Follow TV Tropes


Theatre / Othello

Go To

As the play is Older Than Steam and most twists in Shakespeare's plots are now widely known, all spoilers on this page are unmarked.
Othello and Desdemona, after taking a stab at some pillow-talk.

"O, beware, my lord, of jealousy!
It is the green eyed monster which doth mock
The meat it feeds on."
Iago, Act III, Scene 3.

Othello, The Moor of Venice is one of William Shakespeare's most famous plays. Adapted at least ten times for the screen (sometimes with setting changes), it is a play about racism (though not as we understand it today), trust, love, and betrayal.

In Venice, Othello, a Moorishnote  prince and general in the Venetian army, has acquired two enemies. Roderigo, a man with considerable wealth, hates Othello for marrying Desdemona, an Italian noblewoman that he was interested in. Iago, an incredibly cruel fellow officer, hates Othello for promoting a young man named Michael Cassio over him. Iago convinces Roderigo to help him destroy Othello's life using Cassio as a patsy. But Roderigo underestimates how much Iago is willing to manipulate and backstab everyone to get his revenge.

One thing that must be said is that the play is, along with a lot of contemporary works, far Harsher in Hindsight. It was written over two centuries before the development of racial hierarchies and stereotypes as we understand them today. 'Race' is by no means a static, universal concept. That's not to say people didn't look down on people who weren't from their village, or their county, but people's worlds were much smaller back then, and stereotyping and discrimination were in all probability a local or inter-county thing at the time.

Othello's intended appearance is ambiguous; "Moor" could refer to people of European, Middle Eastern or African descent. In modern times he is usually portrayed by a black actor; in less modern times he was often played by a white actor in Blackface. There have also been a few "race-reversed" productions with Othello played by a white actor and all other characters played by black ones, most famously a 1997 production in Washington DC with Patrick Stewart in the role.

Like all of Shakespeare's plays, Othello provides fodder for a multitude of different readings, including those that use the lens of 21st-century views on race and gender. Othello, whether black, Berber, or what-have-you, is always the Other in Venetian society, and his story has still got a lot to say to us.

The play itself provides examples of:

