Duke of Venice
Othello: Moor, married to Desdoma
Iago: Solider in Othello’s army
Cassio: Lieutenant in Othello’s army
Desdemona: Othello’s wife
Emilia: Iago’s wife
Rodreigo: Solider, love Desdemona
Act I Scene 1
• Read I.1.113-114
• Othello begins in the city of Venice, at night
• Roderigo is having a discussion with Iago, who is bitter at being passed up as Othello's lieutenant.
• Though Iago had greater practice in battle and in military matters, Cassio, a man of strategy but of little experience, was named lieutenant by Othello.
• Iago says that he only serves Othello to further himself, and makes shows of his allegiance only for his own gain
• He admits that his nature is not at all what it seems.
• Iago is aware that the daughter of Brabantio, Desdemona , has run off with Othello, the black warrior of the Moors.
• Brabantio knows nothing of this coupling
• Iago decides to enlist Roderigo, who lusts after Desdemona, and awaken Brabantio with screams that his daughter is gone.
• Watch movie scene
Act I Scene 1
• At first, Brabantio dismisses these cries in the dark
• He realizes his daughter is not there, he gives the news some credence.
• Roderigo is the one speaking most to Brabantio, but Iago is there too, hidden, yelling unsavory things about Othello
• Brabantio panics, and calls for people to try and find his daughter
• Iago leaves, not wanting anyone to find out that he
betrayed his own leader
• Brabantio begins to search for his daughter.
• The relationship between Roderigo and Iago is
• Roderigo shows this in his first statement:
– Iago "hast had [Roderigo's] purse as if the strings were thine," he tells Iago (I.i.2-3)
• The metaphor shows how much trust Roderigo has in
Iago, and also how he uses Iago as a confidante
• Does Iago share the same kind of feeling?
• As far as Roderigo knows, Iago is his friend
• Appearance is one thing and reality another, as Iago
soon will tell.
Analysis: Trusting Appearance
• Iago tells several truths about himself to Roderigo
• He trusts Roderigo with the knowledge that he serves Othello, but only to further himself.
• How ironic that after Iago's lengthy confession of duplicity, Roderigo still does not suspect him of doublecrossing or
• Iago seems to do a great deal of character analysis and
exposition for the audience
• He divulges his purpose in serving Othello, and the kind of man he is.
• Appearance vs. Reality is a crucial theme in Iago's story – He enacts a series of roles, from advisor to confidante
– He appears to be helping people though he is only acting out of his twisted self-interest.
Analysis: Metaphors and Paradox
"These fellows" that flatter for their own purposes "have some soul," Iago says
There is a double irony in this statement that Iago passes off as a truth People who act one way and are another are duplicitous, and scarcely deserve the credit that Iago is trying to give them.
Iago, though he is one of those fellows, seems to have no soul He never repents, never lets up with his schemes, and never seems to tire of damaging whatever he is able to.
"In following [Othello] I follow but myself," Iago also professes This is a paradox in terms, but is revealing of Iago's purposes in serving Othello.
His language is revealing of his dark character;
He uses the cliché "I will wear my heart upon my sleeve" to convey how his heart is false, and his shows of emotion are also falsified He turns this cliché into something more dark and fierce, when he adds the image of the birds tearing at this heart
He has foreshadowed the great deceptions that he will engineer, and the sinister qualities that make up his core.
• The key to Iago's character is in the line "I am not
what I am“
• Roderigo should take this as a warning, but fails to.
• Everything which Iago presents himself as is a false
• This first scene represents the peak of Iago's honesty
about himself with another character.
• Iago is parallel to another character, Richard III, in
his self-awareness about his villainous character
• He is parallel in lack of remorse and use of false
representations of himself.
• Racial issues and themes which are at the core of
Othello's story and position are beginning to surface.
• When Roderigo refers to Othello, he calls him "the
• This singles out one prominent characteristic of
Othello's foreignness and black heritage
• It displays a racial distrust of Othello based on his
• Roderigo and Iago are not the only characters to
display racism when referring to Othello
• Racism is a pervasive theme within the work,
spreading misconceptions and lies about Othello by
tying him to incorrect stereotypes.
• Another element that surfaces repeatedly in the play is the use of animal imagery; "an old black ram is tupping your white
ewe," Iago yells to Brabantio
• The use of animal imagery is used in many places in the play to convey immorality and illicit passion, as it does in this instance.
• Iago also compares Othello to a "Barbary horse" coupling with Desdemona, and uses animal imagery to reinforce a lustful
picture of Othello
• Iago's statement is doubly potent, since it not only condemns Othello for his alleged lust, but also plays on Brabantio's
misgivings about Othello's color
• The juxtaposition of black and white, in connection with the animal imagery, is meant to make this image very repellent,
and to inflame Brabantio to anger and action.
• Iago especially mentions the devil many times in the
• The first time here in the first scene to make Othello
sound like a devil with:
• The irony is that Iago is so quick to make others out
to be evil
• The devil often takes disguises, just as Iago does
embodying the theme of appearance vs. reality
• He is the one who looks least guilty.
Analysis: Imagery and Setting
• Important to this scene is the fact that it is held in
• Like the beginning of Hamlet, things are unsteady
and eerie, and disorder rules.
• With Brabantio's call for light, there is a
corresponding call for some kind of order:
darkness vs. light
order vs. disorder
Both important juxtapositions within the play
they highlight the status of situations
• These themes will appear again at the end, as the play
returns to darkness, and chaos
Act I Scene 2
• Read I.2.1115-1116
• Iago has now joined Othello, and has told Othello about
Roderigo's betrayal of the news of his marriage.
