Othello abbreviated

This play opens centuries ago in Venice, at a time when Venice had far-flung interests and was recognized as one of the world’s major trading centers. Soon after the play opens a man named Iago provides us with the play’s central theme.  He casually says to his friend Roderigo “in following the Moor, I follow but myself.  I am not what I seem.”  The Moor is Othello.  He is from North Africa and is a general in the Venetian army.  Othello has recently promoted one Michael Cassio over Iago to the rank of lieutenant, leaving Iago as his ancient, the lowest Venetian officer level.  Iago accepts Othello’s appointment as his ancient, but he views the position as an insult and it infuriates him.  Iago will gain his revenge.  Will he ever.

As we soon learn, Iago’s actions are so dreadful that they defy one’s imagination to believe there could ever be anyone like this; that anyone could ever treat other people so poorly, regardless of the circumstances.  Iago’s goal is at all costs to destroy Othello, the Moor of Venice.  And one method Iago uses in seeking his revenge is to shamelessly use Roderigo as a foil, letting Roderigo believe all along that he is a trusted friend. 

A secondary theme in the play; a theme consistent with Shakespeare’s pattern of making sharp contrasts, is the beautiful relationship Shakespeare develops between the newly married Othello and Desdemona, a relationship later shattered by Iago.  The play begins very early one morning when Iago and Roderigo waken Brabantio, a Venetian senator, to tell him that his daughter Desdemona has eloped with Othello and that their whereabouts is unknown. (Resentment, Act 1, Scene 1)

Cassio locates Othello and alerts him to a separate threat, having nothing to do with his elopement, but rather to a serious external threat facing Cyprus.  Cyprus is part of the Venetian empire.  Cassio lets him know that the Duke of Venice, Venice’s senior political leader, “requires your haste-post appearance, even on the instant.”  Othello surfaces in Venice.  With fire in his eyes, Brabantio enters and confronts Othello, saying “O, thou foul thief, where hast thou stored my daughter?  If he do resist, subdue him at his peril.”  Othello responds “Whither will you that I go to answer this your charge?”  Brabantio says “To prison.” Othello says, “What if I do obey?”  Othello lets Brabantio know that Venice faces a threat in Cyprus from the Turkish navy and that the duke needs him.  Brabantio responds “Your noble self I am sure is sent for, but mine’s not an idle cause.” 

Brabantio rants on, suggesting that Othello must have used witchcraft to win his daughter.  Othello calmly acknowledges that he and the beautiful and charming Desdemona are married, suggesting “I will a round unvarnished tale deliver of my whole course of love --- what drugs, what charms, what conjuration.”  Desdemona modestly says to her father “But 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.” (Daughter to Father, Act 1, Scene 3) Taken aback, Brabantio says “God be with you!  I have done.” 

As expected, the duke orders Othello to lead the Venetian effort to thwart Turkey’s navel threat to Cyprus.  Desdemona convinces the duke and senators that she should be permitted to join her husband while he’s on assignment in Cyprus.  As a side issue, Roderigo, who just happens to have been her recent boyfriend, feels the pain of lost love.  After listening to her proclaim her love for the Moor, Roderigo says, “I will immediately drown myself.”  Iago says to him “Why, thou silly gentleman!” Roderigo says “It is silliness to live, when to live is torment.”  But then he says “I confess it is my shame to be so doting, but it is not in my power to amend it.”  Iago finally says “Let us unite in our revenge against him. No more drowning, do you hear?”  Roderigo says “I am changed” and exits. In a soliloquy, Iago lets us know that his plan is to cause Othello to become seriously jealous of Cassio by causing the Moor to believe that Cassio and Desdemona are more than just casual friends. (Deviousness, Act 1, Scene 3)

The huge Turkish fleet is lost off the coast of Cyprus in a stormy sea.  However, Othello, Desdemona, Iago, Cassio, Roderigo and others escape the storm and safely arrive in Cyprus.  Othello throws a party to honor their good fortune.  Iago promptly begins his long and malicious journey to ruin Othello, baiting Cassio into making complimentary comments about Desdemona, and then encouraging Roderigo to provoke Cassio during that evening’s party. (Revenge, Act 2, Scene 1)

Othello instructs his Lieutenant Cassio “not to celebrate past the point of discretion” during the party, yet Cassio lets Iago talk him into drinking too much; Cassio having told Iago that “I have very poor and unhappy brains for drinking.” Having listened to Iago, Roderigo initiates a fight with Cassio that turns into a fight with Montano, a Cypriot official, a fight that infuriates Othello, who then lifts Cassio’s commission, telling him, “nevermore be officer of mine.”  (Deviousness, Act 2, Scene 3.1)

Cassio is devastated.  Continuing his crusade against Othello, Iago suggests Cassio “confess himself freely to Desdemona.”  (Deviousness, Act 2, Scene 3.2) Aside, Iago tells us that he plans to tell Othello of Cassio’s “lustful” interest in his wife and how she will “strive to do Cassio good.”  To further his plan to set up Cassio as his foil, Iago draws his wife, Emilia, into the plot, she being Desdemona’s aide. 

