The Tragedy of Othello, the Moor of Venice


William Shakespeare

A Precis

  Othello recounting his war stories to Desdemona

     The play takes place in Venice, a Renaissance city-state and Cyprus, a coastal port. Venice's military hero, the middle-aged Othello, a black Moor, has secretly eloped with the much younger Desdemona, the daughter of Venetian senator Brabantio. Desdemona, a lady who moves in the best social circles in Venice, has fallen in love with Othello's hero-general persona. Othello has fallen in love with Desdemona's fawning adoration of him.

Act I, Scene I

     As the play opens, Roderigo, a Venetian gentleman, is conversing with Iago, the third in command under Othello. Iago had idolized Othello, the hero-general, but after Othello passed him over for promotion, his admiration has turned to bitter hatred.

     Roderigo suggests that Iago resign his post, but Iago says that he intends to remain in service to Othello while actually pursuing his own personal aims of revenge. Iago tells Roderigo that he will only pretend to be Othello's faithful follower, that he will not be what he appears to be.

"I am not what I am," Iago says.

     To begin his revenge on Othello, Iago, accompanied by Roderigo, goes to the home of Desdemona's father, Brabantio, to rat on Othello. To turn Brabantio against Othello, Iago shouts out in the coarsest possible language what Othello and Desdemona are now doing.
"I am one sir," Iago announces, "that comes to tell you your daughter and the Moor are now making the beast with two backs."

     When Brabantio accuses them of lying, Roderigo replies that his beloved daughter has sneaked out of his house "to the gross clasps of a lascivious Moor."

"Your daughter, if you have not given her leave,
I say again, hath made a gross revolt,
Tying her duty, beauty, wit, and fortunes
In an extravagant and wheeling stranger
Of here and everywhere."

     Brabantio discovers that indeed Desdemona has secretly fled. He is beside himself with rage and exhorts Roderigo to lead the search for the dastardly Moor.

Act I, Scene II

     Shortly afterward, in another Venice street, Iago tries to provoke Othello to anger by telling him that Brabantio has maligned the general's honor. Iago warns that Brabantio, a powerful Venitian politician, may try to have Othello dismissed. The egotistical Othello says that his services for the Venitian rulers "shall out-tongue his complaints" and adds:

"My parts, my title, and my perfect soul
Shall manifest me rightly."

     Othello admits to Iago that if he wasn't in love with Desdemona he would not easily give up his freedom.

     Michael Cassio, Othello's young lieutenant, arrives with word that a Turkish war party is about to attack Venice and that the Duke of Venice and the Senate have summoned Othello to the Council to prepare for war. When Othello says that he will rush to the Council after spending a moment in his house, Cassio asks Iago why the delay. Iago reveals to Cassio that Othello has that night married Desdemona.

     At that moment, Brabantio, Roderigo and several law officers arrive to arrest Othello. When both sides draw their swords, Othello tells his supporters to put away their weapons.

     Brabantio accuses Othello of enchanting and thereby abusing Desdemona.

"Damned as thou are, thou hast enchanted her,
For I'll refer me to all things of sense
If she in chains of magic were not bound,
Whether a maid so tender, fair, and happy,
So opposite to marriage that she shunned
The wealthy curled darlings of our nation,
Would ever have, to incur a general mock,
Run from her guardage to the sooty bosom
Of such a thing as thou, to fear, not to delight.
Judge me the world if 'tis not gross in sense
That thou hast practiced on her with foul charms,
Abused her delicate youth with drugs or minerals
That weaken motion."

     When Brabantio tells his men to seize the Moor, Othello tells Brabantio that he has been summoned by the Duke himself because of an impending military threat. Brabantio says that's fine with him, he will bring his charge against Othello in the presence of the Duke and the Senate.

Act I, Scene III

     In the council-chamber of the Duke of Venice, the Duke and the senators are planning a military response to the arch-enemies of Venice, the Turks, who are threatening military action toward either Rhodes or Cyprus.

      The planning council is interrupted by the irate Brabantio who immediately begins to make accusations that his daughter has been mentally raped.

      Not realizing who the accused is, the Duke promises to punish the "beguiler" of Brabantio's daughter to the full extent of the law. The Duke and the other Venetian leaders are taken aback when they hear that Brabantio is accusing Othello of these crimes. To support his suit, Brabantio recounts how he unwittingly invited the Moor to his home. Brabantio claims that his daughter must be under a spell to fall in love with Othello, a much older man with a fearsome black visage.