• He tells Othello that Brabantio is upset, and will probably try to tear Desdemona from him.
• Cassio comes at last, as do Roderigo and Brabantio
• Iago threatens Roderigo with violence, again making a
false show of his loyalty to Othello.
• Brabantio swears that Othello must have bewitched his
daughter, and that the state will not decide for him in this case.
• Othello says that the Duke must hear him, and decide in
his favor, or all is far from right in Venice.
• Watch movie scene
• Iago continues his deliberate misrepresentation:
– Swearing to Othello that he could have killed Roderigo for what he did.
• Iago is a very skilled actor:
– He is able to successfully present a contrary appearance
• Ironically, Iago alludes to Janus, the two-faced god,
in his conversation with Othello.
• Since Iago himself is two-faced Janus seems to be a
fitting figure for Iago to invoke.
• Iago's duplicity is again exhibited in this scene as his tone swings:
– friendly to backbiting as soon as Othello steps away
– back to his original friendliness when Othello returns.
• Iago acted supportive of Othello's marriage to Desdemona • Cassio enters and uses a rather uncomplimentary metaphor to tell what Othello has done:
– "He tonight hath boarded a land-carrack"
– Iago tells Cassio:
– His diction and choice of metaphor make Othello into some kind of pirate
– stealing Desdemona's love
– Cassio reduces Desdemona into a mere prize to be taken.
• Iago will soon want Cassio to think of Desdemona as an object to be taken, and to believe Othello to be less honorable than he is.
• Othello's pride first becomes visible here
• He is exceptionally proud of his achievements and his public stature
• Pride is a huge theme of Othello's story.
• He is proud of Desdemona's affection for him
• He would not give her up "for the seas' worth," he says (l. 28). • Othello is very confident in his worth, and in the respect he commands
• If the leaders of the city decide to deny a worthy man like him his marriage to Desdemona, then he believes:
– "bondslaves and pagans shall our statesmen be."
• This statement of paradox betrays Othello's faith in the state and in the Duke's regard for him; hopefully, neither will fail him.
Analysis: Racism and Magic
• The issue of race comes to the forefront, as Brabantio
confronts Othello about his marriage to Desdemona.
• Desdemona never would have "run from her guardage to the sooty bosom of a thing such as thou," Brabantio says (l. 71-2). • Brabantio assumes that Desdemona must have been
"enchanted" to marry Othello merely because Othello is black • Brabantio ignores all of Othello's good qualities, and gives into his racist feelings.
• Magic is another recurrent theme, and here is linked to
stereotypes of African peoples as:
– knowing the black arts of magic
– being pagans
– being lusty
• The theme of magic does not always play into the theme of race within the play
Analysis: Stereotypes and History
• At the time Shakespeare was writing, there were in
fact free blacks in England
• However, racism was even more pronounced in
Shakespeare's England than it is in Othello
• A character like Othello could not have risen to such
ranks in England at the time
• Shakespeare's play is much more progressive than the
time in which it was written.
• Othello even manages to avoid stereotype more
effectively than another Shakespearean character like
• Stereotypes are linked to Othello by other characters,
but he manages to evade them through his nobility
Act I Scene 3
• Military conflict is challenging the Venetian stronghold of Cyprus • There are reports that Turkish ships are heading toward the island, which means some defense will be necessary.
• Brabantio and Othello enter the assembled Venetian leaders, who are discussing this military matter
• Brabantio announces his grievance against Othello for marrying his daughter.
• Othello addresses the company, admitting that he did marry Desdemona, but wooed her with stories, and did her no wrongs. • Desdemona comes to speak, and she confirms Othello's words: – Brabantio's grievance is denied
– Desdemona will indeed stay with Othello.
• Othello is called away to Cyprus, to help with the conflict there • Othello and Desdemona win their appeal, and Desdemona is to stay with Iago, until she can come to Cyprus and meet Othello there.
Act I Scene 3
• Read I.3.1120
• Roderigo is upset that Desdemona and Othello's
union was allowed to stand
• He lusts after Desdemona.
• Iago assures him that the match will not last long, and
at any time, Desdemona could come rushing to him.
• Iago wants to break up the couple, using Roderigo as
his pawn, out of malice and his wicked ability to do
• Watch movie scene
• Brabantio again accuses Othello of bewitching his
daughter, and airs his racism-based views.
• He is not against the match because of any
incompatibility of the couple
• His metaphor of his grief as a flood, that "engluts and
swallows other sorrows, and is still itself," means that
he feels very strongly on this issue.
• His strong objection foreshadows a confrontation
between him and his daughter
• If Desdemona does choose to stay with Othello, it
seems likely that she will risk her father's love.
• Othello's appointment to Cyprus marks the
true beginning of his tragedy
• He will be much more vulnerable to Iago's
vicious attacks on his love and jealousy.
• This battle between order and chaos is a theme
running throughout the play
• As Othello sinks deeper into distrust of
Desdemona and is more consumed by his
jealousy, chaos increases and threatens to
Analysis: Verse vs. Couple
• The Duke's words of advice to the couple also mark
the beginning of their tragic story
• The Duke foretells trouble between the couple if they
do not let grievances go, which ends up being a
reason for Othello's fall.
• The change of the verse into couplets signals the
importance of the advice being offered.
