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Othello

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.

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.

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Item Title: 
[Othello] The tragœdy of Othello, the Moore of Venice. As it hath beene diuerse times acted at the Globe, and at the Black-Friers, by his Maiesties Seruants.
Item Call Number: 
STC 22305 copy 1
Item Creator: 
Shakespeare, William, 1564-1616.
Item Date: 
1622

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Item Title: 
Works. 1623] Mr. William Shakespeares comedies, histories, & tragedies : published according to the true originall copies.
Item Call Number: 
STC 22273 Fo.1 no.68
Item Creator: 
Shakespeare, William, 1564-1616.
Item Date: 
1623

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Item Title: 
[Othello] The tragœdy of Othello, the Moore of Venice. As it hath beene diuerse times acted at the Globe, and at the Black-Friers, by his Maiesties Seruants.
Item Call Number: 
STC 22306 copy 1
Item Creator: 
Shakespeare, William, 1564-1616.
Item Date: 
1630

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Second Folio (1632)

Item Title: 
Mr. VVilliam Shakespeares comedies, histories, and tragedies. : Published according to the true originall copies.
Item Call Number: 
STC 22274 Fo.2 no.07
Item Creator: 
Shakespeare, William, 1564-1616.
Item Date: 
1632

Picturing Othello

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.

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Paul Robeson as Othello (1944)

Paul Robeson as Othello (1944)

Photo Credit: 
Carl Van Vechten
Item Title: 
Paul Robeson as Othello
Item Call Number: 
ART 251518
Item Creator: 
Van Vechten, Carl

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Ira Aldrige as Othello (1854)

Ira Aldrige as Othello (1854)

Item Title: 
Ira Aldridge als Othello [graphic] / n.e. Lichtbild v. J. Chailloux ; Steindruck von S. Bühler in Mannheim.
Item Call Number: 
ART File A365.5 no.4
Item Creator: 
Bühler, S., 19th cent., printmaker.
Item Date: 
Mannheim, Germany : [s.n., 1854]

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Tommaso Salvini as Othello (1857)

Tommaso Salvini as Othello (1857)

Item Title: 
Tommaso Salvini as Othello [graphic].
Item Call Number: 
ART File S185 no.10 PHOTO (size XS)
Item Date: 
[S.l. : s.n., 1857?]

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Gertrude Elliott as Desdemona (1902)

Gertrude Elliott as Desdemona (1902)

Item Title: 
Gertrude Elliott, "Desdemona" [in Shakespeare's Othello] [graphic] / [photo, J. & L. Caswall Smith].
Item Call Number: 
ART File E46 no.1 PHOTO (size XS)
Item Creator: 
J. & L. Caswall Smith (Firm), photographer.
Item Date: 
[London, England : s.n., 1902?]

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William James Hammond and Ellen Daly as Othello and Desdemona (mid-19th century)

William James Hammond and Ellen Daly as Othello and Desdemona (mid-19th century)

Item Title: 
Mr. W.J. Hammond and Miss Daly as Othello and Desdemona at the New Strand Theatre ... [graphic] / J.W. Gear, del et lithog ; printed by C. Hallmandel.
Item Call Number: 
ART File H229.5 no.1 (size M)
Item Creator: 
Gear, J. W. (John William), 1806-1866, printmaker.
Item Date: 
[London, England] : published by W. Kenneth, [not before 1836]

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Emil Jannings and Ica de Lenkeffy as Othello and Desdemona (1922)

Emil Jannings and Ica de Lenkeffy as Othello and Desdemona (1922)

Item Title: 
Othello publicity brochure
Item Call Number: 
ART Vol. e230
Item Date: 
1922

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Othello telling his story to Desdemona and Brabantio (Act 1, scene 3; 19th century)

Othello telling his story to Desdemona and Brabantio (Act 1, scene 3; 19th century)

Item Title: 
[Othello, I, 3, Othello, Desdemona, Brabantio, and Iago] [graphic] / [Alexandre Bida].
Item Call Number: 
ART Box B584 no.5 (size S)
Item Creator: 
Bida, Alexandre, 1813-1895, artist.
Item Date: 
[19th century]

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Edwin Booth as Iago (19th century)

Edwin Booth as Iago (19th century)

Item Title: 
Edwin Booth as Iago in Shakespeare's Othello [graphic] / Sarony.
Item Call Number: 
ART File B725.4 no.111 part 1 PHOTO copy 1 (size XS)
Item Creator: 
Sarony, Napoleon, 1821-1896, photographer.
Item Date: 
New York : [s.n., 19th century]

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Othello with Desdemona in her deathbed (Act 5, scene 2; 1857)

Othello with Desdemona in her deathbed (Act 5, scene 2; 1857)

Item Title: 
Othello’s Lamentation
Item Call Number: 
FPa50
Item Creator: 
Salter, William, 1804-1875, artist.
Item Date: 
1857

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.)