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Othello

Act I, scene i 
(Detailed commentary and analysis)

 Iago and Roderigo are out in the street in the middle of the night in Venice, plotting against Iago’s master, the army general Othello. They wake the vain and pompous Brabantio, who is ignorant of the fact that his daughter, Desdemona, has run away to marry Othello in secret. Brabantio is outraged at the news that she has married a man of a different race and musters a search party with torches and weapons.

Act I, scene iiii [ll 1-122] 
(Detailed commentary and analysis)

The Duke and his senators are holding an emergency meeting to discuss the threat of the Turkish army which is currently heading towards Cyprus. Othello, they agree, is the only man capable of defending the island and must depart Venice immediately. But will Brabantio's prejudiced and outlandish claims that he has used witchcraft to steal away his daughter scupper these plans, leaving Cyprus defenceless and Othello imprisoned...or worse?

Act I, scene iii [ll 298-395] 
(Detailed commentary and analysis)

Othello and Desdemona have exited, leaving Iago and Roderigo alone on stage, as they were at the beginning of the play. Roderigo is distraught that he seems to have lost Desdemona for good and is threatening to kill himself. A dead Roderigo can't do Iago's dirty work for him or continue to bankroll him. Can Iago talk him out of it?

Act II, scenes i [175ff] and ii
(Detailed commentary and analysis)

Act II, scene i, 175ff: Othello and Desdemona have an emotional reunion in Cyprus. Othello declares that this is the happiest he's ever been. But can this happiness last when Iago is secretly plotting his downfall...?

 

Act II, scene ii: A Herald announces a public celebration. An evening of alcohol-fuelled partying. What could possibly go wrong...?

Act I, scene ii 
(Detailed commentary and analysis)

Iago is up to his tricks again as he tells Othello that Roderigo has been making mischief with Brabantio, Othello's new father-in-law. Brabantio, outraged at Desdemona's elopement, is on the warpath, demanding that Othello answer charges of witchcraft in court and be sent to jail. How will Othello react in the face of accusations that are founded purely on racial prejudice?

Act I, scene iiii [ll 123-297] 
(Detailed commentary and analysis)

Othello tells the Duke the story of his life and of how it wooed Desdemona while they wait for Iago to fetch her. If Othello is to be believed, it was Desdemona who made the first move - not him. Brabantio doesn't believe a word of it. When she arrives to tell her version of events, which of the men is going to end up with egg on their face…?

Act II, scene i, Part 1 of 2 [ll 1-170] 
(Detailed commentary and analysis)

The action has switched to Cyprus. Montano is anxiously awaiting the Venetian fleet which has become scattered in a storm. Cassio is the first to arrive, followed by Desdemona, Iago and Roderigo. They while away the time as they wait for news of Othello's safe landing, talking about women. Cassio reveals himself to be overly concerned with elaborate manners and exaggerated flattery while Iago showcases his own misogynistic attitudes...

Act II, scene iii [ll 1-130]
(Detailed commentary and analysis)

Othello has left Cassio and Iago in charge of the watch, dismissing them early because he wants to spend some 'quality time' with Desdemona. Before he leaves, he makes it very clear that he has zero tolerance for rowdy, drunken behaviour. Iago persuades a reluctant Cassio, who can't handle alcohol very well, to have a drink, saying that it would be bad manners not to. Roderigo, who is pining for Desdemona, has also been knocking them back and Montano and his friends are in the mood for a party. Add to all of this that Cassio is known for having a quick temper. Oops...

Act II, scene iii [ll 130-241]
(Detailed commentary and analysis)

Iago has successfully got Cassio drunk and sent him outside where Roderigo is waiting to provoke him into a fight. He re-enters, brandishing his sword, furious that Roderigo, who he doesn't know, has been cheeky enough to tell him how to do his job. Montano steps in to try to calm things down but just makes everything worse as Cassio now picks a fight with him. Meanwhile, in all the confusion, Roderigo has sneaked off to set the town's bells ringing. The ruckus will undoubtedly wake Othello who has already told them that he doesn't wish the night's celebrations to get out of control...

Act III, scenes i and ii
(Detailed commentary and analysis)

Act III, scene i: Cassio has asked a band of musicians to serenade the newlyweds in the hope that it will get him back into Othello's good books. Othello sends down his Clown who lets Cassio know in no uncertain terms that his gesture is unwelcome. Iago arrives and agrees to fetch his wife, Emilia, so that Cassio can ask her for an audience with Desdemona.

Act III, scene ii: We see Othello at work. He intends to inspect the fortifications and expects to meet Iago there.

Act III, scene iii, ll 163-321 (Part 2)
(Detailed commentary and analysis)

Iago has been steadily, but very carefully, insinuating to Othello that Cassio and Desdemona are having an affair behind his back. Othello doesn’t know what to think and all of the self confidence we have seen in him up to this point has now vanished. Left alone, he convinces himself that Desdemona has been unfaithful to him after all. When Desdemona arrives to inform him that his dinner guests have arrived, she is alarmed to find him seemingly unwell and she offers him her handkerchief. As he rejects it, it falls to the floor. Thank heavens, though, that Emilia is there to pick it up…

Act III, scene iv, ll 1-100 (Part 1)
(Detailed commentary and analysis)

Desdemona is blissfully unaware that Iago has poisoned Othello’s mind against her and that he is now convinced that she is having an affair with Cassio. After engaging in a bit of banter involving wordplay on the theme of deception with Othello’s clown, she then sends him off in search of Cassio. She reveals to Emilia that the loss of her handkerchief is extremely worrying but, fortunately, Othello is not of the jealous type.