• The words of the Duke, and Brabantio's words that
follow, are set off from the rest of the text and
emphasized by this technique
• The reader is notified, through the couplet rhyme,
which hasn't appeared before in the text, that these are
words that must be marked.
Analysis: Othello’s Tragic Flaw
• The only magic that Othello possesses is in his power
• His language shows his pride in his achievements
• Othello portrays himself as a tested, honorable
warrior, and indeed is such.
• This view of himself will prove troublesome when he
is hard pressed to recognize his jealousy and his lust
• His inability to reconcile himself with these two
aspects of his personality means that his
comeuppance is almost certain.
• Othello's lack of self-knowledge means that he will
be unable to stop himself once Iago begins to ignite
• Othello's speech before the assembly shows what he
believes Desdemona's love to be:
– He thinks that Desdemona's affection is a form of heroworship – She loves him for the stories he tells, and the things he has done.
• He believes it is his allusions to strange peoples and
places, like the "Anthropophagi," that fascinate her
• Indeed, his powers of language successfully win the
Duke over, and soften Brabantio's disapproval.
Analysis: White and Black
• Light and dark are again juxtaposed in the Duke's
declaration to Brabantio, that:
– "if virtue no delighted beauty lack/ your son-in-law is
far more fair than black."
• Black is associated with sin, evil, and darkness;
• These negative things are also associated to black people, merely because of the color of their skin.
• The Duke's statement is ironic, since Othello is black, but truthful, because his soul is good and light.
• Light/white/fairness all convey innocence, goodness, any symbol that is white has these qualities.
• The juxtaposition of black and white, light and dark
shows up again and again in the play, as the colors
become symbolic within the story.
Analysis: Origin of Chaos
• "Our bodies are our gardens," Iago tells Roderigo
• his speech recalls Hamlet's first soliloquy, though with a more kind appraisal of human nature.
• Iago is a very good judge of human nature, and easily able to manipulate people in ways that will benefit him most
• This cleverness also means that he is a source of wisdom in the play
• Iago's metaphor is particularly applicable to many in this play, himself excluded; characters do have vices that they allow to grow in themselves
• They also have aspects of themselves which balance these vices out.
• Iago's knowledge of this allows him to do away with this balance and set chaos into motion
Analysis: Cross Purposes
• Iago's purpose becomes plain:
– He sees that Othello and Desdemona's marriage is less than solid
– He seeks to use his powers to break this marriage apart.
• Iago is again "honest" about his intent, but only to a
person whose involvement will help him greatly.
• The words "honest" and "honesty" appear repeatedly
in the play, and are usually used by Iago, or in
reference to him
• Ironically, Iago is the only person in the play whom
Othello trusts to judge who is and is not honest
Act II Scene 1
• A terrible storm has struck Cyprus, just as the Turks were about to approach.
• This might mean that the Turkish attack will not happen; but it also bodes badly for Othello's ship.
• A messenger enters, and confirms that the Turkish fleet was broken apart by the storm, and that Cassio has arrived, though Othello is still at sea.
• They spot a ship coming forth; but Iago, Desdemona, and
Emilia are on it, not Othello.
• Cassio greets them all, especially praising Desdemona;
somehow, Iago and Desdemona enter into an argument about
what women are
• Iago shows how little praise he believes women deserve.
• Othello arrives at last, and is very glad to see his wife arrived
Act II Scene 1
• Read II.2.1123-1124
• He and Desdemona make public signs of their
love, and then depart.
• Iago speaks to Roderigo, convincing him that
Desdemona will stray from Othello, as she has
already done with Cassio.
• He convinces Roderigo to attack Cassio that night,
as he plans to visit mischief on both Othello and
• Watch movie scene
• Storms are always of greater significance in
– the storm is a symbol of unrest
– The storm marks the end of the peaceful part of the
play, and is an act of fate
– it is a signal that Iago's mischief is about to begin.
• Shakespeare's characters that comment on the
storm are mariners, alluding to Ursa Minor and
stars used for navigation
• This is a testament to Shakespeare's incredible
ability to form credible language for a great
diversity and range of characters.
• Just as every character has their own manner of speech and expression, Cassio has a very polished, courtly way of
speaking, especially of ladies.
• He describes Desdemona as one who "excels the quirks of
blazoning pens"; he calls her "divine Desdemona"
• As Iago finds out later, he has no love for her, though much respect; so it is with much irony that Cassio is charged as
being Desdemona's lover
• Othello sees Cassio as a model Venetian, all poise and polish, which is something Othello wants to be, but thinks he is not. • Othello's insecurities mean that Cassio is promoted over Iago, but also lead Othello to hold Cassio at a distance.
• Though Iago is married, he does not have as favorable an impression of women as Cassio does.
• Women are "wildcats in your kitchens, saints in your
injuries, devils being offended“
• He even declares that they "rise to play, and go to bed to work“
• Iago's perception of women as deceptive, dominating, and lusty colors the way he portrays both Emilia and
Desdemona; both are good women
• Desdemona exceedingly so, yet he is able to convince
other men that they are anything but what they are.
• Misrepresentation is a theme that surfaces often
through Iago's villainy
• He makes Desdemona seem like a fickle, lusty
woman, which he will soon try to convince Othello of
• Iago's speech plays on Othello's insecurities perfectly
• He speaks of Othello's age, race, and manners as
reasons why Desdemona will grow tired of him,
which are also reaons why Othello fears he might
• Iago is also a master of temptation, another theme in
• He is able to figure out exactly what people want, and
then drive them to it.
