The play opens in conversation between Iago and Roderigo. The latter is in love with Desdemona and Iago is in his service attempting to win her1. Desdemona has, that very night eloped with Othello. Iago, works hard to convince the gullible Roderigo that, though he is the Moors ensign, he despises him and is keen to advance Roderigos bid for Desdemona for his own personal vengeance. This vengeance appears to stem from the appointment by Othello of Cassio as his lieutenant in preference to Iago.
Iago spurs Roderigo to alert Desdemonas father, Brabantio, to the fact that his daughter has run off to wed Othello. Brabantio, on hearing so calls out his men on Othello. Whilst this is going on, Othello is summoned by the senate on urgent business to defend the Venetian empire from Turkish attacks. Brabantio finding him there accuses him of stealing his daughter and this is not resolved until Desdemona herself testifies before the senate that she was thieved from her father only by her love for the Moor.
Othello is sent to fight off the Turks attack on Cyprus and to take over from Montano as governor. Desdemona, Iago and Roderigo follow. Iago develops a plan to displace Cassio from his lieutenancy and, as is his custom, he uses others as players. In this case, he convinces the foolish Roderigo that Desdemona is in love with Cassio. That evening, Cassio is on watch with Iago, watching over the town as it celebrates the defeat of the Turks. Iago tempts Cassio to drink and, with a weak head for wine, he is then a prime target for Roderigo who provokes him to fight. A general disturbance ensues and the drunken Cassio is found in the middle of it all. Othello disgraces him and demotes him from the position of lieutenant.
Cassio is now once the victim of Iagos villainy and yet comes to him for advice. Whilst proposing a means to restore him to his post, Iago plans to make him twice the tool of his treachery. He recommends that Cassio approach Desdemona, on whom Othello dotes, to advance his cause. Desdemona agrees to petition Othello on Cassios behalf and does so with a naive and innocent persistence. Meanwhile, Iago slips the idea into Othellos mind that Cassio is courting Desdemona behind his back.
This idea, born of unspoken inference and delicate direction, grows in Othellos mind. He refuses though, the final acknowledgement that he is being cuckolded until he is given "ocular proof". This Iago achieves by procuring an hankerchief given to Desdemona by Othello. This he leaves in Cassios room where Cassio finds it and gives it to his mistress to "copy". Not long after, Othello is given his "proof" when, in his company, Cassios mistress returns to Cassio the handkerchief, refusing to copy it. At this point, in the name of honour, Othello resolves to kill Desdemona and Iago offers to avenge him of Cassio.
Meanwhile, Roderigo becomes impatient and threatens Iago that he might go directly to Desdemona and proclaim his love for her. This would ruin Iagos plans for his dishonesty would become apparent. So he tells Roderigo that the senate has planned to install Cassio as governor of Cyprus and send Othello to Mauritania. Desdemona would of course go with him and Roderigo would therefore lose any contact with her. Iago persuades Roderigo that to prevent this, he must kill Cassio and that way Othello and Desdemona will remain in Cyprus.
In the event, it is Roderigo and not Cassio who is killed. Whilst they are fighting, Othello kills Desdemona in what he believes to be an act of honour. On finding her dead mistress, Emelia realises slowly the misapprehension, under which Othello labours and works to explain the truth of Desdemonas innocence. In an attempt to silence her, Iago stabs Emelia. Before she dies, the full truth of the story comes out and with it the tale of Iagos villainy. Othello, realising his mistake stabs himself and the play ends with Desdemona, Emelia and Othello dead upon the bed, Cassio as governor of Cyprus and judge as to the "censure of this hellish villain", Iago.
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