Othello

by: William Shakespeare

Key Facts

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.