S-Cool Revision Summary

Othello is a tragedy, tracing the fall from grace of its protagonist, a black general in the Venetian army, from respected public figure to murderer of his white wife, Desdemona. Instrumental in his downfall is the Machiavellian villain Iago, who persuades him by devious means that he is a cuckold - which Desdemona has slept with his lieutenant, Cassio.

Audiences and critics are divided about how to interpret the play and its central characters. Some see Othello as a conventional tragic hero; great but fatally flawed, while others regard him as bombastic and easily jealous. Iago's character, too, is disputed. Is he malicious for realistic reasons or implausibly motiveless? How do you interpret the play?

Othello
Copyright S-cool Great man brought low
Copyright S-cool Arrogant dupe

Desdemona
Copyright S-cool Flawless heroine
Copyright S-cool Pathetic victim

Iago
Copyright S-cool Motiveless demon
Copyright S-cool Vicious, scheming pragmatist

Cassio
Copyright S-cool Valiant lieutenant
Copyright S-cool Vain womaniser

Emilia
Copyright S-cool Shrewd realist
Copyright S-cool Insufferable cynic

Brabantio
Copyright S-cool Long-suffering father
Copyright S-cool Bitter tyrant

Roderigo
Copyright S-cool Gullible

Jealousy

Seeing and judgement

Race and colour

Attitudes to women

The language of the play

Iago as Machiavel

Beast and animal imagery

Metaphors of eating and poison

The "double timescale"

Performance history

Act I, scene 3: Othello, Brabantio and Desdemona appear before the Duke

Act III, scene 3: Iago poisons Othello's love for Desdemona

Controversy about key characters - Othello, Iago, Desdemona

Relevance of minor characters - e.g. Emilia, Bianca, The Duke, Roderigo, Brabantio, Lodovico, Montano

Key themes and issues - race, jealousy, love, judgement, black and white

Setting and social context of the action - Venice, Cyprus, prevailing social attitudes

Individual scenes and their significance to the play as a whole