      On Othello's request the Council summons Desdemona. Othello defends himself by explaining that Desdemona was impressed by his stories of military adventures and exploits. As he is explaining that her love for him involves no witchcraft, Desdemona suddenly appears and confirms her genuine love for the Moor. She explains that though torn in her affections between her father and her husband, she must, as did her mother, stand by her duty to her husband.

"I do perceive here a divided duty.
To you I am bound for life and education,
My life and education both do learn me
How to respect you, you are the lord of duty,
I am hitherto your daugther. 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."

     Brabantio is incensed by what he takes to be Desdemona's betrayal but resigns himself to the situation. Returning to the business at hand, the Duke orders Othello to go to Cyprus and defend against the Turks.

Othello      Othello, totally unaware of his hatred for him, chooses Iago to escort Desdemona to Cyprus to be with Othello.

"So please your Grace, my Ancient,
A man he is of honesty and trust.
To his conveyance I assign my wife,
With what else needful your good grace shall think
To be sent after me."

      After the others have left, Iago speaks with Roderigo, who is still smitten with desire for Desdemona. He says that his bootless love is something he cannot control. Iago scolds him for this admission.

"'Tis in ourselves that we are thus or thus. Our bodies are gardens, to the which our wills are gardeners. So that if we will plant nettles or sow lettuce, set hyssop and weed up thyme, supply it with one gender of herbs or distract it with many, either to have it sterile with idleness or manured with industry--why, the power and corrigible authority of this lies in our wills. If the balance of our lives had not one scale of reason to poise another of sensuality, the blood and baseness of our natures would conduct us to most preposterous conclusions. But we have reason to cool our raging motions, our carnal stings, our unbitted lusts, whereof I take this that you call love to be a sect or scion."

     Iago assures Roderigo that the "barbarian" Othello and the youthful Desdemona will soon grow tired of one another After his revenge against Othello, Iago assures him, Desdemona will be free to marry Roderigo. Iago tells Roderigo to await further instruction but meanwhile gather money for a plot against the Moor. Alone on stage, Iago declaims "I hate the Moor," wondering if Othello may have slept with Iago's wife. Iago decides that Cassio, "a proper man" but pleasing to women, will be his instrument through which he will wreak his vengeance on the gullible Othello.

"The Moor is of a free and open nature
That thinks men honest that but seem to be so,
And will as tenderly be led by the nose
As asses are."

Act II, Scene I

     There is talk at the seaport of Cyprus that a great storm has devastated the Turkish fleet. Then Cassio appears with further news that the Turks have been defeated but that Othello's command ship may also have gone down. A ship is spotted and the hope goes up that it is Othello returned.

     It is Iago's ship, bringing Desdemona and his own wife, Emilia, along with Roderigo and others. Cassio reveals his fondness for Desdemona by his playful conversation with her. Iago plans within himself how he can use this in his plot to destroy Othello.

Othello and Desdemona      Othello arrives unscathed and is welcomed by all. Kissing Desdemona, he tells her how joyous it is being with her again. They then return home. Alone, Iago takes Roderigo aside and tells him that Desdemona is in love with Cassio. Roderigo finds this hard to believe, but Iago explains that she has grown tired of the aging Moor and finds the young, handsome Cassio to her taste. Iago inflames Roderigo with hatred against Cassio.

"A devilish knave! Besides, the knave is handsome, young, and hath all those requisites in him that folly and green minds look after. A pestilent complete knave, and the woman hath found him already."

     Iago instructs Roderigo to provoke Cassio into a fight as he stands guard that night, so that he can be charged with fighting while on duty. Iago entices Roderigo by explaining that this will eliminate Cassio as Roderigo's rival for Desdemona. Alone, Iago reflects how he lusts for Desdemona in part because he suspects Othello may have slept with his own wife, Emilia.

"Now, I do love her too,
Not out of absolute lust, though peradventure
I stand accountant for as great a sin,
But partly led to diet my revenge
For that I do suspect the lusty Moor
Hath leaped into my seat, The thought whereof
Doth like a poisonous mineral gnaw my inwards.
And nothing can or shall content my soul
Till I am evened with him, wife for wife.
Or failing so, yet that I put the Moor
At least into a jealousy so strong
That judgment cannot cure."

