Othello

Othello The play’s protagonist and hero. A Christian Moor and general of the armies of Venice, Othello is an eloquent and physically powerful figure, respected by all those around him. In spite of his elevated status, he is nevertheless easy prey to insecurities because of his age, his life as a soldier, and his race.
Desdemona The daughter of the Venetian senator Brabanzio. Desdemona and Othello are secretly married before the play begins. While in many ways stereo typically pure and meek, Desdemona is also determined and self-possessed.
Iago “Shakespeare’s most delicious villain” -Mrs CammarataOthello’s ensign (a job also known as an ancient or standard-bearer), and the villain of the play. While his main reason for desiring Othello’s demise is that he has been passed over for promotion to lieutenant, Iago’s motivations are never very clearly expressed and seem to originate in an obsessive delight in manipulation and destruction.
Michael Cassio Othello’s lieutenant. Cassio is a young and inexperienced soldier, whose high position is much resented by Iago. He is truly devoted to Othello. Iago uses Cassio’s youth, good looks, and friendship with Desdemona to play on Othello’s insecurities about Desdemona’s fidelity.
Emilia Iago’s wife and Desdemona’s attendant. A cynical, worldly woman, she is deeply attached to her mistress and distrustful of her husband.
Roderigo A jealous suitor of Desdemona. Young, rich, and foolish, Roderigo is convinced that if he gives Iago all of his money, Iago will help him win Desdemona’s hand.
Brabanzio Desdemona’s father, a somewhat blustering and self-important Venetian senator.
Lodovico One of Brabanzio’s kinsmen, Lodovico acts as a messenger from Venice to Cyprus. He arrives in Cyprus in Act IV with letters announcing that Othello has been replaced by Cassio as governor.
Setting The play starts in Venice and moves to Cyprus when the Turks invade.
Major Conflict Othello and Desdemona marry and attempt to build a life together, despite their differences in age, race, and experience. Their marriage is sabotaged by the envious Iago, who convinces Othello that Desdemona is unfaithful.
Exposition Act 1 Scene 1: Heated conversation between Iago and Roderigo that catches our interest — we realize that Iago is trying to persuade Roderigo to take part in a plan to destroy Othello- Sheds light on Iago’s basic character, which is treacherous, vindictive, and manipulative- Unveils the primary conflict of the play: Iago, who claims to have been passed over for promotion by Othello, harbors deep resentment and hatred toward his boss.- Establishes two major themes: Appearance is not the same as reality; and racism
Inciting Incident Iago tells the audience of his scheme, arranges for Cassio to lose his position as lieutenant, and gradually insinuates to Othello that Desdemona is unfaithful.
Climax The climax occurs at the end of Act III, scene iii, when Othello kneels with Iago and vows not to change course until he has achieved bloody revenge.
Denouement Iago plants the handkerchief in Cassio’s room and later arranges a conversation with Cassio, which Othello watches and sees as “proof” that Cassio and Desdemona have slept together. Iago unsuccessfully attempts to kill Cassio, and Othello smothers Desdemona with a pillow. Emilia exposes Iago’s deceptions, Othello kills himself, and Iago is taken away to be tortured.
Themes Jealousy, Race, Gender, Age, Sex, Marriage, Manipulation, War, Hate, and Identity
Motifs Sight and Blindness:When Desdemona asks to be allowed to accompany Othello to Cyprus, she says that she “saw Othello’s visage in his mind, / And to his honours and his valiant parts / Did I my soul and fortunes consecrate” (I.iii. 250-252). Othello’s blackness, his visible difference from everyone around him, is of little importance to Desdemona: she has the power to see him for what he is in a way that even Othello himself cannot.
More Motifs/ Imagery… Plants: Iago is strangely preoccupied with plants. His speeches to Roderigo in particular make extensive and elaborate use of vegetable metaphors and conceits. Some examples are: “Our bodies are our gardens, to which our wills are gardeners; so that if we will plant nettles or sow lettuce, set hyssop and weed up thyme . . . the power and corrigible authority of this lies in our wills” (I.iii.317-322)
More Motifs/ Imagery… Animals: Iago calls Othello a “Barbary horse,” an “old black ram,” and also tells Brabanzio that his daughter and Othello are “making the beast with two backs” (I.i.117-118). In Act I, scene iii, Iago tells Roderigo, “Ere I would say I would drown myself for the love of a guinea-hen, I would change my humanity with a baboon” (I.iii.312-313)
More Motifs… Hell, Demons, and Monsters: Iago tells Othello to beware of jealousy, the “green-eyed monster which doth mock/ The meat it feeds on” (III.iii.170-171). Likewise, Emilia describes jealousy as dangerously and uncannily self-generating, a “monster / Begot upon itself, born on itself” (III.iv.156-157)
Symbols The Handkerchief: The handkerchief symbolizes different things to different characters. Since the handkerchief was the first gift Desdemona received from Othello, she keeps it about her constantly as a symbol of Othello’s love. Iago manipulates the handkerchief so that Othello comes to see it as a symbol of Desdemona herself—her faith and chastity.
More Symbols… The Song “Willow”: As she prepares for bed in Act V, Desdemona sings a song about a woman who is betrayed by her lover. She was taught the song by her mother’s maid, Barbary, who suffered a misfortune similar to that of the woman in the song; she even died singing “Willow.” The song’s lyrics suggest that both men and women are unfaithful to one another. To Desdemona, the song seems to represent a melancholy and resigned acceptance of her alienation from Othello’s affections, and singing it leads her to question Emilia about the nature and practice of infidelity.

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