lodovico. Lodovico has come from Venice with a message from the duke. The letter says that Othello has been called back to Venice, with orders to leave Cassio as his replacement in Cyprus. Desdemona feels happy that she will leave for Venice but Othello strikes her and she leaves.
Lodovico is horrified by Othello’s loss of self-control. He asks Othello to call back Desdemona. Othello does so. He accuses her of being a false woman. He tells Lodovico that he will obey the duke’s orders.
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Othello Summary Act 4, Scene 2:
Othello questions Emilia about Desdemona’s behavior, but Emilia insists that Desdemona has done nothing suspicious. Othello tells Emilia to summon Desdemona.
When Desdemona denies being unfaithful. Emilia comes in to comfort her mistress. Desdemona tells Emilia to lay her wedding sheets on the bed for that night.
At Desdemona’s request, Emilia brings in Iago, and Desdemona tries to find out from him why Othello has been treating her as if she’s been unfaithful. Iago assures Desdemona that Othello is merely upset by some official business.
Roderigo enters. Iago tells Roderigo that Cassio is being assigned to Othello’s place. Iago also lies to him that Othello is being sent to Mauritania, in Africa. He tells Roderigo that the only way to prevent Othello from taking Desdemona away to Africa with him would be to get rid of Cassio.
Othello Summary Act 4, Scene 3:
After dinner, Othello sends Desdemona to bed. Desdemona seems aware of her imminent fate as she prepares for bed. She says that if she dies before Emilia, Emilia should use one of the wedding sheets for her shroud. As Emilia helps her mistress to undress, Desdemona sings a song called “Willow.”
She asks Emilia whether she would cheat on her husband. Emilia says that she would not deceive her husband. Emilia speaks about the fact that women have appetites for sex and infidelity just as men do.
Othello Summary Act 5, Scene 1:
Iago and Roderigo wait outside the brothel where Cassio visits Bianca. Iago positions Roderigo with a sword. Cassio enters, and Roderigo stabs at him but fails to pierce Cassio’s armor. Cassio stabs and wounds Roderigo. Iago emerges and stabs Cassio in the leg, and exits.
At this moment, Othello enters. Hearing Cassio’s cries of murder, Othello believes that Iago has killed him. Othello returns to his bedroom to kill Desdemona.
Iago enters carrying a light. He first pretends to discover Cassio, who begs him for help.
Bianca enters and begins to cry out when she sees the wounded Cassio. Iago suggests that Roderigo is to blame. Emilia enters, and Iago tells her what has happened. Iago takes Bianca under arrest and sends Emilia to tell Othello and Desdemona what has happened.
Othello Summary Act 5, Scene 2:
Holding a candle, Othello stands over the sleeping Desdemona and prepares to kill her. He bends down to kiss her once before he does the deed. She wakes and he tells her to prepare to die. Desdemona asks her husband why he means to kill her, and Othello responds that she has been unfaithful to him with Cassio. He says that Cassio has confessed but will speak no more since he has been killed by Iago.
Desdemona begins to weep for Cassio, which only drives Othello into a greater rage. Othello finally succeeds in smothering his wife.
Othello draws the bed curtains and lets Emilia in. Emilia informs Othello that Cassio has killed Roderigo. Othello asks if Cassio has been killed as well, and Emilia informs him that Cassio is alive. Meanwhile, Desdemona cries out that she has been murdered. She dies.
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Othello admits to Emilia that he killed Desdemona, and when she asks him why Othello tells her that Iago opened his eyes to Desdemona’s falsehood.
As the truth of Iago’s villainy begins to come out through Emilia’s accusations, Othello falls weeping upon the bed that contains the body of his dead wife. Almost to himself, Graziano expresses relief that Brabanzio is dead and has not lived to see his daughter come to such a terrible end. Graziano is the kinsman of Brabanzio. Othello still clings to his belief in Iago’s truth and Desdemona’s guilt, mentioning the handkerchief and Cassio’s “confession.” When Othello mentions the handkerchief, Emilia erupts and Iago attempts to silence her with his sword.
Graziano stops him and Emilia explains how she found the handkerchief and gave it to Iago. Othello runs at Iago but is disarmed by Montano. In the commotion, Iago is able to stab his wife, who falls, apparently dying. Iago flees and is pursued by Montano and Graziano. Emilia tells Othello that Desdemona was chaste and loved him.
Iago is held prisoner. Othello stabs Iago and wounds him. Lodovico produces a letter found in Roderigo’s pocket that reveals everything that has happened. Othello asks Cassio how he came by the handkerchief, and Cassio replies that he found it in his chamber.
Lodovico tells Othello that he must come with them back to Venice where he will be put on trial. Othello falls onto the bed with his wife’s body.
Lodovico names Graziano as Othello’s heir and puts Montano in charge of Iago’s execution. Lodovico prepares to leave for Venice to bear the news from Cyprus to the duke and senate.
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