It is night in Venice. On a street near Signior Brabantio’s house, Iago and Roderigo discuss the scandalous news: Senator Brabantio’s daughter, Desdemona, has just eloped with Othello, a general hired by the Venetians—and a Moor. Iago, Othello’s ensign, complains bitterly to his companion Roderigo, who is one of Desdemona’s rejected suitors. Othello has passed over Iago for promotion and instead has appointed the less-experienced Michael Cassio as his lieutenant. The two men rouse Brabantio and his household to deliver the news of Desdemona’s elopement. Horrified, Brabantio seeks out the Moor to bring him to justice before the Duke of Venice.
At the moment, however, the Duke and his senators are concerned with more pressing affairs of state. The Turks threaten Venetian interests in Cyprus, and therefore Othello’s services are required by the state immediately. Desdemona begs the Duke that she be allowed to accompany her husband to his post. As Othello and his new bride prepare to depart Venice in haste, Iago reveals to the audience that he has more than one reason to hate the Moor: it is rumored, he claims, that Othello has bedded his own wife, Emilia. For this and the perceived insult of being overlooked for promotion, he plots revenge—to make Othello believe his Venetian lieutenant Cassio and Desdemona are lovers.
At a port in Cyprus, several men gather on shore. Much to the relief of Signior Montano and the other assembled gentlemen, a terrible storm has stopped the advance of the Turkish fleet, but they anxiously await news of the fate of the Venetian ships. Michael Cassio’s vessel is the first to arrive ashore. He and his men have inflicted heavy damage to what was left of the Turkish fleet. Iago’s ship docks next, bringing with him Desdemona and her lady-in-waiting, Emilia, who is also Iago’s wife. Finally, Othello disembarks triumphant with the news that the Turks are all drowned and the battle is won. While the others celebrate victory, Iago discloses further details of his plot to avenge himself on the Moor.
A herald announces Othello’s proclamation of this night’s celebration of the Turkish defeat and his own nuptials. At the citadel before he retires with Desdemona, Othello leaves Cassio in charge of the guard for the night. Iago persuades Cassio and his men to toast Othello, and incites the inebriated Cassio to quarrel with Iago’s accomplice, Roderigo. Montano attempts to stop the drunken brawl, but is himself wounded in the fray. Othello dismisses Cassio for his dereliction of duty and leaves to tend Montano’s wounds.
Iago urges the disgraced Cassio to regain Othello’s good favor by pleading his case to Desdemona, all the while plotting to use their meeting for his own machinations—to convince Othello of his wife’s infidelity with the lieutenant.
At Othello and Desdemona’s residence, Michael Cassio enlists the help of Emilia to gain access to Desdemona while Othello tends to business elsewhere at the citadel. As he returns home, Othello observes Cassio’s hasty departure. Moved by the lieutenant’s pleas, Desdemona implores Othello to return Cassio to her husband’s good favor. Iago takes this opportunity to insinuate to Othello that her interest in Cassio may be proof of her infidelity. And so Iago’s poisonous suggestions begin to plant suspicions in Othello’s mind.
When Desdemona returns to bring Othello in to dinner with his guests, she accidentally drops her handkerchief embroidered with strawberries—the first keepsake given her by her husband, who charged her to keep it with her always. Othello’s mother had given it to him, believing it to be charmed. Finding the handkerchief, Emilia hands it over to her husband, who has often pestered her to filch it for him. Iago reports to the audience that he intends to plant it in Cassio’s lodgings and thereby set in motion the rest of his plot to provide Othello with “ocular proof” of Desdemona’s unfaithfulness.
The distressed Desdemona bemoans the loss of the handkerchief to Emilia, who offers up no information about its disappearance. When Othello demands that his wife produce the handkerchief and she cannot, his suspicions grow. He is even more certain of her guilt when she continues to press Cassio’s suit. Meanwhile, Cassio has found the stolen handkerchief in his bedchamber. He cajoles his mistress Bianca to copy the fine embroidery for him and promises to visit her later in the night.
Iago persists in convincing Othello of Desdemona’s infidelity. His lewd insinuations work on the Moor’s imagination until Othello falls into a seizure. Othello awakes to observe Bianca returning the handkerchief—Desdemona’s handkerchief—to Cassio. Othello presumes the worst: Desdemona has given it to her lover and he in turn has given it to his whore. Othello vows to kill Desdemona that night.
Lodovico, Desdemona’s kinsman, arrives from Venice bearing news that, with the Turkish threat diminished, Othello is to return to Venice at once and leave Cassio in command in Cyprus. Confronted with this unexpected news, Othello lashes out, striking Desdemona and demanding her to leave his sight. She obeys, with all around bewildered by this sudden and violent change in Othello.
Now Iago convinces Roderigo that Othello departs not for Venice, but Mauretania—where Desdemona will be forever beyond Roderigo’s grasp. The only way to stop them from leaving is to remove Cassio from command, permanently.
Night falls, and near the shop stalls on the streets of Cyprus from a dark corner Roderigo strikes as Cassio approaches. In self-defense Cassio stabs Roderigo, wounding him. Out of the darkness, Iago slashes Cassio on the leg, and then disappears again into the shadows. When the alarm is sounded, Iago kills Roderigo to silence him, and implicates Bianca in Cassio’s injury.
As Desdemona sleeps, Othello comes to their bed. She awakes. Stunned by her husband’s accusations, Desdemona pleads first for understanding and then for her life before Othello smothers her to death. When Emilia discovers the body of her dying mistress, Desdemona refuses to incriminate Othello. Emilia at last understands and reveals her husband’s complicity. Iago stabs his wife, silencing her forever.
It is Cassio who opens Othello’s eyes to the truth that Desdemona was a chaste and faithful wife. Suddenly grabbing a hidden dagger and stabbing himself, Othello dies upon Desdemona’s body. A silent Iago is taken by Venetian soldiers, his final censure left to Michael Cassio.
– Contributed by the CST Education Department