Othello is said to be written around 1603 and is based upon an Italian short story translated as ‘A Moorish Captain’. This short story was written by Cinthio and was published in 1565. The story is about a Moorish captain who served in the Venetian army. Shakespeare has replicated the story with his unique touch while making it suitable for a play. The story is about love but more about the dangers when element of doubt arises between people in love. It also has a strong villain who is jealous, ambitious and cunning. The grandeur of the theme has made it a very popular play.
This theme about a beautiful girl marrying a rough young man and his growing doubt resulting in killing his wife has time and again been made into films in various languages all over the world. The play opens with a scene on the streets of Venice where Iago and Roderigo are arguing. Iago had promised to make Desdemona the bride of Roderigo and he had taken a lot of money from Roderigo for that. Roderigo suddenly finds that Othello has married Desdemona. Roderigo is frustrated that he lost his lady and his money.
From the first scene itself Iago’s cunning ways and his clever plotting comes into play. As the first step they try to break the marriage by informing Brabanzio, father of Desdemona that she had married Othello. The father marches to the house of Othello but all the plans go awry because all of them are called by the Duke to attend to a national issue. Brabanzio presents his daughter’s case but when Desdemona testifies that she was not captured but married Othello out of love, the Duke favors Othello.
The national issue was the attack of Cyprus by the Turks. So Othello is asked to go and quell the attack. Desdemona is allowed to go with Othello because there was no other alternative. She did not want to stay with her father while Othello was away in Cyprus. The first plan of Iago falls flat but he assures Roderigo that they can go to Cyprus and carry out a new plan there. As luck would have it, a severe storm destroys a great part of the fleet of the Turks and they go away without attacking Cyprus. Othello arrives safely, so does the ship carrying his wife, Iago, Emilia (his wife), and Roderigo.
By now the audience realizes that Iago has many reasons to plan against Othello. Othello had made Cassio his lieutenant while Iago also had proved his prowess as a warrior. Another grudge that Iago held was that Othello had seduced his wife. He had nothing to prove it but it was a strong suspicion. So he wanted the downfall of Othello and Cassio and he made Roderigo the scapegoat for his plans. Iago slowly but steadily poisons Othello’s mind. He tells him that Desdemona and Cassio were very close and they had shared the bed.
Othello does not believe Iago the first time but the slow poison works on him and he begins to watch Cassio and Desdemona carefully. Since both of them knew each other from the courtship days with Othello they were friendly and happy in each other’s company. Cassio was the messenger of Othello on many occasions. Iago rubs in this point as well and Othello’s doubt is slowly strengthened. Before that Iago ensures that Cassio is terminated from his post. Iago creates an incident and builds it up in such a way that Cassio under the influence of alcohol stabs Montano. With this Cassio is replaced by Iago.
Iago and Emilia request Desdemona to speak in favor of Cassio to reinstate him to his post. When Desdemona pleads Cassio’s case Othello’s suspicion grows stronger. One day Emilia steals Desdemona’s handkerchief at Iago’s request and this is placed in Cassio’s room. A new character Bianca is introduced here. She is a prostitute who is in love with Cassio. Iago plans a scene where he gets Cassio talk about Bianca without mentioning her name and Othello is made to overhear this. Othello thinks he is referring to Desdemona. At this point Bianca arrives and Cassio gives the handkerchief to her to copy the embroidery on it. This was enough evidence for Othello to confirm Desdemona’s infidelity.
The Final Act
Iago promises to Othello that Cassio will be killed soon for this dastardly act. Iago gets Roderigo to kill Cassio on the road but he fails to stab him through his armour, instead Roderigo is wounded by Cassio. Iago comes from behind and stabs Cassio’s leg and runs away. Hearing the cry of Cassio Othello thinks Cassio is killed. He rushes to kill Desdemona. Iago had asked her to smother her in bed, the place where she cheated on Othello. In spite of pleading innocent, Othello kills Desdemona while Emilia is waiting outside the door.
When Emilia is let in, Desdemona in her last breath says she took her life. But Othello proudly says he killed her for she was unfaithful. Emilia soon realizes her husband’s sinister plans and pours out everything. All come rushing in. Iago tries to kill Emilia but is stopped by others. Cassio is aghast and he also tells the truth about the handkerchief and Bianca. Iago, in the meantime manages, to stab his wife. When Othello hears all this and sees Emilia also dead he is devastated. Othello stabs Iago who is wounded, yet there is not a grain of remorse in the mind and face of Iago.
Lodovico, the messenger from Venice is also present and wants to take Othello back to Venice. Othello agrees to go but he wants to be known as the person who killed a big Turk by holding his neck and killing him. As he said this he demonstrates the action and kills himself. He falls on Desdemona’s body and dies. Iago is one of the powerful villains of Shakespeare; till the very end he refuses to show signs of guilt or remorse. This is one play where the negative character towers over the protagonist in sheer villainy and cunningness.