• Though Iago seems grieved by Cassio's promotion over
him, this does not seem to be his main motive.
• Iago also cites his suspicions that Emilia and Othello have had an affair as another reason for his enmity.
• Iago is not a man to be consumed with sexual jealousy;
though rumors about his wife may hurt his pride, they
seem but an excuse for the misery he is about to cause.
• Shakespeare leaves the root of Iago's malignancy
unexplained, while showing the fruits of his evil in full.
Act II Scene 2
• Othello's herald enters, to proclaim that the
Turks are not going to attack
• All should be joyful, and Othello is
celebrating the happiness of his recent
Act II Scene 3
• Iago gets Cassio to drink a bit, knowing that he cannot hold his liquor at all.
• Iago also tries to get Cassio's feelings about Desdemona, but his intentions are innocent
• Iago hopes to cause a quarrel between Cassio and Roderigo • Iago wants to see Cassio discredited through this, so that he might take Cassio's place.
• Cassio fights with Roderigo
• Montano tries to hinder Cassio, but Cassio ends up injuring him. • The noise wakes Othello, who comes down to figure out what has happened.
• Montano tells what he knows of it all, and Iago fills in the rest making sure to fictionalize his part in it all.
• Cassio is stripped of his rank, and all leave Cassio and Iago alone.
Act II Scene 3
• Read II.3.1127-1128
• Iago tries to convince Cassio that a reputation
• Iago suggests talking to Desdemona, maybe he
can get her to vouch for him with Othello.
• This will help Iago get the impression across that
Desdemona and Cassio are together
• Iago then gives a soliloquy about knowing that
Desdemona will speak for Cassio, and that he will
be able to turn that against them both.
• "Honest" emerges as a key word in this scene
• It is a term laden with irony, and a constant reminder of the dramatic irony inherent in Iago's dealings.
• None of the characters in the play have any idea of Iago's plans and evil intentions:
– Othello and Cassio are especially innocent of this knowledge. – The audience knows exactly what Iago is up to, and is able to see his deceptions for what they are
– Iago's words interest the audience because of how much
dramatic irony they are laden with
– Curiosity to find out whether Cassio and Othello will come to know as much as the audience does about Iago's deviance.
• The word "honest" draws attention to how Iago's motives are hidden from the characters onstage
• Iago and Cassio are juxtaposed in this scene to bring out Cassio's flawed honor and courtliness and Iago's
manipulativeness and deceptiveness.
• Cassio stands in especially sharp contrast to Iago when Iago speaks lustfully of Desdemona
• Cassio is full of honor when it comes to women, and the ideals of a courtier as well.
• "He's a soldier fit to stand by Caesar," Iago says, the allusion to Caesar stating the fact that he knows Cassio's true quality. • Iago strikes gold when he figures out Cassio's weakness for drink
• "He'll be as full of quarrel and offense as my young mistress' dog,"
• Iago’ metaphor shows that he knows how liquor can separate even the best man from himself
• Iago's metaphor reinforces his perceptiveness, and the
Analysis: Know the Audience
• Iago's homage to "sweet England" in his song
of this act:
– though this play does not take place in England
– features no English characters
– Shakespeare throws this in to amuse his audience.
• He does the same in plays like Hamlet, in
which a little nod to England is thrown in for
comic effect, and as an audience pleaser.
• Reputation is a theme in the book that obviously
holds some resonance for Cassio
• Iago also knows the importance of reputation, which
is why he makes sure that people see him as "honest"
• "Reputation is a most idle and false imposition," Iago
– this statement is meant as false consolation to Cassio, and is filled with great irony.
• Reputation is always of concern when individuals are
• Cassio is so grieved that his reputation has been hurt
that he sees fit to find a villain in all that has
• Ironically, Cassio misses the identity of the real devil in this situation, Iago.
• "Devil" becomes a key word in this play, as people
try to seek out what is poisoning everyone
• Good vs. evil is a major theme in the play
• There is a great deal of gray area:
– Iago is the villain
– Everyone else has some blemish of their natures
– No one entirely deserving of the label "good".
Act III Scene 1
• Comic relief:
– a clown is mincing words with a few musicians, then
has a little wordplay with Cassio
• Iago enters, and Cassio tells him that he means to
speak to Desdemona, so that she may clear things
up with Othello.
• Emilia comes out, and bids Cassio to come in and
speak with Desdemona about his tarnished
Analysis: Othello’s Uniqueness
• Othello is unlike other Shakespearean dramas for
– the scarcity of comic relief, which only appears briefly at the beginning of this short scene.
– there are no subplots running through Othello as there
are in most Shakespearean plays as a whole.
• Both of these differences make Othello one of
Shakespeare's most focused, intense tragedies.
Act III Scene 2
• Othello gives Iago some letters that need to
be delivered back to Venice
• Iago is in turn supposed to give the letters to
a ship's pilot who is sailing back to Venice.
Act III Scene 3
• Read III.3.1130-1132
• Desdemona decides that she wants to advocate for
• She tells Emilia so, and that she believes Cassio is a
good person, and has been wronged in this case
• Iago seizes on this opportunity to play on Othello's
insecurities, and make Cassio seem guilty
• Othello then speaks to Desdemona, and Desdemona
expresses her concern for Cassio
• She is persistent in his suit, which Othello is not too
Act III Scene 3
• Iago then plays on Othello's insecurities about
Desdemona, and gets Othello to believe, through
insinuation, that there is something going on between
Desdemona and Cassio.
• Othello seizes on this, and then Iago works at
building up his suspicions.
