full title • The Tragedy of Othello, the Moor of Venice
author • William Shakespeare
type of work • Play
genre • Tragedy
language • English
time and place written • Between 1601 and 1604, England
date of first publication • 1622
publisher • Thomas Walkley
tone • Shakespeare clearly views the events of the play as tragic. He seems to view the marriage between Desdemona and Othello as noble and heroic, for the most part.
setting (time) • Late sixteenth century, during the wars between Venice and Turkey
setting (place) • Venice in Act I; the island of Cyprus thereafter
protagonist • Othello
major conflict • Othello and Desdemona marry and attempt to build a life together, despite their differences in age, race, and experience. Their marriage is sabotaged by the envious Iago, who convinces Othello that Desdemona is unfaithful.
rising action • Iago tells the audience of his scheme, arranges for Cassio to lose his position as lieutenant, and gradually insinuates to Othello that Desdemona is unfaithful.
climax • The climax occurs at the end of Act III, scene iii, when Othello kneels with Iago and vows not to change course until he has achieved bloody revenge.
falling action • Iago plants the handkerchief in Cassio’s room and later arranges a conversation with Cassio, which Othello watches and sees as “proof” that Cassio and Desdemona have slept together. Iago unsuccessfully attempts to kill Cassio, and Othello smothers Desdemona with a pillow. Emilia exposes Iago’s deceptions, Othello kills himself, and Iago is taken away to be tortured.
themes • The incompatibility of military heroism and love; the danger of isolation
motifs • Sight and blindness; plants; animals; hell, demons, and monsters
symbols • The handkerchief; the song “Willow”
foreshadowing • Othello and Desdemona’s speeches about love foreshadow the disaster to come; Othello’s description of his past and of his wooing of Desdemona foreshadow his suicide speech; Desdemona’s “Willow” song and remarks to Emilia in Act IV, scene iii, foreshadow her death.
Literary Devices (Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory)
The play starts in Venice and moves to Cyprus when the Turks invade. Venice is a prosperous Italian city and a symbol of law and civilization. It’s also full of whi…
The Tragedy of Othello, the Moor of Venice is a “tragedy” all right, and not just because the word “tragedy” appears in the play’s title. We’ve got a handy list of the features and conventions that…
The tone of Othello is dominated by Iago’s voice. He is the only one in the play who speaks to the audience, and his bitter rants about Othello and Cassio, his casual dismissal of women as worthles…
Othello, like Shakespeare’s other plays, is written in a combination of verse (poetry) and prose (how we talk every day). (Note: The play Richard II is the one exception to this rule—it’s the onl…
What’s Up With the Title?
Today, we know the play as simply Othello. But check out the title page of the 1622 quarto (the first published edition of the play): The Tragedy of Othello, the Moor of Venice. The full title not…
What’s Up With the Ending?
We know that by the play’s end Othello has transformed from a noble general and loving husband into a jealous, irrational killer. We also know that after Othello learns the truth (that he killed th…
Wedding bells!Othello and Desdemona fall in love and run away together to get married. Everything’s peachy! Until Desdemona’s father finds out…Interracial marriage not approved by Dad. Also, wa…
Booker’s Seven Basic Plots Analysis
Desdemona and Othello get married and look forward to a happy life together.War interrupts their romance, but they assume they’ll have time together soon.Welcome to Cyprus, Island of LoveEverythi…
Harvard philosopher Stanley Cavell pointed out that there is a “demon” in Desdemona and a “hell” in Othello. (Source: Schalkwyk, David. Speech and Performance in Shakespeare’s Sonnets and Plays. Ca…
There’s zero sex on stage in Othello (and scholars debate whether or not Desdemona and Othello ever even consummate their marriage), but the entire play is preoccupied with doin’ it.Thanks to Iago,…
Nothing here, folks!