Comprehensive Storyform

The following analysis reveals a comprehensive look at the Storyform for Othello. Unlike most of the analysis found here—which simply lists the unique individual story appreciations—this in-depth study details the actual encoding for each structural item. This also means it has been incorporated into the Dramatica Story Expert application itself as an easily referenced contextual example.

Story Dynamics

8 of the 12 essential questions

Main Character Resolve

Othello changes from a noble and just groom who declares, “But that I love the gentle Desdemona,” (I,ii,27) to a foul-minded, irrational husband who vows, “I’ll tear her to pieces.” (III,iii,483)  He changes from treating her gently to striking her in public, calling her a whore, and murdering her in an unfounded jealous rage.

Main Character Growth

Othello must start to realize that he can’t run his marriage using the same unbending discipline and militaristic thinking he uses to rule his soldiers.  He must start to question Iago’s motives for accusing Desdemona of being unfaithful, and look beyond the surface of events for their true meaning and greater implications.

Main Character Approach

Othello is a man of action: His reputation as an effective warrior and leader earns him a command against the Turks and a position as governor of Cyprus; he seizes his chance at happiness with an expedient, secret marriage to Desdemona; he quickly determines Cassio’s drunken brawling is a disgrace to his rank and strips him of it; once he’s convinced of Desdemona and Cassio’s guilt, he orders Iago to execute Cassio and he kills his wife himself.

Main Character Mental Sex

Othello moves to solve his problems by using linear thinking.  When Brabantio accuses Othello of using witchcraft to seduce Desdemona, Othello suggests that she be summoned to give evidence of their courtship.  When he’s disturbed by the commotion during the celebration, Othello demands the witnesses identify those responsible, weighs the evidence, and metes out a punishment.  When Iago accuses Desdemona of adultery, Othello asks for proof.  Having been presented with “evidence” Othello accepts it on face value, without considering why Iago is defaming Desdemona, or contemplating the larger issues surrounding the accusation.

Story Driver

When Othello promotes Cassio over Iago, the ensign vows to get revenge; after Othello secretly marries Desdemona, Brabantio determines Othello is using witchcraft on his daughter; Desdemona defends her husband and her father decides to disown her; when the Turks send an armada against Venetian held Cyprus, the senate decides to send Othello to lead its defense; Cassio gets into a drunken brawl while he’s in charge of the guard and Othello decides to demote him; Iago lies to Othello about Desdemona’s unfaithfulness and the general decides to murder her.

Story Limit

Othello struggles with the idea that Desdemona is unfaithful: At first he refuses to believe it and he demands proof; he flusters Desdemona when she cannot produce a handkerchief he has given her; he “overhears” Cassio speaking of his affair with Desdemona; he sees the handkerchief in the hands of Cassio’s mistress.  Now convinced that Desdemona has betrayed his love, Othello’s only option is to kill her.  Facing her insanely jealous husband, Desdemona pleads innocence, when that fails, she begs for her life, then for one more day, then just to live until the morning.  Othello rejects her requests and smothers her to death.  An example of how the optionlock is illustrated by a minor objective character is found in Roderigo.  Having lost Desdemona to Othello, Roderigo at first threatens to drown himself, then he engages Iago to promote his cause with Desdemona; he follows her to Cyprus; helps to discredit Cassio whom he believes is Desdemona’s lover; loses all his money when he’s duped by Iago; attempts to kill Cassio and fails—then is killed by Iago.

Story Outcome

The characters fail to recognize and stop Iago’s malicious scheme against them.  As a result of this failure: Othello and Desdemona’s marriage is destroyed; Othello goes mad from Iago’s insinuations and murders the naive Desdemona; Roderigo, tricked into trying to kill Cassio, is then murdered by Iago; Emilia is murdered by Iago when she reveals his treachery; Othello commits suicide when he learns of Desdemona’s innocence; Iago himself is sentenced to torture and execution contrary to his plans for his future.

Story Judgment

Othello’s fall from grace is stunning.  At first he’s a happy newlywed; successful as a warrior and well respected in the community.  When Brabantio accuses him of witchcraft in front of the Venetian senate, the members disbelieve the charges because of his stellar reputation.  He faces them with calm and confidence.  But Othello is corrupted and quickly becomes an irrational, despondent madman, an abusive husband, a murderer, and after realizing his colossal mistake, he kills himself.

Overall Story Throughline

""Downfall of the Moor""

Overall Story Throughline

Brabantio thinks of Othello as the Moorish soldier—a well-behaved barbarian—and will never accept him as a son-in-law.  Iago’s fixation on revenge rules him absolutely and drives him to ruin.  Roderigo thinks he can buy Desdemona’s love.  Desdemona loves Othello and will continue to love him no matter how he treats her.  Othello thinks the guilty must always be swiftly punished.

Overall Story Concern

The objective characters have a fundamental need to be loved and admired.  Othello, growing older, craves a woman’s love.  Desdemona, seeking love and adventure, falls for the experienced general.  Brabantio needs the love and devotion of his flesh and blood, and when Desdemona pledges her allegiance to Othello, he’s heartbroken and soon dies.  Roderigo, needing Desdemona’s affection, fights to win her even after she’s married.  Iago needs an overt sign of Othello’s admiration, the lieutenant post, and works to get it after Cassio is promoted ahead of him.

