OTHELLO: THE PLOT
I’ve arbitrarily divided the plot into 7 stages:
PART 1: VENICE
Othello is established as the hero & gains our admiration.
Iago’s deceitful nature & his scheme to wreck Othello’s marriage are revealed.
Desdemona’s outspoken defence of her marriage gains our admiration.
PART 2: CYPRUS
STORM – LOVERS REUNITED
CASSIO’S DRUNKEN BRAWL & DISMISSAL
IAGO CONVINCES CASSIO TO APPEAL TO DESDEMONA
DESDEMONA AGREES TO HELP CASSIO
Iago’s negative view of women & belief he has been cuckolded are revealed.
Depth of Othello and Desdemona’s mutual love is emphasised.
Iago’s plan evolves as he uses Roderigo to get Cassio fired.
Iago’s skills of opportunism, innuendo & false loyalty are evident.
Iago shows remarkable psychological insight in plan to get D to ‘help’!
PART 3: TEMPTATION SCENE
IAGO PLANTS SEEDS OF DOUBT AS CASSIO LEAVES DESDEMONA
DESDEMONA PLEADS FOR CASSIO
IAGO FEIGNS RELUCTANCE TO SPEAK WHILST HINTING AT HIS THOUGHTS
OTHELLO DEMANDS PROOF – TELLS IAGO EMILIA MUST SPY ON HIS WIFE
DESDEMONA DROPS HANDKERCHIEF – IAGO SNATCHES IT FROM EMILIA
OTHELLO IN DESPAIR – THREATENS IAGO – WONDERS WHO TO TRUST
IAGO INTRODUCES ‘PROOF’: CASSIO’S SLEEPTALKING + HANDKERCHIEF
WRATH: IAGO (PROMOTED) MUST KILL CASSIO, O WILL KILL DESDEMONA
SIGNIFICANCE: MOST IMPORTANT SCENE IN THE PLAY
Iago’s step by step manipulation of Othello is frightening to behold.
Skills – innuendo, exploitation of victims’ insecurities, reverse psychology, opportunistic use of circumstantial evidence, ability to improvise believable lies.
Othello’s character flaws are exposed and exploited.
Desdemona’s innocent attempts to ‘help’ gain audience’s pity.
Good luck plays a role in the unfolding tragedy.
Othello’s transformation and degradation are almost complete.
PART 4: HANDKERCHIEF / PROOF
EMILIA LIES TO DESDEMONA: SHE HAS NOT SEEN THE HANDKERCHIEF
OTHELLO COLDLY DEMANDS IT: DESDEMONA LIES THAT IT IS NOT LOST
DESDEMONA AGAIN PLEADS FOR CASSIO
BIANCA ARRIVES: CASSIO GIVES HER THE HANDKERCHIEF
Handkerchief comes to symbolise loyalty & betrayal.
Emilia & Desdemona’s only lies in the play prove fatal.
PART 5: OTHELLO DEGRADED
IAGO DETAILS CASSIO’S BRAGGING: RESULT = EPILEPTIC FIT
OTHELLO SPIES ON CASSIO & IAGO – MISUNDERSTANDS CONVERSATION
OTHELLO RESOLVES TO POISON D – IAGO INSISTS HE STRANGLE HER!
LODOVICO ARRIVES: ORDER = RETURN TO VENICE, CASSIO TAKE OVER.
OTHELLO STRIKES DESDEMONA (WHO EXPRESSED JOY AT THE NEWS)
Misunderstandings dominate. Othello is not thinking straight because of his anger and emotional torment.
Othello’s further degradation of character and control by Iago are evident.
PART 6: ACCUSATIONS & DENIALS
OTHELLO REJECTS EMILIA’S DEFENCE OF DESDEMONA’S INNOCENCE
OTHELLO ATTACKS DESDEMONA (WHORE…STRUMPET)
DESDEMONA TURNS TO IAGO. EMILIA WONDERS WHO SPREAD THESE LIES
RODERIGO REBELS – IAGO CONVINCES RODERIGO TO HELP KILL CASSIO
DESDEMONA PREPARES FOR BED – DEFENDS OTHELLO.
Desdemona’s passivity and Othello’s irrationality highlighted.
Contrast between Emilia and Desdemona evident.
Iago underestimates his wife.
Sense of inevitable impending doom pervades the play.
PART 7: DEATH AND DENOUEMENT
RODERIGO ATTACKS CASSIO
IAGO WOUNDS CASSIO, KILLS RODERIGO IN ‘REVENGE’ FOR ATTACK
OTHELLO ENTER/EXIT – RESOLVES TO KILL DESDEMONA
IAGO TRIES TO FRAME BIANCA
OTHELLO WAKES SLEEPING DESDEMONA – INTERROGATES HER
DESDEMONA BEGS FOR HER LIFE – DIES DEFENDING OTHELLO
EMILIA ATTACKS OTHELLO, LEARNS & REVEALS THE TRUTH
IAGO STABS & KILLS EMILIA, RUNS OFF, RECAPTURED
OTHELLO WOUNDS IAGO – IAGO REFUSES TO SPEAK
OTHELLO ASKS TO BE REMEMBERED – THEN KILLS HIMSELF
Tragic climax as Desdemona is wrongfully murdered.
Emilia behaves heroically but is killed by her husband.
Iago reduced to foolish coward; remains a defiant mystery at the end.
Othello must confront the terrible truth about himself & his deeds.
Othello’s death means Iago’s plan succeeded even though he got caught out!
Audiences may feel conflicted about Othello’s character at the end.