In the first part we see the Duke and senators attempting to
establish the movements and intentions of the Turkish fleet, to
decide whether they are going to invade Cyprus or Rhodes.
Different messengers give conflicting information and the
Turkish enemy may be attempting to deceive the Venetians,
so the senate has to weigh up the evidence and be shrewd in
its judgement. In the second, Brabantio and Othello offer
conflicting accounts of the Moor's relationship with
Desdemona, each trying to persuade the Duke that his
version of events is more truthful. Having originally promised
Brabantio that the man who has bewitched his daughter will
be punished, the Duke changes his mind and instead takes
Othello's part. Desdemona's speech makes it apparent that
her father has been deceived. In the third, Iago first continues
to gull Roderigo into believing he can cuckold Othello, then
reveals to the audience that he is stringing him along for
He relishes deceiving Roderigo, and plans to do the same with Othello, whom he says naively believes
others honest just because they seem to be so. Notice how, in each of the three parts and on a number of
different levels, Shakespeare makes central the question of judgement - making characters (and the
audience) use their skill and understanding to decide between opposing points of view, differing opinions.
Look, too, at the part that deception plays in all this, and at how important and difficult it is not to be fooled by
what only seems to be true. The Turks try to fool the Venetians; Desdemona seemed to be afraid of Othello
but was in love with him; Othello thinks his ancient an honest man; Roderigo is taken in by Iago's lies.
Act iii Scene 3
This is Othello's central scene, both structurally - it falls in the middle of the five acts - and dramatically. During
its course we see the Moor utterly transformed from a loving and noble husband, declaring undying love for
Desdemona, to an embittered, vengeful and ferocious man who is vowing allegiance to the duplicitous Iago
and plotting his wife's murder. Notice how this rapid moral descent is reflected in the transformation of Othello's
language from the often lyrical, poised verse of previous scenes to crude, disjointed outbursts. We also witness
the subtlety, opportunism and relentless insistence of Iago as he takes advantage of the trust Othello has
placed in him. At first, planting the seeds of doubt in the Moor's mind, Iago brilliantly adopts the role of
concerned friend, reluctantly divulging others' deceit.
Notice how he withholds information, pricking Othello's curiosity, and plays shrewdly on Othello's feeling
that, as a military man and an outsider, he knows little of Venetian women and their subtle ways. Besides
being skilful in his treachery, Iago is also lucky, the handkerchief falling into his possession at just the right
moment. Left to himself, Othello turns Iago's insinuations and suggestions into unpalatable realities.
Though he talks of needing proof before he can act, Iago requires only to mention the treasured
handkerchief, and to invent a story about Cassio dreaming of making love to Desdemona, before Othello is
convinced beyond recall.
Awake! what, ho, Brabantio! thieves! thieves! thieves! Look to your house, your daughter and your bags!
Thieves! thieves! (1.1.7)
Even now, now, very now, an old black ram Is tupping your white ewe. Arise, arise; Awake the snorting
citizens with the bell, Or else the devil will make a grandsire of you. Arise I say! (1.1.9)
IAGO Though I do hate him as I do hell's pains Yet for necessity of present life, I must show out a flag and
sign of love, Which is indeed but sign. (1.1.152-155) IAGO I hate the Moor: And it is thought abroad, that 'twixt
my sheets He has done my office: I know not if't be true; But I, for mere suspicion in that kind, Will do as if for
IAGO She did deceive her father, marrying
you; […] OTHELLO And so she did. (3.3.18)
FULL TITLE · The Tragedy of Othello, the Moor of Venice
AUTHOR · William Shakespeare
TYPE OF WORK · Play
GENRE · Tragedy
TIME AND PLACE WRITTEN · Between 1601 and 1604, England
DATE OF FIRST PUBLICATION · 1622
TONE · Shakespeare clearly views the events of the play as tragic. He seems to view the marriage between
Desdemona and Othello as noble and heroic, for the most part.
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.
RISING ACTION · 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.
FALLING ACTION · 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 · The incompatibility of military heroism and love; the danger of isolation
MOTIFS · Sight and blindness; plants; animals; hell, demons, and monsters
FORESHADOWING · Othello and Desdemona’s speeches about love foreshadow the disaster to come;
Othello’s description of his past and of his wooing of Desdemona foreshadow his suicide speech;
Desdemona’s “Willow” song and remarks to Emilia in Act IV, scene iii, foreshadow her death.