Othello Summary - Themes, Characters, and Plot

Othello Summary


Othello Summary

Othello is a play written by William Shakespeare around the year 1603. The full title is The Tragedy of Othello, the Moor of Venice. The play has always been popular since its premier owing to its unique themes for the time period which revolves around racial prejudice. However, it also looks into universally relatable concepts such as jealousy and love.

Othello Summary-Plot Overview

Othello is one of Shakespeare’s most famous works because it revolves around the story of Othello, a Moorish military commander-general in the Venetian army. He and his troops are preparing for battle against the Ottoman Turks, who plan to invade Cyprus. However, he fails to promote Iago to chief lieutenant and instead appoints Cassio. Iago becomes jealous and plots against them. He claims that Desdemona, who Othello recently married, is having an affair with Cassio. This puts strain on their relationship since Desdemona’s father does not approve of their marriage as she is much younger and from a wealthy family. Iago feeds into Othello’s jealousy, resulting in Othello killing his wife in anger and then killing himself. 

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The book is divided into five main acts, which we offer details on below, so here is a more comprehensive Othello summary.

Othello Characters

The following are the characters in Othello:


Othello is a Moorish general of the Venetian Army. He is the protagonist and is described as tall, powerful, and eloquent. He is insecure about his role in Venetian society due to his race and is free and opens with others which leads Iago to take advantage of and deceive him. Even those who accept him such as Desdemona are drawn to him for his foreign qualities and appearance.


Desdemona is Othello’s wife and Brabantio’s daughter. She is described as being meek and pure but determined and self-possessed. She also speaks with conviction, such as when she tries to convince her father to accept Othello. Desdemona also foreshadows her death by asking Emilia to bury her in her sheets if she dies first.


Iago is Othello’s jealous and ensign/standard bearer. He is the villain and is twenty-eight years old in the play. He is obsessive, manipulative, and jealous. He is seen as the worst villain since his motives are not concrete. At one point he claims to seek revenge because Othello did not promote him but in another instance, he claims to be doing so because he suspects that he slept with his wife Emilia.

Michael Cassio

Cassio is Othello’s former army captain and is now a lieutenant. He is charming and handsome which are the qualities that make him Iago’s pawn. It is his handsomeness that makes Iago’s lie about him cheating with Desdemona plausible. He is also courteous and gallant, which endear him to women thus making Iago’s lies seem plausible.


Brabantio is Desdemona’s father and is described as a self-important Venetian senator who feels betrayed after Othello marries his daughter in secret.


She is Cassio’s lover and a local courtesan. Cassio often teases her and promises marriage.


Roderigo is a former Venetian soldier who is in love with Desdemona. He is easily manipulated thanks to his hate for Othello, is xenophobic, obsessive towards Desdemona as well as weak in mind and morals. He even fails to commit to killing Othello, but does so halfheartedly. Iago manipulates his anger towards Othello to incite Roderigo to violence.


Emilia is Iago’s distrustful wife and Desdemona’s maid. She is described as being cynical and worldly.


Gratiano is Brabantio’s kinsman.


He is Brabantio’s kinsman and messenger from Venice to Cyprus. It is him who informs the city that Othello is replaced by Cassio as governor.


Montano is Cyprus's former governor who is first seen waiting for the Venetian ships.

Duke of Venice

The Duke is the official authority in Venice and in charge of Othello. He sends Othello to Cyprus and reconciles him with Brabanzio.


The clown is Othello’s servant. His appearance is symbolic of inverted words and actions.

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Othello Setting

The setting of Othello is in Venice, and experts approximate that it is set anywhere from the last half of the 16th century. The war with the Ottomans occurred around 1570 to 1573, so this estimate is accurate. 

Othello is noted to be a Moor, who are north-African Muslim individuals who came from areas around Mauritania and resided around Spain and Portugal. At that point, Venice was a multicultural city that attracted many due to the thriving trade it controlled, thanks to its closeness to the Mediterranean and shipyards. It was also a staging ground for the Crusades, but the city declined later on due to the plague in 1576.

