In Venice, at the start of Othello, the soldier Iago announces his hatred for his commander, Othello, a Moor. Othello has promoted Cassio, not Iago, to be his lieutenant.
Iago crudely informs Brabantio, Desdemona’s father, that Othello and Desdemona have eloped. Before the Venetian Senate, Brabantio accuses Othello of bewitching Desdemona. The Senators wish to send Othello to Cyprus, which is under threat from Turkey. They bring Desdemona before them. She tells of her love for Othello, and the marriage stands. The Senate agrees to let her join Othello in Cyprus.
In Cyprus, Iago continues to plot against Othello and Cassio. He lures Cassio into a drunken fight, for which Cassio loses his new rank; Cassio, at Iago’s urging, then begs Desdemona to intervene. Iago uses this and other ploys—misinterpreted conversations, insinuations, and a lost handkerchief—to convince Othello that Desdemona and Cassio are lovers. Othello goes mad with jealousy and later smothers Desdemona on their marriage bed, only to learn of Iago's treachery. He then kills himself.
Othello Character Map
Understanding and interpreting Othello
Othello and Blackface
Ayanna Thompson and Ian Smith discuss the use of blackface in performances of Othello and a critical new insight about Desdemona's handkerchief.
Insider's Guide: Deception in Othello
Explore key scenes with dramaturg Michele Osherow and actors from Folger Theatre's 2011 production of Othello.
Insider's Guide: Language in Othello
Explore the power of words and language in this play with dramaturg Michele Osherow and actors from Folger Theatre's 2011 production of Othello.
Editing Shakespeare: Word Choice in Othello
Barbara Mowat, co-editor of the Folger Editions, discusses how different word choices affect how a line of Shakespeare can be interpreted.
Desdemona and Emilia: The testament of female friendship in Othello
Explore how the play’s central female friendship between Desdemona and Emilia stands in contrast to the relationship between Othello and Iago.
Cervantes, the Moors of Spain, and the Moor of Venice
Learn why Othello, of all Shakespeare’s plays, is the one that is most frequently compared to Spanish literature in the age of Cervantes, author of Don Quixote.
Performing and adapting Othello
Learn about 19th-century actor Ira Aldridge and his pioneering role as Othello.
Shakespeare in Black and White
In this podcast episode about Shakespeare and African Americans, hear clips from a landmark Broadway production starring Paul Robeson.
Shakespeare and opera: Jealousy and tragedy in Verdi’s Otello
The artistic director of Washington National Opera comments on the Italian opera inspired by Shakespeare's play.
Q Brothers - Othello: The Remix
In this hip-hop adaptation, Othello is a rapper who rockets to stardom when he teams with a diva named Desdemona.
Early printed texts
The textual history of Othello is opaque. The play was first published in 1622 as a quarto (Q1) and then, a year later, in a different version in the 1623 First Folio (F1). F1's version of the play is about 160 lines longer than Q1, with some of those lines clustering into distinct passages that do not have an equivalent in Q1. There are also different readings of hundreds of words including, most famously, the discrepancies between Q1's Othello reporting that Desdemona rewarded him with a "world of sighs" while F1 has a "world of kisses" (Act 1, scene 3). There is no scholarly consensus on the origins of these differences or on which text to use as the basis for an edition. The Folger edition is based on Q1, indicating Q-only words with pointed brackets and F-only lines with square brackets.
As part of an NEH-funded project, the Folger digitized thousands of 18th-, 19th-, and early 20th-century images representing Shakespeare’s plays. Some of these images show actors in character, while others show the plays as if they were real-life events—telling the difference isn't always easy. A selection of images related to Othello is shown below, with links to our digital image collection.
More images of Othello can be seen in our digital image collection. (Because of how they were cataloged, some images from other plays might appear in the image searches linked here, so always check the sidebar to see if the image is described as part of a larger group.)