Overall Story Issue

Even when Brabantio discovers his daughter has run away from home, he can’t believe she’s married to Othello, saying that Desdemona has refused all her young Venetian suitors and would never marry the old, Moorish soldier.  Brabantio accepts Othello as an occasional house guest, but not as a son-in-law.  When called to the senate to explain her actions, Desdemona refuses to back down from her father’s disapproval of her marriage to Othello.  As a young woman in love she’s unwilling to see that the differences between her and Othello may lead to heartbreak.  Roderigo refuses to admit he’s lost Desdemona even after she marries Othello and they are obviously happy together.  Iago can’t let go of his jealousy and hatred of Cassio and Othello, devising scheme after scheme to destroy them.  He’s so blinded by this maliciousness he can’t see how his plan can backfire and destroy him as well.

Overall Story Counterpoint

Brabantio, heartbroken when Desdemona places her husband above him disowns her, ending their relationship.  Othello’s driven toward closure, so much so he can’t wait a few hours to let Desdemona defend herself.  He must “put out the light,” ending his torture immediately.

Overall Story Thematic Conflict
Denial vs.Closure

Although closure is illustrated in the story, it’s the use of denial that dominates and leads the characters to their sad end.  Once Iago sets upon a course of revenge he’s relentless, and completely unwilling to let go of his grudge over losing the lieutenancy.  He destroys everyone around him, including himself.  Once Othello’s suspicions are aroused, he can’t let the notion of Desdemona’s unfaithfulness go.  Desdemona’s so much in love with Othello that when she sees his shocking change toward her, she can’t accept that he doesn’t love her anymore.  She keeps trying to appease him and makes mistakes that worsen the situation.

Overall Story Problem

The objective characters bring enormous problems upon themselves by indulging in immediate gratification without thinking about the possible consequences.  Othello is tempted by Desdemona’s compassion and affection when she pursues him.  He disregards any ramifications their engaging in a relationship may have; Desdemona is tempted by Othello’s romantic life story, status, and courage, and eagerly elopes with him knowing her father will disapprove; Iago is tempted by the prestige of the rank of lieutenant and lies to get it; Roderigo is tempted by Iago’s offer to help him win Desdemona and pays the man, making himself a pawn to Iago; Cassio is tempted by drink when he knows he’s in charge of the guard, gets drunk and loses his rank; Emilia, although married, is tempted by other men.

Overall Story Solution

If the characters listened to their conscience, the tragic ending could have been avoided.  Desdemona might have gone to Brabantio, declared her love for Othello, and faced her father’s opposition instead of first sneaking off with the Moor.  Roderigo should have gracefully acknowledged Desdemona’s marriage and gone on with his life, but he plots with Iago to destroy her union with Othello.  Cassio should have listened to his conscience and refused that first drink since he was on guard duty, but he lets Iago persuade him to “celebrate” with everyone else.  His lapse of conscience allows him to be used to hurt the people he loves.

Overall Story Symptom

The objective characters deal with the effects of the story’s problems which occur when “help” is used.  Cassio helps Othello court Desdemona by acting as go-between before their marriage, and his kindness is used against him later; Brabantio hopes to save his daughter’s reputation by rescuing her from Othello on her wedding night, yet he only alienates Desdemona; Iago offers to help Roderigo steal Desdemona away from her husband; Iago gives advice to Cassio after his reputation is ruined.  He suggests that Cassio ask Desdemona to influence Othello to reinstate him, causing conflict between husband and wife; Desdemona thinks she’s helping Cassio by insisting that Othello reconcile with him immediately, but she is only implicating herself; Emilia tries to bolster Desdemona’s spirits by telling her about the nature of men, advice Desdemona does not want nor need.

Overall Story Response

The objective characters attempt to approach the effects of the problem by using “hinder.”  Brabantio tries to undermine Desdemona’s marriage by refusing to house her while Othello’s at war with the Turks; Roderigo works to thwart Othello’s marriage by luring Desdemona away from him with money and jewels; Emilia unknowingly hurts Desdemona’s position with Othello by stealing her handkerchief and giving it to Iago.

Overall Story Catalyst

The use of closure accelerates the story.  The Turkish fleet encounters a storm off of the coast of Cyprus and turns back, ending the threat of war.  This makes Othello available to concentrate on his marriage, and frees Iago to execute his diabolical plot against Othello and Cassio.  Brabantio’s ending his relationship with his daughter leaves her alone and dependent upon the will of her husband, thus, she has no place to turn when Othello changes toward her.  Othello’s demand of quick closure to the situation fuels his need to have proof of his wife’s affair.  This compels Iago to use Emilia to steal Desdemona’s handkerchief.  It is planted it in Cassio’s room—Iago then arrange for Othello to believe he is overhearing Cassio making lewd remarks about Desdemona.  Iago races to remove ties to his involvement in Othello’s downfall.  He convinces Roderigo to kill Cassio; kills Roderigo when he only wounds Cassio; tries to make Emilia shut up about the handkerchief, then kills her when she reveals the truth.

Overall Story Inhibitor

Brabantio is prejudiced against Othello as a son-in-law, feels Desdemona is making a mistake, and disowns her.  Desdemona’s unshakable love for Othello keeps her from realizing she’s in real danger, until it’s too late.  Othello’s blind trust in Iago keeps him from seeing his ensign’s malice.  Iago will never accept that Cassio will make a better lieutenant than he would.  Emilia, having been trained to obey her husband, can’t see that he’s up to mischief with Desdemona’s handkerchief until her mistress is murdered.

