Scene-Wise Summary of “Othello”

ACT I : SCENE I
Iago’s Hatred
Late at night, in a street in Venice, a conversation is taking place between Iago and a foolish gentleman named Roderigo. Iago, a soldier, is making clear his reasons for hating his general so, much. The general is a Moor named Othello, and Iago has hoped he would be chosen as his lieutenant. Instead Othello has given the honour to a comparatively inexperienced soldier named Michael Cassio, and Iago remains merely the general’s standard-bearer. Iago admits frankly that he is staying in the Moor’s service only because he is planning revenge : “I follow him to serve my turn upon him.”

The path that leads to revenge has already opened up in his imagination, for Othello has been secretly married that night’ to a young and lovely lady of Venice named Desdemona, and Iago is sure that he can somehow “poison his delight”. Roderigo is in love with Desdemona and only too glad to do what he can to spoil the marriage, and Iago finds him a willing assistant in his plans.

Iago’s Plot
According to Iago’s plan, the two of them first awaken Desdemona’s father by shouting under his window that a black man has stolen his daughter. Since the father is a senator of Venice, Roderigo is hoping that somehow he will be able to undo the marriage. Iago knows better ; Othello is so brilliant a general that the senate needs his help in the Turkish wars and will not dare to punish him. It is necessary to Iago’s plan that he himself should remain in Othello’s mind as a loyal and devoted friend, “though. I do hate him as I do bell pains.” So he slips away into the night, leaving Roderigo to deal with Desdemona’s father, who comes out of his house lamenting. His only daughter has run away with a black man, much older than herself, and she must have had some sort of spell laid upon her to make her do anything so unnatural.
ACT I : SCENE II
Brabantio’s Accusation
Brabantio and his party go in search of Iago, whom they discover in a street, and Brabantio shouts his accusation to him, alleging that he has enchanted his daughter by black magic. Othello replies dignifiedly and courteously that he cannot accept Brabantio’s demand, which is that he should go to prison, till the State finds time to decide the case––he cannot permit himself to be taken to prison, he declares, since he is on his way to the council hall commanded there by the Duke. The old senator hears for the first time that the Duke has called a meeting, and he goes at once to present his case against his daughter’s husband.
ACT I : SCENE III
Rumours of War
The meeting has been called because the Duke and his council are disturbed by rumours that the Turkish fleet is planning an attack on the island of Cyprus, and they are discussing a plan to send Othello there to defend it, when Desdemona’s father accuses him of witchcraft. Othello asks that his wife be sent for, and while the senators are waiting he describes the way he wooed her. He told her stories of his adventures, of being sold into slavery, of travelling over strange deserts and high mountains, and of all the other terrors he had endured. Othello states that she loved him for admiring his adventures, and he loved her because she was full of squarely by saying that they may call the girl and interrogate her.
The Evidence
In the meanwhile, Desdemona enters and finds herself in a position where she must choose between her father and her husband. She has been carefully brought up to make a suitable wife for some Venetian gentleman, but all her gentleness and love have reached out to an equal love and gentleness in Othello, and for her it does not matter that he is an older man of an alien race. When she is asked to name the man who is her sovereign lord, she does not choose the father to whom she has always given her obedience but the man she married that night. Her father admits defeat, since there is nothing else he can do, and the talk turns to affairs of state.
Othello’s Commission
It is decided to put Othello in command of the defence of Cyprus and the Duke is willing to give Desdemona permission to accompany him there ; but Othello must set sail immediately, and he entrusts his wife to the care of Iago, who will follow after. Othello has the greatest faith in his standard-bearer : “A man he is of honesty and trust.” Brabantio shouts a warning to Othello to beware of Desdemona, for if she can betray her father, she can also betray her husband. Othello’s answer is to say–– ‘My life upon her faith.’