Othello enters and the two have a distinctly uncomfortable interaction as he makes a number of cryptic comments, which go over Desdemona's head, that allude to her own deception. He then reveals that the handkerchief has mystical properties and that, should she lose it, it would signal the end of their marriage. As Othello tries to pin Desdemona down as to the whereabouts of the handkerchief and the discussion gets more and more heated, will Emilia step in to tell what she knows...?

Act IV, scene i, ll 1-144 (Part 1)
(Detailed commentary and analysis)

Iago is still on at Othello, trying to make his jealousy uncontrollable. He works him up to such a fever pitch that Othello has a seizure and falls to the ground. When he eventually wakes back up, Iago tells him that he has heard Cassio bragging about bedding his wife and that, if Othello hides, he will make him do it again so that Othello can hear it with his very own ears. This is risky because Cassio could easily give the game away by mentioning Bianca’s name. Will Iago be able to pull it off?

Act IV, scene ii, 
(Detailed commentary and analysis)

Othello has been grilling Emilia about Desdemona. She is adamant that Desdemona has not been unfaithful to him with Cassio but Othello doesn't really rate anything she has to say. When he sees his wife, he challenges her and calls her terrible things, suggesting that she is no better than a prostitute.

 

When Iago enters, he tries to reassure her that Othello is just in a bad mood over being recalled to Venice but Desdemona is not convinced...

Act II, scene iii [242ff]
(Detailed commentary and analysis)

Cassio is nursing a sore head and lots of regrets, distraught that he has not only lost his job, but also Othello's good opinion. Iago gives him a pep talk, building up his confidence that all he need to do is go to Desdemona and beg her to ask Othello to give him his job back. Sounds like a good idea, doesn’t it?

Meanwhile, Roderigo is also nursing some wounds, not to mention an empty purse. He is threatening to leave but will Iago be able to persuade him to stay?

Act III, scene iii, ll 1-162 (Part 1)
(Detailed commentary and analysis)

Cassio has got Desdemona on board to help him get back into Othello’s favour. She does as she has promised and duly extracts a promise from him to speak to his former lieutenant. But Iago’s sharp eyes and ears have picked up some information that he can use to discredit Desdemona and Cassio and to plant the seeds of suspicion in Othello’s heart…

Act III, scene iii, 322ff (Part 3)
(Detailed commentary and analysis)

Iago has dismissed his wife, Emilia, from his presence, Desdemona's handkerchief now safely in his possession. He waits for Othello to return, anxious to complete what he started - to convince him that Desdemona is carrying on behind his back with Cassio. Othello, however, turns on him and threatens his life if he is found to be lying about Desdemona in order to torture him. Has Iago overplayed his hand and has Othello begun to realise that he is a wolf in sheep's clothing after all...?

Act III, scene iv, 100ff (Part 2)
(Detailed commentary and analysis)

Cassio, encouraged by Iago, presses Desdemona further to plead with Othello for his reinstatement. Unfortunately, Desdemona tells him, now is not the time. Her husband is in a strange mood that she has never seen before and she has already made him angry by speaking of it. Emilia suggests that Othello may be jealous but Desdemona dismisses this, as she has never given him a reason to be. Are they ever going to sort it out?

Act IV, scene i, 145ff (Part 2)
(Detailed commentary and analysis)

Bianca is having a hard time believing Cassio’s story of having found the handkerchief in his bedroom. She comes upon Cassio in the street with Iago and makes a scene, accusing him of giving her another woman’s love token. Othello has seen enough and comes out of hiding as soon as Cassio has left. He has murder on his mind and Iago persuades him that strangling Desdemona in their bed will be an appropriate punishment. Their plotting is interrupted by the arrival of Lodovico, accompanied by Desdemona, with some important news from Venice. Will Othello be able to keep his cool in front of this important guest…?

Act IV, scene iii
(Detailed commentary and analysis)

The banquet has ended and Othello has insisted on accompanying a somewhat reluctant Lodovico back to his lodgings. As he leaves, he commands that, not only should Desdemona go straight to bed but that she should also dismiss Emilia. Emilia is disturbed by this as it was the custom for a lady's maid to remain in attendance until the husband came to bed. Desdemona, however, doesn't want to question Othello's authority and anger him even more, so she urges Emilia to hurry up and leave.

 

As she gets ready for bed, Desdemona can't stop thinking about death. She also can't get a sad song about a woman deserted by her lover out of her head. Is this an ill omen...?

Act V, scene i
(Detailed commentary and analysis)

The final act begins with a brief scene brimming with chaos and confusion. Roderigo is lying in wait for Cassio outside Bianca's house, spurred on by Iago to kill him. Iago reveals that if Cassio manages to kill Roderigo in the ensuing fight, then that will be killing two birds with one stone. If Iago can pull this off, then he should be home free...

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