Sweetheart Desdemona tells Cassio “I will do all my abilities in thy behalf.”  As Iago and Othello enter, Cassio quietly slips away.  Othello notices Cassio’s departure, as does Iago who says “I cannot think it that he would steal away so guilty-like, seeing you coming.” (Deception, Act 3, Scene 3) Iago initiates a conversation with Othello, delicately opening the issue of what he says he sees as the too-friendly relationship between Cassio and Desdemona, causing the easily duped Othello to thank him for his insight.  Iago says “I speak not yet of proof” as he continues to undermine Desdemona’s faithfulness in Othello’s mind, all the while Othello accepting Iago’s comments at face value.  As Iago exits, Othello says “This honest creature doubtless sees and knows more than he unfolds.”  Desdemona enters and criticizes Othello for being late for dinner.  He says he has a headache.  She presses her handkerchief to his forehead and it falls, unnoticed by all but Emilia.  Emilia picks it up as Desdemona and Othello exit. (Reflection, Act 3, Scene 3)  Emilia innocently mentions to Iago that she has the handkerchief.  He takes it from her, telling her “not to admit to knowing about it.”  Iago plants the handkerchief in Cassio’s bedroom.  An angry Othello, reflecting on what Iago has been saying, enters, telling Iago “Give me ocular proof.” (Ruthlessness, Act 3, Scene 3) Iago tells Othello that he overheard Cassio talking of Desdemona in his sleep, and that he saw Cassio with a beautiful “handkerchief spotted with strawberries.”  Othello responds, “’Twas my first gift to her.” With no sense of conscience, Iago pledges his service and loyalty to Othello.  Othello challenges Iago’s loyalty, saying “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.”  (Reflection, Act 3, Scene 4)

Desdemona frets over the loss of her handkerchief.  Emilia pleads innocence, not wanting to cross her husband.  Othello enters, demanding the handkerchief from Desdemona.  Desdemona dances around the issue, changing the subject, asking him to reinstate Cassio.  Othello exits and he’s angry.  Desdemona wonders aloud that “something from Venice or earlier undisclosed matter” is bothering him.  Emilia responds “Lady, amen.”  Meanwhile Cassio asks his Cypriot girlfriend Bianca to take the stitching out of the handkerchief.  Bianca becomes jealous, saying “This is some token from a newer friend.” (Braggadocio, Act 4, Scene 1)  

Ever persistent Iago continues to torment Othello over the missing handkerchief.  Othello stands aside.  Cassio enters and begins bragging to Iago about how much Bianca loves him.  A jealous Bianca enters, telling Cassio that she will “take out no work” on the handkerchief.  Cassio and Bianca exit.  Overhearing the comment, an infuriated Othello comes forward saying “Get me some poison, Iago.” Iago responds “Strangle her in her bed.”  

At about this time, Lodovico, a kinsman of Brabantio, arrives from Venice.  Lodovico hands Othello a paper from Venice, a paper that lets him know that he is to return to Venice and that Cassio is to replace him as governor of Cyprus. The news unnerves Othello, to say the least.   While Othello is reading the paper, gentle-hearted Desdemona innocently tells Lodovico that Cassio is in Othello’s doghouse, and she’s upset “for the love I bear for Cassio.”  Overhearing the comment, Othello strikes her, not surprisingly upsetting a disbelieving Lodovico. Desdemona exits.  A frustrated Othello leaves for home. He berates his wife, letting her know how upset he is with her. She responds, “What ignorant sin have I committed?” (Husband to Wife, Act 4, Scene 2) In turn, innocent Desdemona seeks sympathy from Iago. (Despair, Act 4, Scene 2)

By now Roderigo is upset with Iago, unable as he is to shed his interest in Desdemona, having earlier given Iago jewels to give to Desdemona; jewels that he says would “have corrupted a nun.”  Roderigo says to Iago “you have told me she received them and returned my expectations and comforts of sudden respect and acquaintance, but I find none.”  Having kept the jewels, ever persuasive Iago convinces Roderigo that Cassio is the problem and that the two of them need by “some accident remove Cassio.”

It is at about this time when Othello commands Desdemona to “get you to bed on th’ instant” and to “dismiss your assistant there,” meaning Emilia.  Desdemona asks Emilia if there are wives who would be unfaithful, and Emilia replies “There be some such, no question.” (Reflection, Act 4, Scene 3)  Emilia proceeds to offer Desdemona her thoughts on the circumstances where women might be unfaithful, and says “Else let them know, the ills we do, their ills instruct us so.”

Iago has by now talked Roderigo into killing Cassio. Roderigo does attempt to kill Cassio, but in the attempt only wounds him, and in the scuffle seriously wounds himself. (Ruthlessness, Act 5, Scene 1)  Feeling that possibly truth will out; Iago kills his long-time friend, the badly injured and defenseless Roderigo.  Cassio survives.  Separately, Desdemona having been wakened by Othello, having sensed that the end was near, but nonetheless following his instructions carefully, is suffocated by him. (Remorse, Act 5, Scene 2.1) Othello exits.  Emilia enters and asks a dying Desdemona “who hath done this deed?” Desdemona casually responds “Nobody. I myself. Commend me to my kind lord.”  Othello finally comes to realize through Emilia’s comments and actions that he has been seriously duped by Iago.

Gratiano, another Venetian official, enters and says “Poor Desdemon, I am glad thy father’s dead.” (Remorse, Act 5, Scene 2.2) Since Emilia won’t stop telling it like it is, Iago kills her, exits, but is soon captured.  Othello, realizing how desperate things are for him, becomes genuinely remorseful, saying “In my sense ‘tis happiness to die.”  Lodovico announces “Cassio rules in Cyprus.” Othello tells Lodovico how he wants to be remembered, and then kills himself. (Pride, Act 5, Scene 2) A guarded Iago is turned over to Cassio. 


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