Overall Story Benchmark

The more the characters use “memory” the greater the problems become in the story.  After Othello becomes suspicious of Desdemona, whenever he recalls his tender feelings for her the more enraged he becomes; memories of Desdemona’s love tears Othello apart now that he believes he’s lost it.  Lodovico witnesses Othello slap his wife, remembers Othello as a kind and composed man, and begins to believe the popular theory that all Moors are barbarians.  Emilia remembers Iago asking her to steal Desdemona’s handkerchief, recalls how she found it on the ground and gave it to him.  Her recollections cause Iago to kill her for revealing the truth.

Additional Overall Story Information →
Overall Story Throughline Synopsis

“. . . Othello, a heroic Moorish general in the service of Venice, appoints Cassio and not Iago as his chief lieutenant.  Jealous of Othello’s success and envious of Cassio, Iago plots Othello’s downfall by falsely implicating Othello’s wife, Desdemona, and Cassio in a love affair.  Desdemona cannot produce a handkerchief once given her by Othello; thanks to Iago’s machinations, it is later found among Cassio’s possessions.  Overcome with jealousy, Othello kills Desdemona.  When he learns, too late, that his wife is blameless, he asks to be remembered as one who “loved not wisely but too well,” and kills himself.” (Merriam-Webster’s Encyclopedia of Literature, p. 844)

Overall Story Backstory

Othello has promoted Cassio to the rank of lieutenant over Iago, his long-time ensign.  Iago has vowed revenge on Othello for the oversight.  Roderigo, Desdemona’s rejected suitor, has been paying Iago to help him win her.  The evening in which the story begins, Othello has eloped with Desdemona, a Venetian senator’s young daughter.  Although Othello is a highly respected general in the Venetian army, he’s also a Moor.  He’s a black man in a white world who’s generally considered a strange outsider.  While his noble demeanor and sterling reputation allows him entry into Venetian society, he’s generally ignorant of the ways of polite society.  Having been a soldier all his life, he has a military mind and is not prepared for life as a husband and gentleman.

Main Character Throughline

Othello — Venetian General

Main Character Throughline

Othello endeavors to prove or disprove his wife’s infidelity.  He listens to Iago’s “evidence”; questions Desdemona about her missing handkerchief; eavesdrops on Cassio; interrogates Emilia about Desdemona’s fidelity; judges and executes Desdemona.

Main Character Concern

Othello wants Desdemona, and by winning her he hopes to gain the acceptance of Venetian society at large.  Terrified of losing her to a younger man, he seeks solid proof of her betrayal from Iago.  In possessing that proof, the handkerchief in Cassio’s mistress’s hands, Othello is convinced that he has lost Desdemona’s love, and he himself becomes lost.

Main Character Issue

At the beginning of the story, Othello is depicted as a selfless, moral man.  He refuses to run and hide when he learns that Brabantio knows of his marriage to Desdemona and has armed men after him.  He leaves his bride safe and undisturbed at the inn where they’re staying, goes to the Senate, and faces Brabantio’s charges bravely.  When Brabantio accuses him of using witchcraft to seduce his daughter, Othello has his wife sent for.  If she says she was bewitched, he’ll accept any sentence, even execution.  Although Desdemona’s willing to sail with him to Cyprus, Othello leaves her under Iago’s protection to bring her only when it’s safe.  Othello is willing to postpone his honeymoon to ensure her safety, even though she’ll accompany him into a war zone.

Main Character Counterpoint

Othello is so wounded by the thought of Desdemona’s betrayal that he’s blinded to everything except his own pain.  Once he decides to end his torment by killing her, nothing Desdemona says can make him look beyond himself for the truth.

Main Character Thematic Conflict
Morality vs.Ability

In the conflict between “morality” and “self-interest,” self-interest takes hold of the once moral man and destroys him.  Othello is driven to torment Desdemona.  He treats her like a whore because he believes she’s cuckolded him with his own officer.  He could stand anything but the loss of her love, and so having convinced himself that he has lost it, he can’t listen to Desdemona’s plea of innocence.  Nor will he listen to Emilia when she tells him that Desdemona loves him and is faithful, until it’s too late.

Main Character Problem

Othello is tempted by the beauty, position, and compassion that Desdemona can give him in marriage.  He’s an experienced man who should know that their differences may bring problems, but he ignores the possibility of trouble in his desire to possess Desdemona.  Their differences, namely Othello’s age and race, however, appear to linger in his mind, causing him some uneasiness.  He’s easily tempted to believe that Desdemona is unfaithful when Iago begins his torment.  That Othello is so easily led by Iago’s innuendoes and lies, not only causes problems, but leads to the death of four people.

Main Character Solution

If Othello had used his conscience he could have prevented the tragedy.

Main Character Symptom

Othello focuses his attention on where he thinks the problem is, Desdemona’s unfaithfulness.  Brabantio warns Othello that “She has deceived her father, and may thee.” (I,iii,318)  Othello immediately answers, “My life upon her faith!” (I,iii,319)  Indeed, her faith in him, demonstrated by their marriage, is extremely valuable to Othello.  He has built his self-worth and future upon Desdemona’s faith in him as a man, so when she’s accused of breaking that faith, Othello is shattered.