Iago and Roderigo
After the Senate has adjourned, everyone leaves the room except Iago and the dejected Roderigo. Since Desdemona is lost to him, Roderigo is prepared to go out and drown himself, but Iago laughs at him–– “Drown thyself ? drown cats and blind puppies.” He assures Roderigo that so unnatural a marriage, between a “barbarian and a super-subtle Venetian,” will never last, and as soon as he is alone he lays his plans to destroy it. Iago wants to destroy Michael Cassio too, the man who supplanted him as lieutenant, and a brilliant plot comes to him. It is based on Othello’s trustfulness–– “the Moor is of a free and open nature”––and on his affection Iago decides to base his scheme.
ACT II; SCENES I & II
Othello in Cyprus
Othello is now to move to Cyprus, over which he has been appointed governor. As there has been a violent storm, the previous governor of the island has been waiting anxiously for news from the sea. There is a rumour, which turns out to be true, that the Turkish fleet has been destroyed in a great tempest, but there is fear that Othello’s ship may have been destroyed also. A salute of guns heralds the arrival of a vessel from Venice, and Desdemona comes ashore, with Iago and his wife Emilia who is acting as her maid. All Desdemona’s thoughts are fixed on the rough sea that threatens her husband’s safety, but she has been trained, as the daughter of a senator, not to show her feelings, and she spends the time exchanging banter with Iago. She draws Cassio into the conversation, since he is one of her husband’s closest friends, and Iago watches with glee as Cassio takes her hand, for Iago’s plan is to make Othello think that she and Cassio are lovers, and the small common courtesies that pass between them are all threads that will help him in the weaving of his design. A flourish of trumpets announces the safe arrival of Othello and he comes ashore to take his wife in his arms. A general feast is proclaimed that night in celebration of the Turkish defeat, as well as Othello’s wedding night.
ACT II : SCENE III
Cassio in Disgrace
Othello announces festivities that night in honour of his wedding, and he leaves his lieutenant Cassio in command of the guard to keep order during the festivities. Iago comes up to Cassio early in the night and suggests in a friendly way that they drink together to Othello’s health, for he wants to make Cassio sufficiently drunk so that Roderigo will be able to pick a quarrel with him. Cassio politely turns him down, saying “Not tonight, good Iago, I have very poor and unhappy brains for drinking.” Iago urges him very gently. “What, man, ’tis a night of revels.” He implies that any man who refuses a glass or two of wine is clearly no man at all, and finally Cassio gives in. Cassio is quite correct about his inability to drink. He grows first sentimental, and then religious, and then full of outraged and rather talkative virtue : “Do not think, gentlemen, I am drunk…This is my right hand, and this is my left hand. I am not drunk now ; I can stand well enough, and speak well enough.” They all assure him that he is certainly not drunk and he wanders off, befuddled and pugnacious, to be baited by Roderigo into a blind rage. The former governor of the island tries to stop them from fighting, and Cassio has the ill luck to hurt him with his sword. Iago manages to create an added effect of clamour and confusion while pretending to try and stop it, and when Othello arrives he is faced with a “barbarous brawl” which, as far as he can discover, is wholly Cassio’s fault. Othello, therefore, declares that he can no longer have Cassio as his lieutenant.
ACT III : SCENES I & II
Cassio and Desdemona
Cassio is extremely dejected, and Iago points out that he can get back into Othello’s favour if Desdemona will intercede for him. The general loves his wife so much that he can refuse her nothing, and Desdemona herself is always ready to do any one a kindness. “She is of so free, so kind, so apt, so blessed a disposition, she holds it a vice in her goodness not to do more than she is requested,” says Iago. Cassio resolves to ask Desdemona for help the next morning, and Iago plans to make it appear to Othello that she is pleading for her lover. Early in the morning, Cassio presents, himself at the castle and asks to see Desdemona. She agrees immediately to try and persuade her husband to take him back into favour, and as they talk Othello and Iago enter at a distance.