Act II, Scene II

     A herald announces that "our noble General Othello" has decreed that a celebration be held in celebration of his recent marriage and the glorious victory over the Turkish fleet.

Act II, Scene III

     In the castle, Othello commends Iago as "most honest" as he sends Cassio to stand the watch. After Othello and Desdemona have left, Cassio greets Iago: "Welcome, Iago. We must to the watch"

Desdemona      Iago arouses Cassio's lust for Desdemona by describing her sexual aura, indicating that Othello "hath not yet made wanton the night with her, and she is sport for Jove.

Cassio: She's a most exquisite lady.

Iago: And, I'll warrant her, full of game.

Cassio: Indeed she's a most fresh and delicate creature.

Iago: What an eye she has. Methinks it sounds a parley to provocation.

Cassio: An inviting eye, and yet methinks right modest.

Iago: And when she speaks, is it not an alarum to love?

Cassio: She is indeed perfection.

Iago: Well, happiness to their sheets!"

     Iago encourages Cassio to drink in celebration of the occasion. Cassio says he has no head for drink, has already had one glass, and should have no more. Insisting, Iago says that the gallants outside insist that everyone drink on this "night of revels." While Cassio goes to invite the revelers in, Iago reflects how he'll get Cassio drunk and cause him to be rejected by Othello. Reentering with Montano, the former governor of Cyprus, and others, Cassio is well on his way to getting drunk and Iago regales him and the others with bawdy songs to encourage much drinking and high spirits. Insisting that he's not drunk, Cassio leaves to stand watch.

     Iago laments to Montano that though Cassio has some virtue it is counterbalanced by this tendency toward drunkenness. He worries that Othello has misplaced his trust in so unreliable a person as Cassio. A tumult is heard outside and Cassio and Roderigo burst in, fighting with swords as they enter. Cassio strikes Roderigo and Montano gets between them, trying to end the fight, telling Cassio that he's drunk. Cassio wounds Montano as they engage in swordplay. Aside, Iago tells Roderigo to go outside and sound the alarm.

     In answer to the alarm, Othello enters and demands to know who started the altercation. Appearing reluctant to speak ill of anyone, Iago explains what has happened.

Iago "Touch me not so near.
I had rather have this tongue cut from my mouth
Than it should do offense to Michael Cassio.
Yet I persuade myself to speak the truth
Shall nothing wrong him. Thus it is, General.
Montano and myself being in speech,
There comes a fellow crying out for help,
And Cassio following him with determined sword
To execute upon him, Sir, this gentleman
Steps in to Cassio and entreats his pause.   . . .
Though Cassio did some little wrong to him,
As men in rage strike those that wish them best,
Yet surely Cassio, I believe, received
From him that fled some strange indignity,
Which patience could not pass."

     Believing that he has heard the truth about the event, Othello summarily dismisses Cassio from military service. Everyone leaves but Cassio and Iago. Cassio is beside himself with anguish for having lost his reputation, which he considers "the immortal part" of himself. Pursuing his plot for revenge, Iago encourages Cassio to implore Othello for reinstatement.

"As I am an honest man, I thought you had received some bodily wound. There is more sense in that than in reputation. Reputation is an idle and most false imposition, oft got without merit and lost without deserving. You have lost no reputation at all unless you repute yourself such a loser. What, man! There are ways to recover the General again. You are but now cast in his mood, a punishment more in policy than in malice--even so as one would beat his offenseless dog to affright an imperious lion. Sue to him again and he's yours."
     To further his revenge, Iago convinces Cassio to ask Desdemona to help him in his petition for reinstatement.

"Confess yourself freely to her, importune her help to put you in your place again. 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. This broken joint between you and her husband entreat her to splinter and, my fortunes against any lay worth naming, this crack of your love shall grow stronger than it was before."

     Leaving Cassio, Iago goes to take up the watch, reflecting to himself how he will do in his enemy, Othello.

"For whiles this honest fool
Plies Desdemona to repair his fortunes,
And she for him pleads strongly to the Moor,
I'll pour this pestilence into his ear,
That she repeals him for her body's lust.
And by how much she strives to do him good,
She shall undo her credit with the Moor.
So will I turn her virtue into pitch,
And out of her own goodness make the net
That shall enmesh them all."