• Othello begins to doubt his wife, as Iago lets his
insinuations gain the force of an accusation against
• Othello begins to voice his insecurities when it comes
to Desdemona, and himself as well.
• Desdemona enters and Othello admits that he is
troubled, though he will not state the cause.
• Watch movie scene
Act III Scene 3
Desdemona drops the handkerchief that Othello gave her on their honeymoon
Emilia knew that her husband had wanted it for something, so she doesn't feel too guilty about taking it.
Emilia gives it to Iago, who decides to use the handkerchief for his own devices.
Othello re-enters, and tells Iago that he now doubts his wife Othello demands proof so Iago sets about making stories up about Cassio talking in his sleep
He says that Cassio has the handkerchief that Othello gave to Desdemona. Othello is incensed to hear that Desdemona would give away something so valuable, and is persuaded by Iago's insinuations and claims to believe that Desdemona is guilty.
Othello then swears to have Cassio dead, and to be revenged upon Desdemona for the non-existent affair.
Watch movie scene
• Desdemona's choice of words to describe Cassio is
– she calls him a "suitor," not meaning it in a romantic
sense, although Othello could certainly take it that way.
• Desdemona binds her reputation to Cassio's in an
• She says that if Cassio is wrong, "I have no
judgment in an honest face".
• Of course Desdemona means well, but she
gambles too much on another person's honor.
• Jealousy is soon addressed specifically by Iago.
• "It is the green-eyed monster," Iago tells him
• The "green-eyed monster" becomes a symbol representing
Othello's dark feelings, a specter lurking in his mind and
beginning to steer his behavior.
• Iago's speech is also deeply ironic, since it points out Othello's flaws, and the root of his tragedy
• Othello has no idea of the significance of these statements, and so neglects to take them to heart.
• Othello is deeply insecure about his personal qualities and his marriage
• Insecurity becomes a theme that weakens his resolve not to doubt Desdemona.
• Othello uses his black skin as a symbol for how poorly spoken and unattractive he thinks he is.
• All of his claims are very much beside the point; his words are actually more complex and beautiful than those spoken by any other character in the play.
• Because he begins to believe that Desdemona cannot love him, he starts to believe her guilty of infidelity.
• The leap is great, but it is all a product of Othello's own insecurities and his incorrect conception of himself, another theme of the play.
• How Othello sees himself directly influences how he views Desdemona's love
• Othello begins to use the black/ white imagery found throughout the play, to express his grief and rage at Desdemona's alleged treachery. • "My name, that was as fresh as Dian's visage, is now begrimed and black as mine own face," Othello says.
• Although the allegations against Desdemona are personally hurtful to him, Othello focuses more on the public ramifications, rather than the private
• There is great irony in this concern, since this rumored betrayal is a private one, and also since Othello's name is highly regarded, because nothing has really happened.
• Iago's "proofs" also rely on the animal imagery which has run throughout the play
• he makes Desdemona and Cassio seem like lustful lovers, by describing them as "prime as goats, as hot as monkeys" (400). • This comparison is calculated, since Iago knows that thinking of Desdemona as lusting after another man disturbs Othello greatly.
• The handkerchief, the most crucial symbol and
object in the play.
• The handkerchief, to Desdemona, symbolizes
Othello's love, since it was his first gift to her.
• Othello thinks that the handkerchief, quite
literally, is Desdemona's love
• When she has lost it, that must clearly mean that
she does not love him any longer.
• The handkerchief also becomes a symbol of
Desdemona's alleged betrayal
• "Proof" is a key word in this scene
• Othello demands that Iago prove Desdemona unfaithful by
actually seeing evidence of her guilt.
• Iago manages to work around this completely; he plays off of Othello's jealousy, telling him stories that damn Cassio
and mention the handkerchief
• Othello trusts Iago's words to convey proof, and is
thwarted by Iago's dishonesty
• Othello only realizes later that he has been tricked and has seen no proof, when it is too late for him to take his actions back.
• This act represents the beginning of Othello's giving up language • From this point forward, notice how Othello's use of imagery and story become less and less frequent, and how he begins to rely upon Iago for speech and explanation.
• Othello is reduced by Iago and his own jealousy to single lines of speech, monosyllabic utterings of "O!" and the like.
• And just as language is the power with which Othello was able to woo Desdemona, his loss of it is a resignation of this power which attracted her to him.
• Othello suspects his wife's language, and Cassio's as well; he is distracted from suspicion of Iago
• Othello begins to lose his power over himself, and over others, when he loses his beautiful language
• This resignation marks a huge shift in the balance of power between Othello and Iago
• Iago becomes more dominant in the relationship, and begins to steer Othello.
Analysis: Chaos vs. Order
• In the battle between order and chaos, chaos
seems to be winning out.
• Othello abandons his reason in judging Iago's
"proofs," and his abandonment of language also
marks a descent into chaos.
• Although it is a chaos controlled by Iago, order
and reason are on the losing side
• Raging emotions and speculations begin to rule
Othello's fate, as he comes closer and closer to his
Act III Scene 4
• Desdemona asks the clown where Cassio is; the clown goes off to fetch him.
• Desdemona is looking everywhere for the handkerchief, very sorry to have lost it; she knows that her losing it will upset Othello greatly
• Othello enters, and asks for Desdemona's handkerchief; she admits that she does not have it, and then Othello tells her of its significance and alleged magical powers.
• Desdemona does not like Othello's tone; he seems obsessed with this object, and Desdemona is so frightened by him that she wishes she had nothing to do with it.