ACT III : SCENE III
Desdemona’s Pleading
Iago, acting the part of a loyal and worried friend, makes a slight gesture of discomfort when he sees the two of them together and Othello turns to him. “What dost thou say ?” “Nothing, m; lord, or if––I know not what.” Othello asks whether it was not Cassio who parted from his wife, and Iago pretends that it could not have been Cassio who slunk away so guiltily from Othello’s wife at his arrival. As a natural sequel, Desdemona pleads Cassio’s case, asserting that he is a good man, and worthy to be reinstated in her husband’s favour. She is so fervent in Cassio’s defense that Othello finally gives in to her. “I will deny thee nothing.” Iago now has the situation exactly where he wants it, and s soon as Desdemona leaves he inquires in affectionate and troubled-tones if Cassio knew her before the marriage. Othello says that he did and in fact acted as a go-between. Iago becomes even more troubled, giving a perfect picture of a reluctant friend hesitating on the brink of a disclosure that the husband has a right to know. Under Othello’s prodding, and apparently with the most bitter regret, Iago is brought to the admission that he suspects Cassio and Desdemona of making love to each other. It is only his great love for Othello that makes him reveal such a thing, he declares.
The Handkerchief
A chance happening takes place to facilitate Iago’s task. He is an old and valued friend of the Moor and Othello has always trusted him. Moreover, everyone, including Othello, knows that his marriage is a risky one from the worldly point of view. Nothing holds it together but Desdemona’s love for him, and there seems to be no reason why she should love a black man, older than herself, when a handsome young gallant like’ Cassio is available. Before they left Venice, Desdemona’s father give his new son-in-law a warning :
                Look to her, Moor, if thou hast eyes to see:
                She has deceived her father, and may thee.
And now Iago mattes ‘the same point ; “She did deceive her father marrying you. Othello really knows very little about his young wife ; he only knows that he loves her with a helpless, hopeless, devouring passion and that Iago’s words have filled him with terror. Desdemona comes in to remind her husband it is time for dinner, and Othello, trying to wrench away from the desperation of his thoughts, tells himself, “I’ll not believe it.” But he is incapable of behaving in his usual manner and Desdemona is instantly troubled “Are you not well?” Othello says that be has a pain in his forehead, and she hopefully tries to bind his brow with a small handkerchief she has. He pushes it away, and the handkerchief falls to the floor between them. It is a silk handkerchief embroidered with strawberries, the first gift he had ever given her, and she used to kiss it and talk to it when he was away. For some time Iago has been trying to persuade his wife Emilia to steal it from her mistress ; and when Emilia finds it lying on the floor, forgotten in Desdemona’s worry over her husband, she picks it up and gives it to Iago. Iago has a use for it. He plans to drop it somewhere in Cassio’s lodging where that innocent young man will he sure to find it.
Iago’s Lies
Iago knows that as a result of the poison he has injected into him, Othello will never be able to enjoy sound sleep again. Doubt and uncertainty are the greatest torture to Othello. If only he had clear proof that Desdemona is faithless, then at least his agony would be a settled thing ; but he cannot be sure, and Iago, seeing him waver, begins to fashion a string of outright lies. He describes how he heard Cassio talking in his sleep, re-living a love scene with Desdemona ; and little by little Iago builds a monstrous fabrication that thickens and takes shapes before Othello’s eyes until it is more real than reality itself. “Damn her …O, damn her I” Iago swears to give the wronged husband complete and unswerving service, even if it means Cassio’s death, and Othello, in turn gives him the place he has been angling for–– “Now art thou my lieutenant.”
ACT III : SCENE IV
Desdemona’s Confusion
Desdemona’s mind dwells firmly on the assurance she gave to Cassio and now she sends him a message of good cheer : “Tell him I have moved my lord in his behalf and hope all will be well” What chiefly troubles ht r at the moment is the loss of her handkerchief, and she is ever more worried when Othello asks her to lend it to him. She says she does not have it about her at the moment, and her husband becomes so violent that she is afraid to say she has lost it. She tries to talk of Cassio, but all Othello can do is to shout, “The handkerchief !” knowing it is in Cassio’s hands and convinced that she gave it to him. He had said thee was witchcraft in his gift, and that the woman who lost it would also lose her husband’s love; and Desdemona is almost ready to believe it.