     When Roderigo returns, downcast, Iago encourages him, pointing out that his competitor, Cassio, has been cashiered. As he goes to stand watch, Iago completes his plans:

  • He will have Emilia, his wife, entreat Desdemona to implore Othello to reinstate Cassio

  • He will see to it that Othello discovers Cassio soliciting Desdemona's help

  • He will make Othello think that Desdemona and Cassio are lovers

Act III, Scene I

     Before Othello's castle headquarters, Cassio informs Iago that he has sent a message to Emilia, Iago's wife asking her to make it possible for Cassio to speak with Desdemona. Iago tells Cassio that he will send Emilia to speak with him. Shortly, Emilia appears and gives Cassio the good news that Othello and Desdemona are speaking of his situation. She tells Cassio that Desdemona is speaking for him "stoutly," but that Othello says there's no need for her intervention because his own feeling for Cassio is enough to reinstate you as soon as it is appropriate.

     Cassio tells Emilia that even though things seem to be going well for him with Othello, he would still like to speak with Desdemona. Emilia invites him to come in and says she will make it possible for him to speak with Desdemona.

Act III, Scene II

     Othello instructs Iago to take some letters to the pilot and meet him on the sea fortifications. Iago agrees and leaves.

Act III, Scene III

     Desdemona assures Cassio that she will bring about his reconciliation with Othello.

"I'll intermingle every thing he does
With Cassio's suit. Therefore be merry, Cassio,
For thy solicitor shall rather die
Than give thy cause away."

     Cassio thanks Desdemona from the bottom of his heart and leaves.

     At that moment, Othello and Iago are approaching Desdemona's quarters and see Cassio leaving. Iago expresses his displeasure at seeing Cassio meeting secretly with Desdemona, but pretends that he was merely speaking in distraction. Othello asks Iago if that wasn't Cassio just leaving Desdemona's room. Iago says that it surely wasn't Cassio who was stealing guiltily away upon seeing Othello approaching.

     As soon as Othello and Iago enter, Desdemona tells them that she's been speaking with Cassio and asks Othello to reconcile with him. Othello says he will speak with Cassio shortly. But Desdemona presses him to say precisely when he will summon Cassio. She says that Cassio is one of his most loyal officers and has sometimes taken Othello's side when she herself has spoken disparagingly of Othello.

     Othello, grown weary of her importuning, says that he will grant Desdemona's boon.

     Desdemona reacts to this statement, telling Othello that she is not asking for something for herself but only trying to get Othello to do what is right. Othello, even more weary of all this talk of Cassio, asks Desdemona to leave him and Iago alone for a while. Desdemona and Emilia leave.

     Othello speaks in exasperation:

"Excellent wretch! Perdition catch my soul
But I do love thee! And when I love thee not,
Chaos is come again."

     Iago asks Othello if Cassio had been aware of Othello's love for Desdemona when Othello was wooing her. Othello assures him that Cassio was fully aware of his affection for her. He asks Iago why he asks this question, is it because he distrusts Cassio. When Iago hesitates, in his usual manner of pretending not to want to speak ill of someone, Othello insists that Iago tell him what he thinks:

"I know thou'rt full of love and honesty
And weigh'st thy words before thou givest them breath.
Therefore these stops of thine fright me the more.
For such things in a false disloyal knave
Are tricks of custom, but in a man that's just
They're close delations, working from the heart,
That passion cannot rule."

     Iago demurs again, explaining that his scattered, unsure surmisings would only cause Othello to wonder about Cassio's character. Othello asks him what he means.

"Good name in man and woman, dear my lord,
Is the immediate jewel of their souls.
Who steals my purse steals trash--'tis something, nothing,
'Twas mine, 'tis his, and has been slave to thousands--
But he that filches from me my good name
Robs me of that which not enriches him
And makes me poor indeed.
. . .

Oh, beware, my lord, of jealousy.
It is the green-eyed monster which doth mock
The meat it feeds on. That cuckold lives in bliss
Who, certain of his fate, love not his wronger.
But, oh, what damned minutes tells he o'er
Who dotes, yet doubts, suspects, yet strongly loves!"

     Othello tells Iago not to worry that he'll cause him to become jealous, because he knows that Desdemona is a virtuous woman. He says he would only doubt her if he had certain proof of her infidelity.