Othello Plot

Below is the plot of Othello organized into Acts as in the book itself :

Act I

First is the Othello Act 1 summary. The story begins with Roderigo, a wealthy man complaining to Iago that Desdemona (daughter of Brabantio a senator) has chosen to marry Othello. Iago resents Othello for not promoting Cassio instead of him, as he considers Cassio to be less skilled. He convinces Roderigo to tell Brabantio about his daughter’s impending marriage, which angers him, and Brabantio goes to confront Othello. Iago goes to warn Othello, but Brabantio finds Othello’s home full of guards due to the news of the Turks attacking, and they go to the Duke's house to advise the senate. Upon arrival, Brabantio accuses Othello of using witchcraft to get Desdemona, but Othello defends himself, saying that she fell in love after hearing of his sad life before coming to Venice. Brabantio warns Othello that Desdemona will betray him as she has done to her father. Iago notes this, and Othello leaves Venice to lead the army against the Turks in Cyprus. He heads out with Desdemona, Cassio, Iago, Iago’s wife, and his wife’s attendant. That concludes Othello Act 1 summary, which sets the stage for the main conflict and theme.

Act II

Upon arrival in Cyprus, the group finds the Turkish fleets destroyed by a storm. Othello orders a celebration and leaves with his wife. Iago convinces Roderigo to fight a drunken Cassio, which causes an injury to Montano as he is trying to break up the fight. Othello arrives, blames Cassio for the chaos, and fires him. Iago takes the chance to tell Cassio to ask Desdemona for help getting his job back. This Othello Act 2 summary shows how events are still building up to the climax.


Below is the Othello Act 3 summary, where Iago approaches Othello and tells him to be wary of Cassio. One day, Desdemona drops a handkerchief given to her by Othello, and Emilia finds it. Emilia hands it to Iago. Iago convinces Othello that his wife is unfaithful, which leads Othello to plot against Cassio. Othello also makes Iago his junior.

Act IV

The lost handkerchief is planted in Cassio’s house, and Iago tries to question him. He asks about Bianca but whispers, which makes it seem like they are talking about Desdemona. Bianca also accuses Cassio of giving her an old gift, which raises more of Othello’s suspicions. He rages against Desdemona and tries to make her life miserable. He also asks Iago to kill Cassio and decides to kill Desdemona. Iago passes on this task to Roderigo.

Act V

Roderigo attacks Cassio as he leaves Bianca’s home, but Roderigo is wounded. Iago attacks Cassio from behind in the darkness and joins Lodovico and Gratiano when they come to help. Cassio remembers that Roderigo was involved in the attack and Iago stabs Roderigo to avoid being exposed. Iago also blames Bianca for Cassio’s attack, while Othello wakes Desdemona to confront her. She claims innocence, but he smothers her. Emilia appears and calls for help. Montano, Gratiano, and Iago appear. Othello tells them what happened, and Emilia informs him that Iago deceived him. Othello stabs Iago, and Iago stabs Emilia. Iago decides to remain silent, and Lodovico arrests him and Othello for the deaths caused. Cassio is appointed to replace Othello by Lodovico, who asks him to punish Iago. The play ends with Lodovico condemning Iago, after which he goes to inform others of what has happened. 

As you can see from the Othello act 2 summary and Othello act 1 summary, the events in each act help build up to the main event, hence having elements of suspense. If you would like tips to help you with content other than our Othello summary, check out our article on how to write the summary of a book

Othello Genre

A genre refers to a style or category that has particular traits that set it apart with regard to content, style, and form. Common genres you may be familiar with are science fiction, poetry, horror, thrillers, and historical. They largely fall into two categories: fiction and non-fiction. The fiction involves any made-up stories, while non-fiction can include anything from documentaries to manuals.

The genre of Othello, therefore, falls into the category of tragedy since it describes the fall of a military hero due to destructive rumors and ego. Several people end up dead due to jealousy and poor communication, while others are arrested for their crimes. Not only is it a romantic tragedy as it involves the demise of Othello’s and Desdemona’s relationship, but it is also a domestic tragedy as many families fall apart due to the events. For help with the literature of any genre, consider placing an order today. Not only do we offer help with other genres aside from Othello summary content, but we also do it expertly. A good example is our guide on how to write a film synopsis.

