Shakespeare’s Othello is one of his most intimate and devastating tragedies of all. It is a story about society, status and the nature of the outsider – but it is also a story about the love and trust between friends, and between men and women.
Defying her father and society to follow her heart, Desdemona secretly marries Othello – a powerful general, and a Moor. Despite her father’s objections in court, Desdemona remains committed to Othello and follows him from Venice to Cyprus, where he is commissioned to serve. Iago, a junior officer and Othello’s most trusted adviser, is tormented by his lack of promotion. Despite Othello’s confidence in Iago’s honesty, Iago reveals that he is in fact hateful of Othello, and sets out to destroy Othello and Desdemona’s happiness, manipulating Othello to serve his own ends. Iago convinces Othello that his wife has been unfaithful with the up-and-coming young soldier Michael Cassio.
As Iago draws Othello and the audience into a web of half-truths, secrets, and betrayal, scandal is fueled -- families and friendships destroyed -- until a piece of supposed evidence of Desdemona’s infidelity, a handkerchief (which Iago calls "trifle light as air") tragically undoes them all. Othello commissions Iago to kill Michael Cassio, and then smothers Desdemona in her bed. When Emilia discovers Othello in the act, she confronts him and explains that it was Iago who tricked them all. Iago kills Emilia, but not before Othello has learned what has been done. Othello commits suicide, and Iago is taken into custody. The play ends before we know what ultimately happens to Iago, but we do know that a profusion of devastation has been left in his wake.
Othello guide sections