     Iago expresses his relief that he can be frank with him. He says he has no definite proof of Desdemona's unfaithfulness, but suggests that Othello observe her when she is around Cassio. Remember, Iago tells Othello, that Desdemona was unfaithful to her father. Seeing Othello aroused by what he is saying, Iago begs Othello not to be influenced by his words beyond suspicion. Because, Iago tells him, Cassio is his friend and he's sure that Desdemona must be a faithful wife, no question about it. And yet, Iago says, most women are more comfortable with men of their own culture, and he wonders if Desdemona might be of that usual sort.

     Othello appears to dismiss Iago's suspicions, but tells him to "set" his wife, Emilia, "to observe." Iago suggests that Othello wait to reinstate Cassio and see if Desdemona goes too far in interceding for him.

     After Iago has left, Desdemona enters and Othello tells her he has a headache. She says she will wrap her scarf around his head after dinner. As they leave together, Desdemona drops the scarf.

     Emilia picks up the scarf, reflecting that this scarf which Othello gave her as a gift, is what Iago has been asking her to get for him. When Iago enters Emilia gives him the scarf, asking what he intends to do with it. Iago refuses to answer her.

     Othello enters, complaining to Iago that he now has disturbing suspicions about Desdemona. When Iago pretends to be displeased at his displeasure, Othello grows angry and calls him a villain, telling him to prove that Desdemona's a whore or suffer his condemnation. Iago complains to Othello that he should have known better than to be honest with him. With this, Othello realizes that his suspicions have gotten the better of him, and he tells Iago that, no, he should be honest. To the contrary, Iago says, it's better to be wise than honest.

     Othello is still consumed with suspicion and tells Iago to give him proof of Desdemoa's infidelity, to put his mind at rest. Iago, pretending to follow his orders with displeasure, "pricked to 'it by foolish honesty and love," tells Othello that he had once heard Cassio cry out in his sleep:

"'Sweet Desdemona,
Let us be wary, let us hide our loves.'
And then, sir, would he grip and wring my hand,
Cry 'O sweet creature!'"

     When Othello bellows with jealousy, "I'll tear her all to pieces," Iago reminds him that this may all be a false lead, that perhaps it is only Cassio's fantasy. Continuing his perfidy, Iago asks Othello if he remembers the scarf he gave Desdemona as a gift, the one spotted with strawberries. When Othello confirms that this had been his gift to Desdemona, Iago says he observed Cassio wiping his beard with just that scarf.

     With that, Othello's suspicions become full certitude and he tells Iago that his love for Desdemona is forever shattered. "Arise, black Vengeance, from thy hollow cell!" Othello disclaims. Iago advises Othello to wait, that his opinion of Desdemona may change. But Othello's mind is set and he vows revenge. Iago swears to follow whatever orders Othello gives him. Othello tells Iago that within three days he wants to hear that Cassio is dead. He appoints Iago his Lieutenant and they go off to plot the murder of Cassio.

Act III, Scene IV

     Unsuspecting Othello's hatred for her, Desdemona continues her petition for reinstatement of Cassio. When Othello asks to use her scarf, Desdemona says it's not there but lies to him that it's not lost. Othello tells Desdemona that the scarf is magical, that an Egyptian sorcerer had given it to his mother with the understanding that as long as she kept the scarf she would retain her husband's love, but if she ever lost it, her husband's love would turn to hatred and infidelity. Othello tells Desdemona that "to lose 't or give 't away were such perdition as nothing else could match."

     Consumed with rage, Othello demands the scarf, but Desdemona persists in her entreaties for Cassio, and Othello finally stalks off in a fury.

Bianca      Desdemona, Emilia, Iago, and Cassio discuss Othello's changed condition. Iago leaves to seek out Othello. Desdemona tells Cassio that she cannot at present continue the suit for his reinstatement because Othello is beside himself with anger for her. She and Emilia hope that his fury is not out of jealousy.

     When Cassio meets Bianca, his lover, he gives her the scarf he found in his house and asks her to make a duplicate of it. She asks where it came from, but he tells her not to get into that.

Act IV, Scene I

     As Othello and Iago discuss Desdemona's infidelity with Cassio, Iago inflames Othello's jealous rage with images of her making love with Cassio. Othello is beside himself with hatred for Desdemona, raving about her until he falls into an epileptic episode. Cassio arrives and Iago tells him that this is the second seizure Othello has experienced in the last two days. As Othello begins to revive, Iago tells Cassio to leave before he regains his senses.