Othello Themes

A theme is a central idea in media that offers a moral to the story. It helps the author communicate a particular issue to the reader and can inspire readers. Some of the themes in Othello are:

1. Jealousy

This is the main trigger of conflict in the story. Instances include Iago’s jealousy of Cassio and Othello’s jealousy of what he believes is Desdemona’s infidelity. Iago also suspects that Othello had relations with Emilia, leading to jealousy. Jealousy is a strong emotion and always leads to negative results. It is; therefore, no wonder that both characters plot against those they feel have wronged them.

2. Appearance versus reality

Iago misleads other characters like Othello by lying to them. He achieves this by planting Desdemona’s handkerchief in Cassio’s home. As such, it appears that Desdemona is cheating with Cassio. Many characters trust Iago’s word, but he is often lying, which leads to conflict. For example, he stabs Cassio in the leg but hides and acts like he is helping him later on. He also knows that his peers are trusting, such as when he notes that Othello is “of a free and open nature” (Act 1).

3. Deception and treachery

Iago deceives Othello out of spite, as well as his wife Emilia and others such as Lodovico. On the other hand, Othello believes that those who are honest to him are deceivers, such as when he doubts Desdemona’s faithfulness. This deception and perceived deception are what lead to the tragic events in the story. The handkerchief given to Desdemona also originally belonged to Othell’s mother who was an Egyptian sorcerer and was meant to protect its owner from infidelity. As such, since it is associated with witchcraft, it is also representative of the theme of deception and trickery.

4. Justice

Each of the characters bases their actions on their belief that they deserve justice for certain wrongdoings. For example, Iago believes that he deserves justice against Cassio, who took his role. Brabantio also seeks justice against Othello for marrying his daughter since he does not like him. On the other hand, Othello seeks justice against Desdemona for her perceived unfaithfulness. In the end, both Iago and Othello face justice for the crimes they have committed.

5. Military heroism versus love

Othello is a successful military officer, who often has to attend to matters of internal security. While the locals can accept his role in the army, they are unsure of accepting him into their society through marriage to Desdemona. Since his identity in Venetian society is tied to his role as a successful soldier, Othello avoids anything that can lead to his perception as a weak man. For example, Iago tells him his epileptic fit was seen by his rival Cassio and is “passion most unsuiting such a man” thus he feels insecure. In the end, his identity as a soldier and his desire to remain respected affect his ability to reason through his situation with Desdemona.

6. Isolation

The main conflict is directly caused by isolation. Othello feels segregated from the rest of society due to his race, and this leads him to not seek clarification once Iago lies to him about Desdemona cheating on him. However, this is caused by Iago isolating and then manipulating the characters for his own benefit. It is this isolation that leads to misunderstandings and deaths in the end.

7. Prejudice

There is a lot of racial prejudice in Othello summary. For one, Othello is a foreigner and the locals view him as an outsider, only accepting him for his skills in battle. Iago and Roderigo also refer to him using unkind words such as when they call him a barbary horse or refer to his thick lips. Desdemona’s father also accepts him as a soldier but rejects him as a potential son-in-law.

8. Honor

Honor is a large part of military life, and this can be seen in how Othello conducts himself. Desdemona’s alleged affair means that his honor is at risk, and could damage his reputation and perceived manhood. It is this desire to preserve his honor and manhood that leads him to seek revenge against Cassio and Desdemona.

Literary Devices In Othello

Literary devices can be used to promote the themes in the play such as betrayal and love. They are diverse, ranging from metaphors to irony, so authors have many at their disposal. They include:

1. Motif- Animal imagery

At one point, Iago is expressing his disdain for Othello after he does not give him a promotion and chooses Cassio instead. He calls Othello an “old black ram” which means that Othello is uncivilized and barbaric and calls Cassio a "fawning publican" who got his new role by being subservient. At one point, even Othello compares himself to an animal, saying that he is "an erring barbarian" and a "base Indian." This imagery is used to show that despite Othello’s rank, he is still considered an outsider in the community due to his race, and this even lands him in trouble when some people plot against him.

2. Soliloquy

A soliloquy refers to when a character speaks their thoughts out loud and addresses an audience. This is common in plays and is used to deliver points the audience would otherwise not have known. Shakespeare is well known for using this to relay important plot information to the audience. In this play, Othello gives a farewell speech soliloquy where he bids farewell to his reputation and embraces his new role as a scorned lover seeking revenge. As such, it symbolizes his change from a loving husband to a vengeful one.