Main Character Response

Othello thinks that using disbelief will solve his problems regarding Desdemona.  He refuses to believe anything she says in her defense.  He won’t believe Emilia when she swears Desdemona is faithful; disbelieves Desdemona’s words of innocence when he first accuses her.  He overlooks her devotion and innocence: she gave up her home and family for him and has had no opportunity to have “a thousand times committed” adultery with Cassio.  In spite of all the evidence of Desdemona’s devotion to him, Othello doubts her love, saying, “She is false as water.” (V,ii,161)

Main Character Unique Ability

If Othello had used the approach that made him a fair and noble man, he could have been successful in discovering Iago’s deceit and keeping his marriage intact.  Whereas Othello rationally solicits evidence from several people the night of the brawl, he’s totally irrational when he considers Desdemona’s alleged betrayal.  He relies on only one “witness” without considering Iago’s motives; ignores Emilia’s assurances that Desdemona is a faithful wife; refuses to listen to Desdemona’s pleas of innocence.

Main Character Critical Flaw

Othello’s misuse of obligation makes the story a failure.  Once he’s convinced that Desdemona is unfaithful, Othello feels compelled to murder her.  Othello’s misplaced obligation to Iago, “A man. . . of honesty and trust.” (I,iii,307) leads him to his destruction.  When Iago tells Othello of Desdemona’s “affair” with Cassio, he pledges his loyalty to Iago.  “I am bound to thee for ever.” (III,iii,243)  In offering this contract to Iago instead of honoring the marital pledge to his wife, Othello makes a tragic mistake that costs him his honor, his wife, and his own life.

Main Character Benchmark

The more Othello thinks he understands the level of Desdemona’s unfaithfulness the greater his jealously and thirst for vengeance.

Additional Main Character Information →
Main Character Description

Tall, dark-skinned man, part Berber, part Arab, in his early forties.  Born of royal blood, but forced to endure slavery because of his race, he’s risen to the rank of general and is greatly respected.  But his standard of perfection for those around him, and his trusting nature leads him astray.  He’s destroyed by his own man.

Main Character Throughline Synopsis

“. . . A Moorish general in the service of Venice.  A romantic and heroic warrior with a frank and honest nature, he has a weakness which makes him vulnerable to Iago’s diabolic temptation.  He becomes furiously jealous of his innocent wife and his loyal lieutenant.  His character decays, and he connives with Iago to have his lieutenant murdered.  Finally he decides to execute his wife with his own hands.  After killing her, he learns of her innocence, and he judges and executes himself.” (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, p. 825)

Main Character Backstory

Born of royal blood, Othello is a Moor who was sold into slavery and has lived in army camps since he was seven.  He became a professional soldier rising to the rank of general.  He has fought many battles, skillfully leading his men and earning a reputation as a great, honorable, and level-headed warrior.  Othello’s traveled the world where he’s encountered cannibals and a race of men whose heads grow beneath their shoulders.  He had only been in Venice for nine months where he was a frequent guest in Brabantio’s home.  He often recounted his adventures to entertain his host.  During that time he fell in love with Brabantio’s young daughter, Desdemona, who became “enchanted” by his life story.  At forty, Othello has never been in love and he impulsively, perhaps for the first time in his life, seizes an opportunity without mapping out an advanced strategy first.

Influence Character Throughline

Iago — Othello's Ensign

Influence Character Throughline

Iago is a master at manipulation.  He dupes Roderigo into giving him money to promote Roderigo’s suit for Desdemona; convinces Roderigo to sell his lands, get the money, and follow her to Cyprus; uses him to discredit Cassio; persuades him to kill Cassio so that Roderigo can finally have Desdemona.  He uses his reputation for honesty to raise suspicions in Othello’s mind about an affair between his Desdemona and Cassio; uses the differences between Othello and Desdemona to convince Othello that she wants a younger man of her own race; induces Othello’s temper so that he can’t think rationally.  Iago badgers Emilia into stealing Desdemona’s handkerchief so he can use it to inflame Othello’s jealousy of Cassio.

Influence Character Concern

Iago wants to become Othello’s lieutenant by discrediting Cassio.  In doing so Iago hopes to become greater in Othello’s eyes.  Even as he uses Othello’s kind nature against him, Iago is determined to, “Make the Moor thank me, love me, and reward me.” (II,i,336)

Influence Character Issue

Iago believes he should have been promoted to the lieutenancy because he served with Othello in wars “At Rhodes, at Cyprus, and on other grounds Christian and heathen.” (I,i,29-30) Iago’s a seasoned solider while Cassio has never led in battle.  Iago, fueled by envy and jealousy comes to the conclusion that he can thwart Othello by using his own reputation as an honest man against his general.  Indeed, Iago’s able to manipulate everyone because they think he’s honest, responsible, and an ever-loyal ensign.

Influence Character Counterpoint

Iago is committed to destroying Othello no matter who he has to use to achieve his goal.  He sets to work with such zeal, weaving every new piece of information into his diabolical plot to discredit Cassio and turn Othello’s finer qualities against him.

Influence Character Thematic Conflict
Responsibility vs.Commitment

Because he believes he was best suited to receive the lieutenancy, Iago makes a commitment to revenge himself against Othello and Cassio.  Iago forges recklessly ahead, devising his attack on Othello as he goes along.  He uses Desdemona, Cassio, Roderigo, and his own wife, Emilia, urging her to steal Desdemona’s handkerchief.  Iago’s so blinded by his commitment to evil revenge that he fails to realize Emilia might question his need for Desdemona’s handkerchief and expose him.

