Othello

A noble general is fooled into believing his wife is unfaithful, due to the machinations of his evil subordinate.

I am not what I am.

Iago, Act 1, Scene 1

Othello, a respected general of the Venetian army, has married Desdemona in secret.

Her father rejects the union as Othello is a Moor, but the couple prove their love for each other and the Duke allows it.

That same night, Venetian troops led by Othello are called to a military base in Cyprus. Desdemona follows her husband to the island, along with Othello’s ensign, Iago, and his wife, Emilia. As the conflict abroad subsides, mischief at the camp ensues. Iago feels overlooked in rank and society, and plots to destroy Othello and his newly promoted lieutenant, Cassio. Through a series of underhanded manipulations, Iago convinces Othello that Cassio is unworthy of his position, and that Desdemona is unfaithful. Consumed by jealousy and doubt, Othello murders his wife and takes his own life.

Othello is a nightmarish tragedy that deals with racial vilification, gender issues and domestic violence. It was not until late in the 20th century that the tradition of white actors playing the role of Othello in ‘blackface’ was abandoned.

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Ray Chong Nee as Othello and Elizabeth Nabben as Desdemona (2016, photo: credit)

Iago 2016 Othello Hub Character Card

Yalin Ozucelik as Iago (2016, photo: credit)

SYNOPSIS

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I am not what I am.

Iago, Act 1, Scene 1

It is evening in Venice, Italy. A lowly ensign, Iago, complains to a gentleman, Roderigo, of his hatred for his General, Othello. Othello has promoted another soldier, Michael Cassio, to the role of Lieutenant, and Iago, feeling he has been overlooked, desires revenge.

Othello, a Moor, has secretly married Desdemona, the daughter of Senator Brabantio. As Roderigo is in love with Desdemona, Iago recruits him to tell Brabantio of his daughter’s marriage. Brabantio is outraged and calls for Othello’s arrest. Brabantio has Othello brought before the Duke of Venice and accuses him of using sorcery to entrap his daughter. Othello and Desdemona defend their genuine courtship and love. Their proclamation wins over the Duke who gives the marriage his blessing.

At this same time, there is an imminent threat of attack on Cyprus from the Turkish forces. Othello is called to lead the defense and must depart for Cyprus immediately. Desdemona, rather than stay with her father, chooses to follow her new husband to Cyprus. Othello entrusts Desdemona to Iago and Iago’s wife, Emilia, to make the journey together. Brabantio warns Othello that as Desdemona has deceived her father, she may deceive her husband.

Meanwhile, Iago convinces Roderigo that if he travels to Cyprus, bringing lots of money, Iago will secure Desdemona’s heart for him. Roderigo agrees to the plan, securing the funds for Iago's secret motives. In a soliloquy, Iago shares that he plans to use Othello’s trusting nature to his advantage, and involve Cassio in his plans.

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Famous lines

O, beware, my lord, of jealousy:
It is the green-eyed monster which doth mock
The meat it feeds on.

Iago, Act 3, Scene 3

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Historical background

Shakespeare’s source material for Othello was Un Capitano Moro in 1565 by the Italian writer Cinthio, also known as A Moorish Captain.

Fast facts

The words 'honest' and 'honesty' feature in the play over 50 times.

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Geography

Why did Shakespeare choose Cyprus?

Traditionally, Cyprus was an island much sought after by its surrounding nations. It was highly accessible and therefore prone to attack.

It is also assumed that Shakespeare chose an island setting and an army base to create a foreign, isolated and harsh atmosphere. It separated the characters from what was familiar and comfortable; from their loved ones and advisors. In other words, it was a dramatic device to increase social tensions and in doing so, heighten the characters’ emotional responses.

Debatable points

OTHELLO AND THE TREATMENT OF WOMEN

Othello is a problematic play in its depiction of gendered roles, misogyny and domestic violence against women. Should we see it? Do audiences want to see it? Should we step right up to the violence and show it for all its horror, or shy away from it? And moving forward, will it be seen as socially responsible to put it on stage?

Read debatable points