• She interrupts Othello's inquiry by bringing up Cassio's attempt to get back into Othello's favor; Othello becomes
angry, and storms out.
Act III Scene 4
• Cassio then enters, with Iago and laments that his suit
is not successful, and that Othello does not seem
likely to take him back.
• Desdemona is sorry for this, since she knows that
Cassio is a man of worth
• She tells Cassio and Iago that Othello has been acting
strange, and is upset, and Iago goes to look for him,
• Emilia thinks that Othello's change has something to
do with Desdemona, or Othello's jealous nature
Act III Scene 4
• Read III.4.1136-1137
• Bianca comes in, and Cassio asks her to copy the
handkerchief that he found in his room
• It is Desdemona's handkerchief, though Cassio has
• He claims he does not love her, and gets angry at
her for allegedly suspecting that the handkerchief
is a gift of another woman.
• Bianca is not disturbed, and leaves with the
• Watch movie scene
Analysis: Double Meanings
• Othello's words often have a double meaning
• When he is describing Desdemona's hand, he says it is "moist" and "hot“ an allusion to a lustful nature.
• He says she is of a "liberal heart"; this could mean a generous heart, but could also be indicating Desdemona's supposed
• "Here's a young and sweating devil here, who constantly
rebels," Othello says; the metaphor speaks badly of
Desdemona, and betrays his distrust of her.
• In the next breath, he says, "tis a good hand"; the juxtaposition of the two statements shows Othello trying not to betray his disappointment
• He is deeply disturbed, and seems to be questioning and
examining her to prove that she really is the harlot
Analysis: Magic Hanky
• Here, Othello finally elaborates upon the
handkerchief's importance for Desdemona.
• "There's magic in the web of it," Othello says; he
language is full of mystical, dark images
• Othello reveals that he believes the handkerchief
to literally symbolize Desdemona's affection
• The irony is that although the handkerchief is lost,
Desdemona still loves him.
• The theme of appearance vs. reality appears
• Cassio's behavior toward Bianca is in sharp contrast to the courtly politeness he shows Desdemona and Emilia.
• This is because of Bianca's station as a courtesan; not
regarded the same respect as ladies
• Bianca proves to be as perceptive as Emilia and
Desdemona, and even more realistic about matters of love.
• The change in Cassio's tone and behavior around Bianca
betray a cultural bias of the time toward women of certain
• His behavior would not have been thought mean at the
time, because of Bianca's lowly status.
Act IV Scene 1
• Read IV.1.1137-1140
• Othello is trying, even after swearing that Desdemona was unfaithful, not to condemn her too harshly.
• He is talking with Iago about the handkerchief still, and its significance in being found
• Iago whips Othello into an even greater fury through mere insinuation, and Othello takes the bait.
• Othello falls into a trance of rage, and Iago decides to hammer home his false ideas about his wife.
• Iago calls Cassio in, while Othello hides
• Iago speaks to Cassio of Bianca, but Othello believes that is talking of Desdemona
• This is the last "proof" he needs before declaring his wife guilty.
• Bianca comes in, and gives the handkerchief back to Cassio, since she swears she will have nothing to do with it.
Act IV Scene 1
• Othello is incensed by Cassio, still believing that he was speaking of Desdemona, rather than Bianca.
• Othello is resolved to kill Desdemona himself, and charges Iago with murdering Cassio.
• Ludovico, a noble Venetian whom Desdemona knows, has
recently landed; Desdemona and Othello welcome him there.
• When Desdemona mentions Cassio, Othello becomes very
angry and slaps her in front of everyone
• Ludovico especially is shocked at this change in Othello, and has no idea how such a noble man could act so cruelly.
• Watch movie scene
Analysis: Othello’s Transformation
• Othello's trance also marks his descent into the
• Ironically, he becomes the passion-stirred, wicked
pagan that others had accused him of being,
merely because of his skin color.
• Iago notes that Othello "breaks out into savage
madness" in this fit; indeed, the primal seems to
be taking over the more civilized aspects of
• Othello refers to himself as a "horned man,"
ashamed of this descent
Analysis: Othello’s Confusion
• "O, the world hath not a sweeter creature," Othello
declares of Desdemona he still decides that she shall
not live for what she has supposedly done.
• There is great irony in this scene, as Othello declares
that Desdemona is of a soft and kind nature, yet
condemns her for being lustful and immoral.
• Note Othello's reticent tone, even when he is
condemning Desdemona to death
• Chaos and jealousy have triumphed over reason, still
there is a part of him that knows Desdemona is good
• When Othello strikes Desdemona, he shows the
severity of his change.
• Just her mention of Cassio sends him into an
• Although one of his greatest fears regarding
Desdemona's alleged infidelity was that it would
blacken his name and reputation
• The irony is that Othello is doing that himself
• Savagery is taking over his civility, he continues to
become the cruel, jealous, passion-spurred "savage"
that Brabantio accused him of being.
• He is beginning to become a stereotype by his own
doing, as he falls farther and farther from himself.
Act IV Scene 2
• Othello questions Emilia about Desdemona's guilt
• Emilia admits to having seen nothing, though Othello
does not believe her.
• Emilia swears that Desdemona is pure and true.
• Othello believes that Emilia is in on all this too
• Othello leaves, and Desdemona and Emilia try to figure
out what has happened to Othello
• Emilia thinks that someone has manipulated Othello into
accusing Desdemona, and has poisoned his mind
Act IV Scene 2
• Read IV.2.1142-1143
• Iago is there to dispel this opinion, so that
Emilia does not inquire further into her theory.