Influence Character Problem

Iago is driven by his feelings, which causes problems for others, and eventually for himself.  Iago tells Roderigo that he hates Othello because he has made Cassio his lieutenant instead of him.  Driven by jealousy, envious of Othello’s success and Cassio’s promotion, Iago vows to destroy them both.  Beyond these reasons Iago loves the feeling of power and superiority “to plume up my will” (I,iii,411) over those who exhibit goodness.  According to A. C. Bradley, “. . . Iago is motivated by a love of excitement and by his perception of himself as an artist.  He derives great pleasure from the successful execution of his complex and dangerous intrigues.” (Scott, p. 436)

Influence Character Solution

Iago uses logic to take revenge against Othello, and to satisfy his craving for power over everyone around him.  This satisfaction of his personal drive is short-lived, however, as Iago will be executed for his crimes.

Influence Character Symptom

Iago creates problems for Othello and others when he focuses his efforts on pretending to help.  He “helps” Roderigo by accepting money and jewels which he promises will win him Desdemona, but he takes the booty for himself.  He “helps” Cassio regain his lieutenancy after he’s demoted by suggesting that Cassio ask Desdemona to champion him to Othello, but it’s a setup.  Iago offers to assist Othello in proving Desdemona is unfaithful as a show of loyalty to the Moor, but he’s lying.  Later, Iago offers his support to Othello by swearing to kill Cassio for him, but Iago dupes Roderigo into killing Cassio.

Influence Character Response

While on the surface Iago helps others, his efforts are directed toward hindering Othello, Cassio, and Roderigo.  He hinders Cassio by getting him involved in a drunken brawl that results in a demotion.  He hinders Roderigo’s efforts to win Desdemona by stealing his money and pocketing the jewels Roderigo gives him to present to her.  He thwarts Othello by inciting him to become jealous of Cassio and Desdemona, corrupting him, and driving him to madness and murder.

Influence Character Unique Ability

Iago’s use of rationalization is successful in thwarting Othello.  Iago justifies reporting Desdemona’s “affair” to Othello by saying he loves Othello too much to stand quietly by while Othello’s “free and noble nature” is abused.

Influence Character Critical Flaw

Iago’s fearlessness and over-confidence while he manipulates people causes him to make mistakes that lead to his execution.  He is a bold and impulsive liar, turning the slightest bit of hearsay into fact, when if any two people were to compare notes at any time, Iago would be caught.  His attitude toward his wife ultimately causes his downfall when she exposes his deceit.

Influence Character Benchmark

As the story progresses, Iago envisions more ways to torment Othello, and use Roderigo, Cassio, and Emilia to further his scheme.  For example, he imagines discrediting Cassio with Othello by having Cassio entreat Desdemona to promote his cause to the general, unwittingly leading Othello to suspect him of having an affair with his wife.  He envisions Emilia stealing Desdemona’s handkerchief, planting it in Cassio’s rooms, then reporting to Othello that Desdemona gave it to Cassio as a token of her love.

More Influence Character Information →
Influence Character Description

A young, average looking Venetian officer of the lowest rank.  He’s little more than a common soldier.  At twenty-eight he’s expert at hiding a cynical, evil nature, and the blackest of hearts.  He proudly states, “I am not what I am.” (I,i,69)  His capacity for deceit is astounding and lethal.

Influence Character Throughline Synopsis

When Othello promotes Cassio to lieutenant, Iago feels slighted and plots revenge against them both.  He manipulates Cassio into discrediting himself.  He then uses his reputation for honesty to convince Othello of his wife’s unfaithfulness.  By telling one lie after another Iago drives Othello mad with jealousy, causing him to murder Desdemona.  Iago gets his wish when Othello makes him his lieutenant after he vows to kill Cassio.  Iago convinces his dupe, Roderigo, to slay Cassio.  When the plot fails, he kills Roderigo to keep from being exposed.  Iago murders his own wife when she reveals that he lied to Othello about Desdemona.  He’s wounded by Othello, but survives only to be sentenced to torture and execution.

Influence Character Backstory

At twenty-eight Iago’s a career soldier who has served under Othello for several years, but has only earned the rank of ensign, a low-ranked commissioned officer.  He has learned the position of lieutenant has been bestowed upon Michael Cassio, a young, educated Florentine who has seen little battle.  Iago feels slighted and vows to take revenge against Othello and Cassio.  Iago’s also angry about rumors that Othello has slept with his wife.  Now Iago is ready to bedevil Othello, having learned that the general has eloped with Desdemona, the young daughter of a Venetian senator.  He has told Roderigo, Desdemona’s rejected suitor, the news in hopes of using the degraded Roderigo in his plot to destroy Othello.

Relationship Story Throughline

""Iago Takes Revenge Against Othello""

Relationship Story Throughline

Othello’s a respected warrior who’s also a new husband madly in love with his much younger wife.  When his wife’s loyalty is questioned, he’s driven to attain a true assessment of his marriage situation.  He relies solely upon his comrade-in-arms, Iago, for the truth.  Iago’s in a situation where his reputation for honesty allows him access to Othello’s innermost desires and insecurities.  He’s the man inside, in the perfect position to betray the man he envies and hates.

Relationship Story Concern

Iago feels by promoting Cassio as lieutenant over him, Othello has ruined his future.  Othello has plans to live happily ever after with his wife while Iago is dedicated to shatter the Moor’s future.  Once Othello arrives in Cyprus he concerns himself with his honeymoon with Desdemona, beginning their life together.  But that same evening Iago sets his heinous plan in motion by getting Othello’s lieutenant drunk and involved in a fist fight.  Othello’s plans for the evening are interrupted when he’s called to discipline Cassio.  As Iago’s manipulations progress Othello’s future crumbles rapidly until there is no love and no life left.