3. Symbolism

One of the main symbols in the play is the handkerchief. Othello gives it to Desdemona to demonstrate his love, but he believes that she is cheating with Cassio and that he gave her this handkerchief. To him, it is proof that she betrayed him, and it becomes a sign of jealousy. This is because Iago has fooled him into thinking that Desdemona is cheating so as to lead him to violence and enact his revenge. This is made worse by the fact that Othello’s mother gave him the handkerchief. She was an Egyptian sorcerer, and the handkerchief was meant to make its owner immune to a cheating lover. As such, Othello’s rage also comes from the fact that his mother gave him the handkerchief as a token of her love, and he passed it on to Desdemona as a token of love as well.

Another instance of symbolism is when Desdemona sings a song called “Willow” which is about a woman betrayed by her lover. The song was taught to her by Barbary, her mother’s maid, who was also betrayed by her lover. She sang it when she felt alienated from Othello, and it even leads her to ask Emilia about infidelity.

4. Allusions

Allusions are references made to something without naming them. There are four types of allusions:

  • Historical allusions refer to a past period or events of certain significance
  • Literary allusions refer to a literary text or individual such as Othello in this case
  • Religious allusions refer to a religious text, story, or individual.
  • Mythological allusions refer to a mythological creature or person.

It is worth noting that an allusion is only effective if the reader is familiar with the concept. As such, it can help the author insert meaning into a particular word or phrase. An example is when someone states that another person smiles like a Cheshire cat, which refers to the broad and sinister smile of the cat in Alice in Wonderland.

In our Othello summary, instances of allusion include “By Janus, I think no” which Iago says in Act II when he wants to manipulate Roderigo. It refers to Janus, a two-faced Roman god, and indirectly shows that he cannot be trusted as he is shady.

Othello- Historical/Cultural Context

The story of Othello happens in the 1500s. At this point in time, the Venetian and Turkic empires were dominant. The story is also based on a series of stories first published in 1565 by Cinthio named Gli Hecatommmithi about a Moor’s ensign who falls in love with Desdemona, his captain’s wife. 

The region also experienced intermingling among Muslims and Christians. As such, there was cultural intermixing and tension that is observed by the racial prejudice some characters show towards Othello. Venice was also known for being a rich cosmopolitan city that housed many immigrants.

Shakespeare’s writing was also well enjoyed by the general public, and Othello was well received. It was first played in James 1 London Palace in 1604 at the banqueting palace. Back then, all actors were male, so the female roles were played by young boys.

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Frequently Asked Questions

1. What is Othello’s main flaw?

Othello’s main flaw is his jealousy, which leads him to murder his wife and go to prison.

2. What does Desdemona’s handkerchief symbolize?

The handkerchief is a symbol of the love between Desdemona and Othello.

3. What is an example of tragic irony in Othello?

The tragic irony is that Othello is deceived into thinking that Desdemona is cheating on him. However, he has been manipulated and only finds out when it's too late.

4. Why was Desdemona’s hand wet in Act 111?

It symbolizes a lack of hygiene

5. What is the tone used in Othello?

As per our Othello summary, the main tone is revenge and spite. This is seen in Iago, who is upset about Cassio getting the role, and Othello, who takes revenge on his wife for thinking she is cheating.


To sum it up, The Tragedy of Othello, the Moor of Venice is a story of a tragic hero who is led astray by jealousy. Othello, a Venetian army general, faces issues with the rising threat of the Turks' invasion; his father-in-law Brabantio is plotted against by his ensign Iago and is deceived that his wife Desdemona is cheating on him. This results in Othello flying into a rage and murdering his wife. However, Iago was behind the scenes feeding him false information and covering up his tracks by lying to and murdering some of those he lied to. In the end, both Iago and Othello are arrested for their crimes. 

In our Othello summary, you will see that the story has a good cast of characters who portray the reality of life in 16th-century Venice, which was a wealthy multicultural center of trade in the Mediterranean region. Some of the themes noted in our summary for Othello include jealousy, justice, appearance versus reality, as well as deception, and treachery. For help with analyzing any part of this literature, place your order today, and our book summary experts will offer quality and affordable help.

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