When Othello regains full consciousness, Iago tells him that Cassio came by while he was in a stupor. He suggests that Othello hide but listen to what Cassio will say about Desdemona as Iago draws him out. He tells Othello to note particularly the scornful grins and knowing sneers on Cassio's face as he talks about Desdemona. Iago's plan is to get Cassio to speak lewdly and lasciviously about Bianca, his mistress, while making Othello think that Cassio is speaking in a humiliating manner about Desdemona. From where he's hiding, Othello can only hear snatches of what Iago and Cassio say.

Encouraged by Iago to speak about his dalliances with Bianca, Cassio tells him how she is mad for him. Iago tells Cassio that Bianca is telling everyone that Cassio's going to marry him, and Cassio laughs at such an absurdity. Cassio tells Iago that he's not stupid enough to marry such a woman. Othello can see by Cassio's tone and gesture that he thinks the woman he's talking about is love stricken with him, but that he does not really care for her and considers her a whore.

As Iago and Cassio are conversing, Bianca approaches. She tells Cassio that she won't have anything to do with the scarf he gave her to copy, that it's most likely a gift from one of his strumpets. She waves the scarf about and stalks off, mumbling about Cassio's infidelity. Cassio runs after her to keep her from making a spectacle.

As Othello rejoins Iago, he asks, "How shall I murder him, Iago?" Iago asks if Othello had seen the scarf he'd given to Desdemona. To drive home the point, Iago says that Cassio thinks so little of the scarf that Desdemona had given him that he gives it to his whore. Othello raves about the perfidy of Desdemona, pretending to be virtuous while cuckolding him with Cassio. Othello vows to kill her and asks Iago to get him some poison. Iago says that it would be more fitting if Othello strangled her in the very bed that she had used for her sinful rendezvous with Cassio. Othello thinks that is an excellent plan.

Desdemona and Lodovico, her kinsman, arrive with a letter for Othello from the Duke and the Senators ordering Othello to return to Venice while Cassio replaces him as governor of Cyprus. In front of Othello, Desdemona speaks to Lodovico about the rift between Othello and Cassio, saying that she "would do much to atone them," for the love she bears for Cassio. This is too much for Othello, and he strikes Desdemona, calling her a devil.

Lodovico can hardly believe what he is seeing. He tells Othello that the Duke and the Senate will find it hard to believe that Othello has committed such an outrage, but that he will definitely give them his testimony as an eye witness.

After Othello has railed about Desdemona's treachery and left in a fury, Lodovico wonders aloud to Iago how the Venetian rulers could ever have thought this man a great leader. Lodovico questions whether perhaps the letter drove Othello to such an unforgivable display of fury. Iago, in his inimitable manner, tells Lodovico that it's not his place to criticize Othello, but suggests he will see his true nature if he watches what happens between Othello and Desdemona in the coming hours.

Act IV, Scene II

In a room in his castle, Othello is questioning Emilia as to Desdemona's infidelity with Cassio. Emilia is aghast that Othello could think such a thing, assuring him pointedly that he has absolutely no cause for concern. She says that if someone has put such perfidious thoughts in his head that he should have the devil's curse on him. Othello tells Emilia to have Desdemona come to him.

When Desdemona comes to him, he makes her swear that she is a true and loyal wife. She assures him, but he continues to tell her that she's "false as Hell." Desdemona asks Othello if he's angry because he thinks her father had something to do with his being recalled to Venice. Desdemona reminds him that her father has disowned her because she went to Cyprus as Othello's wife.

Othello continues to rail against Desdemona for appearing to be a loyal, faithful wife when she's been whoring around. When Emilia re-enters, Othello stalks off in a rage.

Desdemona tells Emilia to have Iago come to her. When he arrives, Desdemona and Emilia tell him that Othello has called Desdemona a whore, a strumpet, and they are unable to understand why. Iago says that he's sure he doesn't know what's come over Othello. Emilia begins to conjecture:

"I will be hanged if some eternal villain,
Some busy and insinuating rogue,
Some cogging, cozening slave, to get some office,
Have not devised this slander. I'll be hanged else."

Iago dismisses her theory as nonsense, declaring that no one has done this to Othello. Emilia says she suspects it's the same kind of scurvy fellow who made Iago suspect that's she'd been unfaithful with Othello.

