Othello begins in Venice, with an argument. Roderigo has paid Iago to help him win Desdemona, but she marries Othello, a Moorish general Iago serves. Iago hates Othello, who passed him over as lieutenant for Michael Cassio.
Unseen, Iago & Roderigo cry to Brabantio that his daughter eloped with Othello, whom the Duke solicits to defend Cyprus against the Turks. Brabantio denounces Othello, but the Senators accept that he won Desdemona with stories of his adventures. Desdemona tells Brabantio her allegiance is now to Othello. Othello goes to Cyprus; Desdemona accompanies him.
In Cyprus, news arrives that the Turkish fleet foundered. Cassio greets Desdemona warmly; Iago says he will use “as little a web as this” handholding to ensnare Cassio. Othello proclaims a celebratiom. Iago assures Roderigo Desdemona will tire of Othello & seek sexual satisfaction elsewhere. After soliloquizing that eliminating Cassio will trigger Othello’s ruin, Iago gets Cassio drunk, then has Roderigo attack him. Responding aggressively, Cassio stabs Montano for intervening. Iago sends Roderigo to raise the alarm.
Othello demands to know who began the fight. Iago feigns reluctance to implicate Cassio, but then does. Othello fires Cassio, who laments his lost reputation. Iago assures Cassio he can regain favor through Desdemona. Iago soliloquizes: he will make Othello jealous by framing Cassio & Desdemona as lovers.
Desdemona promises Cassio she will urge his reinstatement. Cassio leaves without greeting Othello; Iago insinuates he departed guiltily. Pleading Cassio’s case, Desdemona increases Othello’s suspicions. Thinking Othello is unwell, she offers her handkerchief to wrap around his head; finding it “too little,” he lets it drop. Retrieving it, Emilia says Iago wanted her to steal it.
Iago plants it in Cassio’s room as “evidence” of his affair with Desdemona. Othello vows vengeance; Iago pledges assistance. When Othello demands the handkerchief of Desdemona, she says she does not have it with her & continues to press Cassio’s suit; Othello storms out.
Iago maddens Othello. After he recovers, Iago says he arranged a meeting with Cassio; Othello should watch Cassio recount his affair. Iago makes Cassio laugh by asking about Bianca, confirming Othello’s suspicions. Bianca chides Cassio for having her copy Desdemona’s handkerchief, another woman’s love token. Lodovico gives Othello a summons home, leaving Cassio in charge; furious, Othello strikes Desdemona & storms out.
Ignoring Desdemona’s protestations, Othello reviles her as a whore. Iago assures Desdemona Othello is upset over state matters. Later, Othello tells Desdemona to dismiss Emilia & await him in bed. Iago reassures Roderigo all is on track: he must kill Cassio to get Desdemona. Roderigo wounds Cassio. Hearing Cassio’s cry, Othello assumes Iago killed him. Pretending rage at “discovering” Cassio’s assailant, Iago murders Roderigo.
Othello prepares to kill Desdemona; awaking, she asserts her innocence, but Othello smothers her. Emilia announces Roderigo’s death. Asking if Cassio is also dead, Othello is mortified when Emilia says no. After crying out she was murdered, Desdemona claims she killed herself. Othello says he killed Desdemona because of her infidelity, citing the handkerchief as evidence. When Emilia says she gave it to Iago, Othello weeps, then tries to kill Iago, who kills Emilia. Lodovico tells Othello he must stand trial in Venice. Othello proclaims how he would like to be remembered, then kills himself. The play closes with Lodovico disposing of Othello’s goods & ordering Iago’s execution.