• Iago comes across Roderigo; he is not pleased
with how Iago has handled things, and knows
that although Iago is promising him
Desdemona's favor, he has done nothing to
indicate that he has worked to achieve this.
• Iago quiets him by making him believe that if
he kills Cassio, then he will win Desdemona
• Watch movie scene
• Emilia, ever perceptive, knows that someone
has done this to Othello which is the truth.
• It is ironic that Emilia thinks of this, and
condemns the man who must be manipulating
Othello, since the one who has devised this
whole thing is her own husband
• Iago is there to hush this suspicion, but they
know something is awry
• Roderigo, at last, is the one to accuse Iago of
• He has discovered the truth, that Iago's "words and
performances are no kin together."
• Iago does his best to deny this, and convinces
Roderigo to kill Cassio in order to win Desdemona
• Roderigo's accusation means:
– Iago will be revealed by Roderigo if Roderigo is not
– Roderigo will have to die so that Iago's plans will go
• Othello is a tragedy and this confrontation
foreshadows Roderigo's death.
Act IV Scene 3
• Othello tells Desdemona to go to bed, and dismiss
• Emilia regrets Desdemona's marriage, although
Desdemona cannot say that she does not love Othello.
• Desdemona knows that she will die soon; she sings a
song of sadness and resignation, and decides to give
herself to her fate.
• Desdemona asks Emilia whether she would commit
adultery to win her husband the world.
• Emilia, the more practical one, thinks that it is not too big a price for a small act
• Desdemona is too good, and too devout, to say that
she would do so.
• Desdemona knows of her impending death; she is almost too good to live
• The "Willow Song" and her tale of her mother's maid also foreshadow Desdemona's death.
• She is not trying to fight it; she seems like a totally different woman than the one who stood up to her father and the
• Desdemona is suddenly depicted as being meek; this sudden shift in her character is strange, and the source is unknown. • Her character is parallel to that of Ophelia; both are good, virtuous, obedient, but both are subjected to tragic fates
because of their own innocence.
• Desdemona's fate is unfair and unearned, yet she is the martyr of the play,
Analysis: Individualize Women
• Emilia pronounces what seems like a theme of the
play, up until this point:
– "let husbands know, their wives have sense like them they see, and smell, and have their palates both for sweet and
sour, just as their husbands have" (96-99).
• Indeed, this is one of the reasons why Othello is so
angry at Desdemona; the thought that she could have
desire in her, just as he does, bewilders him and
• That she could have opinions and ideas independent
of his own, especially about Cassio and his rightful
place, also upset him.
• Othello is good at heart but does not individualize
Act V Scene 1
• Read V.1.1144-1146
• Iago has Roderigo poised and ready to pounce on Cassio, and kill him; if either of them is killed, it is to Iago's benefit • Roderigo and Cassio fight, and both are injured
• Othello hears the scuffle, is pleased, and then leaves to finish off Desdemona.
• Iago enters, pretending that he knows nothing of the scuffle • Roderigo is still alive, so Iago feigns a quarrel, and finishes him off.
• Cassio is carried away, and Roderigo is already dead.
• Emilia also comes in, and pins more blame on Bianca; she has done nothing, but Iago has some quick work to do if he is to exonerate himself in this mess.
• Watch movie scene
• Iago addresses the audience directly about his intentions, and his actions
• Iago is only truly honest with the audience like Richard III • This creates an undercurrent of dramatic irony throughout the play, since the audience knows all of his plans, and individual characters know little or nothing
• Although Othello is the title character of the play, Iago has more lines and more interaction with the audience as well.
• It is Othello's tragedy that is the focus of the play, but Iago succeeds in stealing the show he is more interesting than any of the protagonists in the play.
• Iago proves himself a consummate actor:
– appearance vs. reality
– Iago claims to know nothing of this battle
– Iago is many selves in this act
– he is friend and advisor to Roderigo
– betrayer and murderer of Roderigo
– consoler of Cassio
– the lead officer in this
Act V Scene 2
• Read V.2.1146-1150
• Othello enters Desdemona's room while she is asleep; and still is determined to kill her.
• He justifies this with images, metaphors, and ideas of her rebirth after death
• Desdemona awakens, and he tells her to repent of any sins before she dies
• Othello tells her that he found her handkerchief with Cassio, though Desdemona insists it must not be true
• She pleads with Othello not to kill her right then, but he begins to smother her.
• Emilia knocks, curious about what is going on
• Othello lets her in, but tries to conceal Desdemona, who he thinks is already dead.
• Emilia brings the news of Roderigo's death, and Cassio's wounding.
Act V Scene 2
• Emilia soon finds out that Desdemona is nearly dead, by Othello's hand • Desdemona speaks her last words, and then Emilia pounces on Othello for committing this horrible crime.
• Othello is not convinced of his folly until Iago confesses his part, and Cassio speaks of the use of the handkerchief
• Othello is overcome with grief.
• Iago stabs Emilia for telling all about his plots, and then Emilia dies • Venetian nobles reveal that Brabantio, Desdemona's father, is dead, and so cannot be grieved by this tragedy now.
• Othello stabs Iago when he is brought back in
• Othello then tells all present to remember him how he is, and kills himself.
• Cassio becomes temporary leader of the troops at Cyprus
• Iago is taken into custody, and his crimes will be judged back in Venice.