Desdemona, beside herself with grief over Othello's distrust of her, begs Iago to go to him and make him see that she is his faithful wife. Iago assures Desdemona that Othello's only disurbed by his being so summarily recalled to Venice.

After Desdemona and Emilia have left, Roderigo rushes in, all in a rage with Iago for having deceived him. Roderigo has been giving jewels to Iago which he has said were going to Desdemona to win her love for Roderigo. Roderigo grumbles that Desdemona shows him no increased affection, just the usual friendliness she shows everyone.

Manipulating the irrate Roderigo, as he does everyone, Iago commends Roderigo for his mettle in complaining about how slowly Desdemona is to show her increased affection for him. Iago tells him that if he does one last thing that he will surely have Desdemona for his own. Iago tells Roderigo that he can only win Desdemona if she and Othello remain in Cyprus instead of going to Mauritania as Othello is planning. Roderigo can assure that Othello and Desdemona will remain in Cyprus if he does in Cassio.

Act IV, Scene III

Othello tells Desdemona to go to bed, and dismiss Emilia for the night, that he will come to her shortly. As Desdemona and Emilia converse, it is clear that Desdemona is beside herself with anguish because of Othello's mistrust.

Act V, Scene I

In a public street near Othello's castle, Iago gives courage to Roderigo in his murder of Cassio. To himself, Iago reflects on the benefit should Cassio and Roderigo kill each other; he would be rid of Cassio and the threat of exposure of his plot against Othello would be gone. Roderigo and Cassio duel and both are seriously wounded, after Iago has stabbed Cassio from behind in the confusion. Othello bursts upon the scene and hearing Cassio moaning, assumes that the trusty Iago has done the vile deed. Lodovico and Gratiano, two officials, arrive and Iago pretends to be enraged at Roderigo's assault upon Cassio. Iago kills the wounded Roderigo before he can reveal Iago's true part in this murderous scene. When Bianca arrives, Iago claims that this "notable strumpet" is behind Roderigo's attack on Cassio. He takes Bianca into custody.

Act IV, Scene III

As the play's final, bloody scene opens, Othello and Desdemona are in their bed chambers. Even now Othello's desire for Desdemona struggles against his sense of outrage at her infidelity.

Upon seeing Desdemona when she appears, Othello's wrath overwhelms him. Othello throws his supposed evidence in Desdemona's face, especially the visual proof of the mislaid handkerchief.

Desdemona exclaims that she is innocent and demands that Cassio be summoned so he can explain what has actually occurred. Thinking that Cassio is dead, Othello tells her of his being slain.

Desdemona begs for mercy, but Othello, not wishing to shed her blood, smothers her with a pillow. Emilia enters and for a moment Desdemona recovers enough to tell her that she is the innocent victim of her husband's blind jealousy. Desdemona dies and Othello explains to Emilia that he has killed his wife because she committed adultery with Cassio.

When Emilia defends Desdemona, Othello discloses to her how Iago supplied him with evidence of her illicit love affair. Emilia is now able to put all the pieces of the puzzle together, and she tells Othello how her husband was the evil mastermind behind the entire murderous plot.

"O thou dull Moor! That handkerchief thou speak'st of
I found by fortune and did give my husband,
For often with a solemn earnestness,
More than indeed belonged to such a trifle,
He begged of me to steal it."

Othello refuses to believe her, but cannot deny it either, and he falls on his bed overwhelmed by bewilderment.

Iago and a number of officials enter the bed chamber. Emilia vehemently accuses her husband of his villainy. As Othello runs at Iago, Iago lashes out but stabs his wife instead. When Iago runs away, Montano and the others give chase.

A wounded Cassio enters the bed chamber, with Iago in chains. Othello wounds Iago, but does not kill him. When Lodovico strips Othello of his governorship, Othello lashes out at him and then stabs himself. Even as Othello is dying he reveals the fatal lack of self-awareness which was his downfall.

"When you shall these unlucky deeds relate,
Speak of me as I am, nothing extenuate,
Nor set down aught in malice. Then must you speak
Of one that loved not wisely but too well,
Of one not easily jealous, but, being wrought,
Perplexed in the extreme. . ."

Othello dies and as the play ends, Lodovico, standing beside the wounded Cassio, tells him that for his part in this evil plot Iago must be tortured and executed.