Relationship Story Issue

A thematic issue that affects Othello and Iago revolves around preconception.  Othello is unwilling to question Iago’s motives for so urgently advancing the notion that Desdemona is unfaithful.  While he questions how Iago knows this, he never questions Iago’s motives.  Once Othello trusts a man it seems he’ll never re-evaluate that man’s integrity.  Iago’s equally unwilling to consider that Othello may eventually promote him; unwilling to re-examine the rumors that Othello slept with his wife, something that an honorable man like Othello would never do to one of his own men.  Both men’s narrow thinking leads to their destruction.

Relationship Story Counterpoint

Othello is totally receptive to Iago’s suggestions that Desdemona and Cassio are lovers.  As Iago’s “evidence” becomes more compelling, Othello re-evaluates Iago’s loyalty and usefulness, and grants him the rank of lieutenant.  Othello’s openness allows Iago to manipulate him into murder.

Relationship Story Thematic Conflict
Preconception vs.Openness

Although openness is evident in the subjective story it’s the use of preconception that carries greater impact.  Iago won’t back down from his quest for revenge.  He keeps up his torment of Othello, finally telling Othello that Cassio has confessed to an affair with Desdemona to Iago himself.  Othello actually faints at what he believes is this absolute proof.  After this victory, Iago’s still unwilling to ease up on his torture of Othello, and ruins himself along with the Moor.

Relationship Story Problem

The problems between Othello and Iago are created when Othello is tempted to trust Iago based purely on his reputation as an honest man, and rely solely upon the ensign to produce all the evidence against his wife.  Iago points out to Othello that he’s old, black, and homely while his wife is young, beautiful, and a cultured white woman.  Othello is tempted to question his marriage, asking himself, “Why did I marry?” (III,iii,276)  He’s also tempted to know what Iago is holding back from him, giving Iago even more power over him.  Iago is tempted by his jealousy of Othello’s rank and happiness with Desdemona, and the need for superiority over his betters.  Together, Othello and Iago’s weaknesses for temptation create a situation where they’re both destroyed.

Relationship Story Solution

If either Othello or Iago used forbearance the tragedy could be avoided.  Iago doesn’t have a conscience.  He gleefully uses everyone’s weakness to further his revenge against the general he feels has undervalued him.  Once Othello’s temper is engaged any conscience he has is swallowed up by his blood-thirsty need for revenge against his wife and Cassio.

Relationship Story Symptom

Where Othello is incapable of applying logic to the situation, Iago supplies his own malicious take on how events in Othello’s life are related.  For instance, he reasons to Othello that Cassio steals away “guilty-like” from Desdemona when he sees Othello coming because he’s having an affair with her; Desdemona pleads so passionately to have Cassio reinstated because he’s her lover; Desdemona has realized that marrying an old, homely, black man was a mistake, and now wants a young, handsome man of her own race like Cassio.  Iago uses logic to inflame Othello with jealous rage so that he’ll disgrace himself and satisfy Iago’s need to feel superior over him.

Relationship Story Response

Iago hates Othello because he may have slept with his wife.  The thought gnaws at him and he won’t be content “Till I am evened with him, wife for wife.” (II,i,327)  Othello admits that once his temper is engaged no one is safe when it gets out of control.  Iago vows to make Othello so jealous that his usual good judgment will fail to control his temper.  Iago is successful.  After Iago confirms his suspicions about his wife, Othello lets himself be directed by his feelings of betrayal, jealousy, and hatred until he’s so irrational he can’t see the truth.

Relationship Story Catalyst

As the story progresses, the use of openness accelerates the subjective story forward.  Iago’s willingness to deceive and manipulate Othello pushes the Moor to doubt his wife and demand proof.  Othello’s openness to Iago’s suggestions drives him to denounce his marriage, abuse his wife, eavesdrop on a man he once trusted, bond with Iago, and plan the murders of his wife and Cassio.

Relationship Story Inhibitor

Iago’s use of denial prevents Othello from discovering his true nature, and this slows the growth of a positive relationship.  Iago refuses to end his intrigue against Othello, weaving one deceit after another.  Whenever Othello waivers in his belief of Iago’s accusations, the ensign pulls out another lie to distract him.  Iago refuses to let up from his torment of Othello even after he’s rewarded with the Moor’s swoon at news that Cassio has confessed to adultery with Desdemona.  Iago refuses to let go of his hatred of Othello, or realize that if he destroys Othello, he’s destroying his means of support and employment.  He uses his blind ambition to keep Othello unaware to his maliciousness until the very end, when it’s too late.

Relationship Story Benchmark

Othello and Iago’s relationship grows closer the more Iago uses events in the past to taunt Othello.  After he learns that Cassio served in the trusted position as go-between when Othello was wooing Desdemona, Iago implies that Cassio betrayed that trust by pursuing her himself.  Later Iago reminds Othello of Brabantio’s warning about Desdemona, “She has deceived her father, and may thee.” (I,iii,318)

Additional Relationship Story Information →
Relationship Story Throughline Synopsis

Othello, a general serving the Venetian state, unwittingly provokes the jealousy of Iago, his ensign, who had expected promotion, by instead promoting Cassio, who, Iago claims, has little experience.  Although Iago is liked and trusted, it is ostensibly this insult which unleashes a consuming malevolence (for which he later offers different explanations) that drives him to destroy Othello.  (Encyclopedia of World Drama, p. 121)

Relationship Story Backstory

Othello believes that Iago, who’s been his trusted ensign for many years and through many battles, is a loyal and honest man.  He however promotes Michael Cassio over Iago as his lieutenant.  Iago is deeply offended by the appointment because he is a seasoned soldier while Cassio has barely seen battle.  Iago holds a grudge against Othello and Cassio.  Adding fuel to fire his hatred is a rumor that Othello has had an affair with Iago’s wife, Emilia.  Iago vows to destroy the Moor by using his trusting nature against him.