ACT IV : SCENE I
Othello’s Jealousy
Cassio pays a visit to inquire about the progress of his suit and Desdemona is forced to admit that she has been an unsuccessful advocate. She is out of favour with Othello herself and cannot fathom the cause. Since she is a senator’s daughter and accustomed to affairs of state, she is inclined to think it is some political problem that is troubling her husband. Emilia, her maid, is a practical realist and thinks that Othello’s trouble is jealousy, but Desdemona is sure that is impossible. As she said, earlier­––
My noble Moor
                Is true of mind, and made of no such baseness
                As jealous creatures are…
Moreover she has never given him any reason to be jealous. Emilia remarks that jealousy is without reason, a monster that breeds out of itself and Desdemona, increasingly disturbed, utters a prayer. “Heaven keep that monster from Othello’s mind !” The prayer comes too late. The monster is already there, feeding upon itself and flooding with its poison the mind of its tortured host. And at every point Iago is there also, alert sympathetic and affectionate, to make the pain worse. By a trick he makes Othello think that Cassio is speaking of Desdemona When be is really referring to a woman of the streets, and finally Othello’s agony is such that even pity cannot enter in–– “My heart is turned to stone ; I strike it, and it hurts my hand.” He has at last made up his mind : Desdemona must die. He lets his mind run on her grace and her sweetness and torments himself with the thought of it, but it does not change his purpose. He will strangle her that night in her bed. “But yet the pity of it, Iago ! O Iago, the pity of it, Iago I” he exclaims.
Othello’s Fury
Othello now misinterprets every action of Desdemona and, at one stage, he is unable to contain his fury. Lodovico arrives as a messenger from Venice and is shocked to discover that a breach has developed between Othello and Cassio. Desdemona hopes that the Venetian gentleman will be able to heal it, since she herself can do nothing. He also brings news that Othello is to be recalled to Venice, with Cassio taking over the government of the island, and Desdemona remarks innocently that she is glad to hear it. Othello can bear no more, and he strikes her. The Venetian messenger is appalled. The thing is unbelievable. As for Desdemona, she can make only one reply to her husband’s brutality ; “I have not deserved this.” When the Venetian is alone with Iago, he searches for some sort of explanation. And Iago, smiling inwardly at the ruin he has made, agrees gravely that something indeed seems to be amiss –– “He is much changed,” he observes of Othello.
ACT IV : SCENE II
Desdemona’s Shock
It takes Desdemona quite some time to realize that the noble, Moor is accusing her of adultery. Othello tries to force an admission from his wife’s maid that Desdemona and Cassio are lovers, but­ Emilia is steadfast in her denials. Then he sends for Desdemona ­herself and tries to force the same admission from her. He does not use Cassio’s name, and Desdemona still clings to the idea that Othello is enmeshed in some political difficulty. Perhaps the recall to Venice has angered him, and he feels that her father had something to do with it. She is so sure of her own innocence that it is a little while before the savage explicitness of Othello’s language penetrates her mind and she realizes of what she is being accused. Even then, there is nothing she can do but deny the charge, with all the lack of skill that innocence has, and to deaf ears. Emilia comes back to find her mistress in a blurred state, half between sleeping and waking. She is like a child who has been beaten into stupefaction, and for a time she cannot collect herself. Then she decides to send logo to ask her husband to forgive bar for whatever it is that has used a him angry Iago assures bar that it is some political matter that is troubling Othello and that it will pass : “Go in, and weep not ; all things shall be well.” Then, when she has left the room, he sends Roderigo off to murder Cassio. Roderigo will do anything to get Desdemona for himself, and goes obediently.
