Nobody confesses, but most people do not remember much of the plot lines unfolding in Shakespeare’s The Tragedy of Othello, the Moor of Venice. All consider it their duty to say: “Ah, Othello is the greatest play of all times” or “Othello was the embodiment and victim of jealousy.”
However, in most cases, this means that their understanding is only skin deep. If you are assigned an Othello summary or need to get ready for a class discussion of this play, you need more than these clichés.
To save your precious time, avoid the embarrassment and get excellent grades for your Othello summaries, check this brief and clear overview of Othello.
Othello summary: main themes
The first step to a deeper understanding of the tragedy is to look through the main themes in this work (yes, Shakespeare touched also on other themes other than jealousy). Here is the complete list of main themes in the play:
- military career;
Othello summary: main characters
The next step to writing an Othello summary and analysis is to get acquainted with the main characters. The main characters involved in the tragedy are:
- Othello – a Moorish general in the Venetian Army and a cultural outsider in Venice, who is however respected for his military talents.
- Desdemona – a Venetian girl, Othello’s wife and Brabantio’s daughter.
- Iago – a manipulator, Othello’s ensign who was denied a promotion.
- Michael Cassio – Othello’s lieutenant who was promoted.
- Emilia – Desdemona’s servant and Iago’s wife.
- Roderigo – a Venetian citizen who falls for Desdemona.
- Bianca -a prostitute and Cassio’s lover.
- Brabantio is Desdemona’s father and a senator of Venice.
Othello summary in a nutshell
In a nutshell, Othello is the story of a Moorish general who becomes pray to his ensign’s manipulation and, as a result, kills his wife out of unjust jealousy.
When he later understands that he had no real reason for jealousy, Othello kills Iago, as the manipulator who caused the tragedy, and then he kills himself too. If this Othello short summary is not enough, you can check the following sections for a more detailed summary of the events unfolding in each of the five acts of the play.
Othello summary: Act I
In the act I, a prominent Venetian general, Othello, promotes a theoretical strategist, Cassio, to the rank of lieutenant. Othello’s ensign, Iago, becomes angry, because he is more experienced than Cassio and badly wanted this promotion too.
To take revenge, Iago contacts Roderigo, who fell for Othello’s beloved Desdemona, but was rejected, and now wants to win the girl’s heart by all means. Iago and Roderigo tell the senator Brabantio that his daughter Desdemona is in love with Othello. Brabantio is dissatisfied, because Othello is a Moor.
Brabantiosummons Othello to meet urgently and accuses him of using magic to make Desdemona fall in love with him. Othello answers to all the charges, and Desdemona admits that Othello has won her heart because of his stories about his heroic deeds. The court decides to send Othello to Cyprus, and Desdemona is allowed to join him if she is accompanied by Iago. Iago speaks to Roderigo and promises to help him cuckold Othello for money.
Othello summary: Act II
In the act II, Othello and Desdemona go to Cyprus by different ships. Iago first tries to make Cassio think that Desdemona flirts with him. However, Cassio is innocent and friendly, and Iago’s attempt fails.
Next, Iago decides to make Cassio drunk and causes a quarrel between him and Roderigo. After the fight between Cassio and Roderigo, Cassio is discredited. Othello does not want to deal with Cassio anymore.
Othello summary: Act III
In the act III, Cassio comes to Desdemona to speak about his ruined reputation. Desdemona believes that Cassio is a good person and asks Othello to take Cassio back. Iago uses this opportunity to persuade Othello that something is going on between Desdemona and Cassio. Othello begins to doubt his wife’s faithfulness and says to her that he is worried, but does not explain why. Desdemona drops the handkerchief that Othello has given her.
She looks everywhere, but cannot find it, because Emilia finds it and gives it to her husband Iago who needs it for some purpose. This handkerchief is very important to Othello, because he received it from his mother.
For this reason, when Iago tells Othello that Cassio has the handkerchief, Othello gets furious and swears to revenge himself on both Cassio and Desdemona for what he believes to be a love affair between them. Cassio finds the handkerchief in his room and gives it to his beloved Bianca.
Othello summary: Act IV
In the act IV, Othello overhears the talk between Iago and Cassio about Bianca and thinks that they are talking about Desdemona. This misinterpreted conversation becomes the last ‘proof’ that Othello needed. Othello talks to Emilia about the unfaithfulness of his wife.
When Emilia assures him that Desdemona is innocent, Othello does not believe it all the same. Roderigo is dissatisfied because Iago has not kept his promise concerning Desdemona. Iago persuades Roderigo that he can win Desdemona by killing Cassio. Othello tells Desdemona to go to bed. Desdemona knows that she will die soon and sings a song of sadness.
Othello summary: Act V
In the act V, after the fight between Roderigo and Cassio, Roderigo dies and Cassio is wounded. At the same time, Othello enters Desdemona’s room and smothers her although she looks beautiful and swears that she is innocent. Emilia comes to tell Othello about Roderigo’s death and Cassio’s wound.
Othello hides Desdemona who is nearly dead. Emilia sees Desdemona who says her last words and dies. Emilia then tells Othello the truth about the handkerchief. Iago stabs Emilia for revealing his crimes. Othello stabs Iago and kills himself.
So, this was all you needed to know to write an outstanding Othello plot summary. You may use this brief and clear overview of Othello to get excellent grades and a better understanding of Shakespeare’s masterpiece.