Additional Story Points

Key Structural Appreciations

Overall Story Goal

All the objective characters are concerned with Othello and Desdemona’s marriage.  Brabantio’s outraged at the marriage, rejecting it and his daughter.  Cassio and Emilia are for the marriage while Iago and Roderigo work to destroy it.

Overall Story Consequence

If the characters fail to see through Iago’s deceit and save Othello and Desdemona’s marriage, many of them will not have a future.

Overall Story Cost

Othello becomes a wife abuser and murderer; Desdemona is transformed from a vibrant young wife into a dead martyr; Emilia, a loud, cynical woman, becomes a heroine by telling the truth about Iago and loses her life; Roderigo, whose aim is to destroy the marriage, becomes Iago’s pawn; Iago, the instigator of the fall of the marriage, becomes a prisoner.

Overall Story Dividend

Othello realizes too late that he was truly loved by Desdemona.  As a result of failing to achieve the story goal, Cassio is appointed Governor of Cyprus.

Overall Story Requirements

In order to achieve happiness in his marriage, Othello must remember how much he loves Desdemona, how much she loves him, and that she has sacrificed her home and position for him.  But once his suspicions are aroused he forgets everything good about their relationship, and the requirements to save the marriage aren’t met.

Overall Story Prerequisites

Othello and Desdemona’s enchanted evenings together in Brabantio’s home, their whirlwind courtship, elopement, and wedding night should provide a foundation for a happy marriage.  But Othello dismisses their happy past and this prerequisite for a lasting marriage is not fulfilled.

Overall Story Preconditions

As an example of an unessential condition put on the story requirement of “memory,” Emilia should have remembered her husband’s unsavory past, and used her suspicions to envision a plan to thwart his interference with Othello and Desdemona’s marriage.

Overall Story Forewarnings

Desdemona and Othello fail to understand the true nature of the differences between them, and the consequences they are destined to face.  They’re so wrapped up in each other the evening of their wedding, they don’t appreciate that Brabantio’s rude rejection of their marriage is a forewarning of their future.

Plot Progression

Dynamic Act Appreciations

Overall Story

Overall Story Signpost 1

Othello recalls his childhood hardships and heroic adventures, and wins Desdemona’s affections; Brabantio remembers that Desdemona rejected all her suitors, saying she didn’t want to get married; Desdemona remembers how Othello’s fine qualities and valor caused her to fall in love with him.

Overall Story Journey 1 from Memory to Conscious

Brabantio is shocked that Desdemona married the old, homely Moor when he remembers that she rejected marriage to “The wealthy curled darlings of our nation.” (I,ii,83)  He contemplates her part in the courtship and her loyalty to Othello, then bitterly disowns her.

Overall Story Signpost 2

Roderigo contemplates his chances of winning Desdemona if Cassio is discredited, and agrees to pick a fight with him during the celebration.  Cassio considers that he can’t tolerate wine, but gets drunk, gets involved in a brawl, and is demoted as punishment.

Overall Story Journey 2 from Conscious to Preconscious

Cassio, insensible to his responsibilities, is demoted.  His immediate reaction to being demoted for his drunken brawling is shock and shame.  Cassio mourns his ruined reputation.  “O, I have lost my reputation/I have lost the immortal part of myself.” (II,iii,269-70)

Overall Story Signpost 3

Bianca finds Desdemona’s handkerchief in Cassio’s room and is immediately jealous of the “other woman” in his life.  Othello sees Desdemona’s handkerchief in Bianca’s hands, and immediately thinks Cassio has given it to her.  He flies into a jealous rage, and when he sees Desdemona he impulsively slaps her.

Overall Story Journey 3 from Preconscious to Subconscious

Desdemona is shocked by Othello’s behavior.  She becomes sad, singing the fatalistic “Willow” song as she prepares for bed.  She anticipates her death, asking Emilia to shroud her in her wedding sheets if she should die.

Overall Story Signpost 4

Desdemona’s love for and obedience to Othello compels her to let him smother her.  Emilia’s outrage at Desdemona’s murder drives her to defy Iago and expose him as a liar which causes him to kill her.  Othello’s horror at killing his innocent wife is too much to bear and he kills himself.

Main Character

Main Character Signpost 1

Othello fails to understand that he broke Venetian society’s code of conduct with his secret marriage to Desdemona; he doesn’t grasp the level of disappointment Iago feels about being passed over for the lieutenancy.

Main Character Journey 1 from Understanding to Doing

Othello reunites with Desdemona after a dangerous voyage and declares his love for her.  He understands she has also made the voyage at risk to herself just to be with her husband, and says that if he were to die at that moment, it would be at the peak of his happiness.  He rushes into his honeymoon.

Main Character Signpost 2

Othello arrives in Cyprus and greets his wife; declares that the Turkish fleet has been destroyed; orders a celebration to honor the defeat and his marriage; begins his honeymoon with his wife; judges Cassio after he takes part in a drunken brawl while assigned to guard duty.