• Watch movie scene
Analysis: Literary Terms
• Othello's farewell to Desdemona is a return to his former eloquence • Though he believes Desdemona's soul to be black, he can only focus on her whiteness; he pledges not to mar "that whiter skin of hers than snow"
• The metaphor highlights Desdemona's innocence, as does
comparing her to a "light" to be put out.
• There is irony in Othello's references to Desdemona here: – he describes her with words that suggest her brightness and innocence
– he is determined to condemn and kill her.
• She is also "the rose" to Othello, another beautiful image • Othello's allusion to Prometheus explains his wish to put out Desdemona's light in order to restore her former innocence.
• Before Othello felt only hatred and anger, now he is forced to feel his love, along with his mistaken determination to see Desdemona die.
• Desdemona's last words are especially cryptic
• When asked who killed her, she remarks:
– "nobody, I myself commend me to my kind lord."
• This could be seen as a kind of condemnation of
Othello for killing her
• She might be trying to absolve her husband of blame
with her last breath
• If this is so, it certainly does not sit well with her line: – "falsely, falsely murdered," which seems to refer both to Desdemona's death, as to Emilia's mention of the death of
Roderigo and wounding of Cassio.
• Emilia's fate is parallel to Desdemona's:
– She was more realistic than Desdemona
– She too was betrayed by her husband
– She died through other's wrongs.
• Desdemona might be a more central figure in the
play, but Emilia is the conscience
• Emilia knows how human nature works
• She knows of husbands' jealousies, of how men
believe women are less human, of how people are
naturally prone to folly.
• She is the sole voice of reason in the play, the only
besides Desdemona who is uncorrupted by Iago's
• Othello insists that he is an "honorable murderer”
– Iago was surely killed out of anger
– Desdemona out of jealousy and offended pride.
• Othello still denies the flaws in himself that have led him to this end.
• Iago was definitely the catalyst for Desdemona's death
and Othello's jealous rages; but the seeds of jealousy and
suspicion were already inherent in Othello
• It certainly makes the resolution of the play more neat to believe that Othello is returned to his nobility
• Since he still denies the deep wrong he has committed, he cannot be fully redeemed or forgiven.
• Of course, all threads are wrapped up in this
last scene of the play:
– Letters are produced that expose Iago's part in
these unfortunate events
– These letters have not been mentioned or shown
earlier in the play.
– Cassio seems to have been kept alive merely to
testify about his part in this whole debacle
• Shakespeare was as good a philosopher as he was
• He understood the love of power and mischief and
that these loves were natural to man
• Why are tragedies so interesting to people?
• Why do they read the newspaper and watch the
news to hear about “the latest Iago”?
Characterization of Iago
• Great analyst Harold Goddard noted:
– Iago is always at war
– He is a moral pyromaniac setting fire to all reality
– He was passed up by Cassio because he cannot stop
• Since Othello is thought of as the God of War, he
is Iago’s only god
• Othello is everything to Iago because war is
Characterization of Iago
• Iago rejects a Christian God in a way when
– “I am not what I am”
– This is contradictory to St. Paul’s “I am what I
• Iago sets about to destroy his god:
– Uses mastery of timing to plot using openings
– Employs a “grand program of uncreation”
Characterization of Iago
• Iago went unchanged during revisions of
Desdemona, Emilia, and Othello between
the Quarto and First Folio
• He speaks eight soliloquies and Othello
Theme of Marriage
• Marriage is a problem of grand proportions:
– Emila is a martyr
– Iago says: “A fellow almost damend in a fair
– Othello and Desdemona never consummate
– This makes it easier for Iago
– Marriage is damnation
• There is no conscience in Othello
• Shakespeare had a tragic obcession with the idea of a good name living on after the protagonist’s death:
– Horatio to discuss Hamlet
– Cassio to tell of Othello
• Tragedies, literary or human, depend on imperfect
• Shakespeare came naturally to histories, comedies and
romances, but tragedies took work
• The tragedies especially are not religious in any reguard • No killer kills in the name of any god, ever
• War is the religion in Othello, Macbeth, Lear, and Romeo and Juliet (Tybalt)
• Many critics rate Othello below Macbeth
and Hamlet because:
There is no extrinsic force operating Iago
The evil is too pure
There is no remorse shown
Humans are too evil
• What do you think?
Characterization of Othello
• Even in his final suicide speech he does not
• Audience is more like Iago than Othello so he
cannot be forgiven
• Othello does not have the power of expression of
Hamlet or Macbeth:
– He is distinct, divided and flawed
• Has a Julius Caesar complex:
– Hard to tell when they are being arrogant or just stating facts
– Both refer to themselves in the third person
Characterization of Othello
• He is Iago’s antitheses until he starts to
• He should be a character in a romance, like
Claudio or Benedick
• He is the wrong character in the right play
• Othello, analyst Brower believes, would
have come apart from Desdemona without
• Nothing in Othello is marriage material
Analyzing the Clowns
• The clowns scarcely come onto the stage
and the play excludes all laughter
– Unlike the drunken porter in Macbeth
– The asp-bringer in Antony and Cleopatra
Sources of Othello
• Shakespeare’s source is Cinthio but he changed a
– Iago is Shakespeare’s own invention
– Cinthio’s Ensign is Iago’s basis but:
Ensign falls in love with Desdemona
She shuns him in favor of Othello
Ensign blames it all on Cassio
Ensign beats Desdemona to death
• The characters were flat, not round, and the shock
and inwardness of a rejected solider is absent