ACT IV : SCENE III
Desdemona’s Song
Othello sends Desdemona to bed as night has fallen and gives instructions that her maid is to leave her. Emilia is reluctant to let her mistress be alone, but Desdemona insists : “We must not now displease him.” Before Emilia goes, she lays out on the bed the sheets that were used on the wedding night and then helps her mistress to undress. Desdemona, bewildered and not really awake, cannot think clearly. An old song is running through her head, sung by a maid of her mother’s who lost her lover and died. She sings the song to herself while her maid undresses her, but what she is waiting for is a sound at the door. “Hark, who is ‘t that knocks ?” It is only the wind, and Desdemona goes on with the song. She cannot keep herself from thinking about her husband’s accusation, although it seems to her impossible that any woman would do such an evil thing. Emilia says wryly that it is quite possible, and sometimes justifiable, considering the way most men treat their wives, but Desdemona will not believe it, and she goes to as a child might, with a light left burning beside her.
ACT V : SCENE I
Iago’s Plans Misfire
Iago’s well-thought plans about setting Roderigo and Cassio on each other, so that one, if not both of them, are out of the way, misfire. Roderigo stands in hiding with his rapier bared, waiting for Cassio to pass. His quick thrust in the dark does not penetrate Cassio’s heavy coat, and Iago is obliged to strike. He wounds him in the leg, Cassio falls, and Othello believes him to be dead. Nothing now remains for him but to perform his own part in the act of vengeance, and he goes back to the castle and to his bedchamber.
ACT V : SCENE II
The Murder
Othello enters his wife’s bedchamber and at first stands for a long time by the bed in which his wife lies sleeping; staring down at her and shaken by his love and his anguish. Finally he cannot prevent himself from kissing her, and Desdemona wakens : “Will you come to bed, my lord ?” she asks. Othello has stretched his tortured spirit to the high pitch of an act that will not scar her body, and he is determined also that he will not hurt her soul. She and have time to say her prayers before he kills her, and he tells her so. The terrified Desdemona tries to protect herself with what little skill she has and struggles to make him realize that she is innocent ; but she speaks to a madman who cannot listen. Then she learns that Cassio is dead and no one is left who can testify in her defense, and she abandons her useless weapons and pleads only for time–– “Kill me tomorrow ; let me live tonight I” she pleads. Othello does not dare wait. He might weaken. He does not even dare give her the time he promised in which to say her prayers. He speaks the final, terrible line, “It is too late,” and then he smothers her.
Othello’s Death
Othello hears some noise outside––Emilia calling from the other side of the door––and Othello presses harder. He draws the bed curtains to hide what he has done, and Emilia comes is to say that Cassio is not killed but only wounded. There is a faint sound from the bed, and Emilia finds her mistress dying and barely conscious. The frantic maid tries to find out who committed the murder, and Desdemona has just enough strength left to protect her husband, “Nobody, I myself, farewell.” In a fury of grief and rage, Emilia turns on Othello and he admits that he has killed his wife. He tries to explain his reasons and she sweeps them away. Then he tries to threaten her, but no one can frighten Emilia now. Her cries bring the whole company into the room, and then it is her husband Iago who tries to silence her, “Come, hold your peace.” She manages to let Othello know who made her steal the handkerchief, and then Iago stops her with a knife-thrust. She dies, remembering the last song she heard her mistress sing, and saying, “She loved thee, cruel Moor.” Othello’s sword has been seized, but there is another hidden in the room. Always before this Othello has felt safe and, confident with a weapon in his hand, but now he has lost all sense of direction. “Where should Othello go ?” He has no need to wait to go to hell for he is in it now, and even his attempt to kill Iago is a halfhearted one. Othello asks forgiveness of the wronged Cassio, who gives it freely. And then, with a final return to his natural dignity and control, he sends a message to the Venetian, state. The senators of Venice should be told that once, when a Turk insulted their city, Othello took him by, the throat “and smote, him, thus With that he drives a dagger into his own body and falls dying on the bed beside his wife, saying, “I kissed thee ere I killed thee.” And so kissing her for the last time, he dies. Cassio pronounces the epitaph of the general he loved. “He was great of heart.” Since Cassio is the new governor of Cyprus, it is his task to arrange for the punishment if Iago, who declares that from now on he would not speak a word.
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