Main Character Journey 2 from Doing to Obtaining

After his honeymoon night, Othello can’t resist Desdemona’s charms when she asks him to reconcile with Cassio.  “I will deny thee nothing!” (III,iii,94)  For the last time declares his love.  “Excellent wretch!  Perdition catch my soul/ But I do love thee! And when I love thee not/ Chaos is come again.  (III.iii,102-04)

Main Character Signpost 3

Driven mad by unfounded jealousy, Othello wants the deaths of his wife and her “lover” Cassio.  Later, still desiring proof of Desdemona’s guilt, Othello demands that she give him her handkerchief.  When she lies about the missing gift, he thinks he has the final proof of her unfaithfulness.

Main Character Journey 3 from Obtaining to Learning

Crushed when he obtains “proof” of Desdemona’s unfaithfulness, Othello vows vengeance on her; asks Iago to kill her “lover,” Cassio; agonizes over how to kill his wife, asking Iago for poison, but deciding to strangle her with his bare hands so as not to mar her beauty.

Main Character Signpost 4

Othello learns that he is “As ignorant as dirt!” (V,ii,197) from Emilia, Desdemona’s waiting-woman; it was Emilia who took Desdemona’s handkerchief and gave it to Iago; that he, Othello, has murdered his innocent, loving wife.

Influence Character

Influence Character Signpost 1

Iago conceives the idea to awaken Brabantio in the middle of the night to look for his missing daughter; hatches a plan to use his reputation for honesty to trick Othello into believing that his wife is unfaithful and incite him into a jealous rage that will ruin him.

influence Character Journey 1 from Conceiving to Being

Iago is beside himself with glee at his idea to pose as Othello’s friend, and trick him into believing his wife is unfaithful.  “The Moor is of a free and open nature/That thinks men honest that but seem to be so/And will as tenderly be led by the nose/As asses are. (I,iii,417-20)  Iago commits himself to evil.  “I haven’t! It is engend’red!  Hell and night/Must bring this monstrous birth to the world’s light.” (I,iii,421-22)

Influence Character Signpost 2

Iago pretends to be Cassio’s good friend, advising him to seek Desdemona’s help after he is demoted by Othello; acts like Othello’s trusted ensign although he’s not; pretends to be Roderigo’s agent with Desdemona, but is only using him to further his own plan.

Influence Character Journey 2 from Being to Conceptualizing

In order to inflame Othello’s jealousy, Iago pretends to be his friend and gives him a warning.  “O, beware, my lord, of jealousy!/It is the green-eyed monster, which doth mock/The meat it feeds on. (III,iii,191-92)

Influence Character Signpost 3

Iago envisions getting Desdemona’s handkerchief from Emilia, planting it in Cassio’s rooms, telling Othello that Desdemona gave it to Cassio as a love token, and watch Othello become mad with jealousy and disgrace himself.

Influence Character Journey 3 from Conceptualizing to Becoming

As Iago imagines playing out more of his plan, he suggests that Othello hide and listen in on a conversation between Iago and Cassio that will appear to be about Desdemona.  Iago becomes more evil, and during his talk with Cassio, declares, “I am a very villain. . .” (IV,i,143)

Influence Character Signpost 4

Iago transforms himself into a murderer when he kills Roderigo to cover his involvement in Othello’s downfall; stabs his wife when she reveals the truth about him; becomes a prisoner when he’s chained and ordered executed.

Relationship Story

Relationship Story Signpost 1

Othello has passed over Iago for the position of lieutenant.  Iago, smarting from Othello’s slight and rumors that he’s slept with his wife, Emilia, vows to wreak vengeance against his general.

Relationship Story Journey 1 from Past to ProgressEnraged because Othello has promoted Cassio to the lieutenancy over him, Iago forces Othello to leave his bride to discipline his new lieutenant for brawling.
Relationship Story Signpost 2

At first all is going well for Othello: He reunites with his bride and orders a celebration in honor of the Turks’ defeat and his marriage.  Then, at Iago’s machinations, a brawl breaks out disturbing Othello’s honeymoon, causing him much displeasure.  Unaware that Iago is the cause of the fracas, he’s pleased with his ensign’s attempt to protect Cassio’s reputation.  Iago sees Othello’s irritation at having his evening interrupted as a success.

Relationship Story Journey 2 from Progress to Future

Iago successfully plants doubts about Desdemona in Othello’s mind; he advises Othello to watch his wife carefully in the next few days, especially whenever she’s with Cassio.

Relationship Story Signpost 3

Iago incites Othello into a jealous rage until the Moor vows to murder his wife, ending their future together.  Othello charges Iago to kill her “lover,” Cassio, cutting his promising future short.  He makes Iago his new lieutenant, creating a strong bond between them for the future.

Relationship Story Journey 3 from Future to Present

Othello vows his allegiance to Iago, “I am bound to thee for ever.” (III,iii,243)  Iago swears to assist Othello in his vengeance against Desdemona and her “lover,” promising to kill Cassio within three days.  Iago is awarded the lieutenancy.  But Iago’s future as Othello’s valued lieutenant is shattered when the Moor discovers that Iago is a liar and then tries to kill him.

Relationship Story Signpost 4

Iago watches as an irrational Othello strikes his innocent wife in front of Venetian dignitaries; witnesses a crazed Othello who has just murdered his wife learn that Iago has lied about Desdemona’s unfaithfulness; is wounded by Othello before the Moor turns a blade on himself.

Plot Progression Visualizations

Dynamic Act Schematics


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