Discuss the Plot Construction of Othello

Shakespeare flouted the classical conception of dramatic writing. In almost all his plays he takes the full liberty in the construction of the plot and in the delineation of the characters. The classical unities of time, place and action are usually not observed by Shakespeare- this is a convention, “honored more in breath than in the observance.” But Othello stands apart among Shakespeare’s tragedies in the matter of plot-construction. In this play, the main action takes place in Cyprus and the action covers a span of time which will not be more than four days. Moreover, the action itself is single and undivided as there is no sub-plot; the reader’s attention is fixed all the time on the unfolding tragic situation. Therefore, it can be safely said that at least in this play, Shakespeare came very close to the observance of the three classical unities of time, place and action. The first Act takes place in Venice but the first Act can be regarded as an introduction. The main body of the plot centered in Cyprus.

The structure of Othello has, of course, other usual features of a Shakespearean tragedy. A Shakespearean tragedy represents a conflict which terminates in a catastrophe and such tragedy may roughly be divided into three parts- the exposition, the complications which comprise the 2nd, 3rd and 4th act and catastrophe in which the conflict is resolved through the death of the main character. The plot construction of Othello varies from this usual Shakespearean plan because the very opening scene of this play takes us right into the heart of the action.

The conversation between Iago and Roderigo informs us the run-away marriage of Othello. This marriage can be called the initiating action which triggers the subsequent action if partly reveals Iago’s motive and future plans. Desdemona’s statement in front of the court not only absolves Othello of the charge but also proves the firmness of Desdemona’s character. Othello’s military past, his romantic history of adventure and his comparative dark of knowledge about the human society are emphasized in the first Act. Iago’s character is also well established and we understand what to think of him;

“But I will wear my heat upon my sleep,

For doves to peck at

I am not what I am.”

The second Act transforms the scene of action to Cyprus. The act begins with the storm and bustle of the arrival from Venice. The first scene seems to be preparatory to Iago’s intrigues upon which the whole action of the play hinges. Iago’s soliloquy at the end of first Act exposes the villainous intent of Iago. Iago mentions a number of motives behind his hatred for Othello. One of there is that he suspects Othello to be secretly in love with his wife.

The third scene of Act II is beautifully planned. It contains elements that lead to the complication of the plot- the drunken brawl into which Cassio is enticed leading to his dismissal. This gives Iago the necessary opportunity to work his design upon Othello.

The climactic scene comes in Act III, which is known as the temptation scene. The tragic conflict arises as Iago plants his suspicion in Othello’s mind. In this scene, we see the gradual process of Othello’s transformation from a noble moor to an egregious fool, a dope to Iago’s villainous treachery. Iago never for a moment leaves Othello until the suspicion that he had planted in Othello’s mind is nourished into an active and pestilent growth.

Act III is filled with Iago’s tortuous verbal temptation of Othello’s soul. He works on Othello’s mind as an artist works on his piece of art with satanic subtlety. Iago makes insinuations and cloven suggestions and dells straightforward lies in order to convince Othello of Desdemona’s supposed adultery with Cassio.

The moor is a whirling passion as there is a conflict in his soul between love and hate. Two happenings help Iago in the furthering of his design;

  • Emilia’s proving up of Desdemona’s handkerchief which Iago puts in Cassio’s chamber, Cassio gives it to Bianca.

  • Bianca appears with a handkerchief and throws it to Cassio’s face which holds him in conversation, Othello watching the handkerchief unseen Desdemona’s inability to produce handkerchief when Othello demanded it partly confirmed Othello’s suspicion. Now Othello has “ocular proof” of Desdemona’s guilt.

The fourth Act marks the downward movement of the action. Othello’s mind is fully dazed and he resolves the conflict between love and honor by killing Desdemona in the last Act. Critics have noted the classical severity of Othello’s construction. The action of the play holds us spellbound from the beginning to the end. As there is no comic interlude on change of scenes, the tragedy grinds inexorably to its final catastrophe with the suicide of Othello.