  • Adaptational Heroism:
    • In the original short story A Moorish Captain by the Italian writer Cinthio, "The Moor" actually has "The Ensign" (Iago) bludgeon Desdemona to death with him and then the two of them Make It Look Like an Accident. The Moor then eventually turns on The Ensign not because he realises he has been manipulated but because the latter reminds him of his crime just by being around. He also refuses to admit his crime even after he is caught out. Shakespeare's Othello, by contrast, confesses to his crime almost immediately and chooses strangulation (after toying with poison) because he couldn't bring himself to damage her in such a brutal way; he is also much more of an Unwitting Pawn overall.
    • "The Ensign's wife" (Emilia) was in on the murder plot from the beginning. Here, while she steals the handkerchief, she has no idea what Iago plans to do with it and is utterly appalled when she learns the truth.
    • Iago himself. The Ensign in the original is fired by The Moor after the murder and takes his revenge by blabbing everything to the authorities, getting the Moor arrested, tortured and eventually killed; The Ensign then escapes justice and commits several other crimes before finally being caught. His motivation is much more overt and base in the short—he lusts after Desdemona and sets out to murder her simply because she rejected him.
  • Adapted Out: The original story's equivalents to Iago and Emilia have a daughter; she's absent in Othello.
  • Aerith and Bob: Cassio's first name is Michael, while Emilia and Rod(e)rigo are perfectly ordinary Spanish or Italian names. They share a play with Othello, which seems to be entirely invented by Shakespeare.
  • Age-Gap Romance: Othello (age unspecified, but getting up there) falls in love and marries the young beautiful Desdemona. Their age difference is one of the many reasons Othello suspects her of cheating on him: The man he thinks she's sleeping with is closer to her own age. She's actually perfectly loving and innocent, but the play is a tragedy and they all end up dead.
  • All Women Are Lustful: Invoked but also Subverted and Deconstructed. Iago says it time and again to everyone who will listen—which is, unfortunately, everyone—and more significantly, Othello, who makes the mistake of taking Iago's advice on women as he would on the battlefield. Iago also plays a stereotype card with regards to Venetian women; Venice had a real-life contemporary reputation as a city of high-class courtesans and prostitutes of all orders. Venice has lots of prostitutes; therefore Venetian women are lustful. Desdemona is a Venetian woman; therefore she is lustful and will do anything to satisfy her appetite, including cheating on Othello. Simple. Despite this, Desdemona never once cheats on Othello and in one scene even struggles with the concept of being unfaithful, while Iago's own wife states that when a woman commits adultery it is often because the husband has done so first, or otherwise mistreated them in some way.
  • Alternate Show Interpretation: Instead of painting his face black to play Othello, Patrick Stewart played the titular role in a racially inverted production, opposite an otherwise all-black cast. This was by all accounts one of the more unusual productions of the play in recent memory.
  • Ambiguously Brown: It's very hard to tell whether Othello is supposed to be a Moor of Moroccan descent or a Sub-Saharan African. And he was originally played by a white actor in blackface, which doesn't help at all. He is called "black" a few times, but that term back then was far broader than it is in modern Anglophone countries and could even simply refer to pale-skinned Northern Europeans with dark hair. For what it's worth, modern researchers are leaning towards the former, as Othello's appearance seems to be based on an emissary from Morocco who showed up in England a couple years before the play was completed to forge an Anglo-Moroccan alliance. Said emissary, Abd el-Ouahed ben Messaoud, was a caucasian, olive-skinned Berber.
  • Ambiguously Gay: Iago in some adaptations. Some scholars argue that a secret desire for Othello could be a possible motive for his crimes. Though he is married to Emilia, he clearly does not truly care for her.
  • Arc Words: "Honest" and "handkerchief."
  • Asshole Victim:
    • Roderigo is a racist who remorselessly goes after Othello to be with his wife, who doesn't love him in the slightest. Compared to Iago's other victims, it can be hard to shed any tears for Roderigo.
    • Othello is a sympathetic example. He's quite insecure and being strung along by Iago the entire time, but he still murders his wife. Given he kills himself at the end, he seems to view himself as one.
  • Backhanded Apology: After Desdemona denies being a whore aginst her husband's accusations.
    Othello: I cry you mercy, then, I took you for that cunning whore of Venice that married with Othello.
  • Bewildering Punishment: Desdemona to Othello before he smothers her.
  • Bitch in Sheep's Clothing:
    • Iago wears many masks throughout the play depending on who he's talking to. Sometimes he can appear to be a plain Jerkass, a Jerk with a Heart of Gold, or even a Nice Guy. The very first time we see him with Othello, he's going on about how he's not cruel enough. Any kindness in his outward behavior is completely false though, and he's ultimately a villain in every sense of the word.
    • Othello is a sympathetic version. At first he seems to be a legitimately good man who loves his wife and is good to all those around him. These qualities are not false, but as the play goes on, it's clear Othello is a troubled individual who just can't seem to accept that his wife is faithful, ultimately murdering her. True, he's being horribly manipulated during all this, these issues likely wouldn't have occurred if it weren't for Iago's plotting (or they would've been handled better if they had), and he's mortified when he realizes he's been played and his wife was innocent, but the mere fact that he would kill the woman he loves over jealousy shows that there's a far darker side to Othello than it first appears.
    • Brabantio is a version that's only made clear after we see his bitch side. Othello claims that the old man was fond of him and would invite him over to hear his stories. But by the time we've heard that, it's become clear that Brabantio is a racist who would kill the Moor for fear that he'd infect his bloodline. So Brabantio essentially likes to take advantage of Othello, hearing all about and enjoying his tales, likely thinking to himself "I'm so accepting, I have a Token Black Friend", but being unwilling to respect him as an equal when the chips are down.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Leans heavily on the bitter side: Iago is taken to face justice, but Desdemona, Emilia, and Othello are dead, Cassio possibly crippled, Bianca is distraught, and now the white characters are back in charge, with their prejudices reinforced by Othello's actions.
  • Canon Foreigner: Shakespeare created Roderigo, a character that didn't exist in the original story by Cinthio.
  • Card-Carrying Villain: One of Shakespeare's specialties was writing villains who proclaim their love for being evil without sounding lame; Iago continues the tradition.
  • Character Title: Othello, of course.
  • Consummate Liar: Iago is quite convincing to everyone around him, even as he's plotting their demises.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Iago gets some pretty nice ones though most of them are misogynist, racist or just generally misanthropic.
  • Decoy Protagonist: Roderigo's first scene sets him up as the Dogged Nice Guy pursuing Desdemona, which he continues to believe is the case for the rest of the play.
  • Deuteragonist: Othello is actually this to Iago, with Desdemona as the tritagonist.
  • The Dog Bites Back: Emilia, who ruins her evil husband's gambit.
  • Domestic Abuse: Iago is all too quick to degrade his wife.
  • Establishing Character Moment: Iago has a simultaneously epic and understated one: one of the very first things he says is a detailed speech about how absolutely nothing he says is to be trusted and that he's only out for himself. Naturally, the Unwitting Pawn he's talking to interprets this as meaning he has Iago's loyalty. The line has more weight for 17th Century audiences, as in Exodus 3:14, God gave his laws to Moses on Mt. Sinai; when Moses asked God his name, He replied: "I am that I am." By inverting the line, Iago is calling himself the Devil.
    Iago: I am not what I am.
  • Even Evil Has Loved Ones: Averted.
    • Brabantio is a racist, but it looks like he loves his daughter and will do whatever he can to get her back from Othello when he thinks the Moor has taken advantage of her. Then once he learns that Othello and Desdemona's love is genuine and there's nothing he can do to stop it, he disowns his daughter, caring more about the shame that her marriage brings him than he does her.
    • Iago is married to Emilia, but it's quite clear that neither of them care for each other at all, and he even kills her at the very end once she's exposed him. It's a valid interpretation to say they only married each other out of convenience, especially since there's definitely some credence to Iago not being straight.
    • Roderigo is convinced that he's in love with Desdemona, which is the root of all his villainous actions. But it's clear she has no interest in him, and Iago even tells Roderigo that he believes his feelings are that of lust, not love.
  • Everyone Has Standards: A villainous example. Brabantio is stated to have been fond of Othello and would invite him over to hear his stories, Othello even saying that his father-in-law loved him. But once Brabantio's heard that the Moor has married his daughter, he shows that he's a racist Jerkass who's absolutely disgusted by his daughter marrying a man of a different race. So basically, Brabantio has no problem being nice to Othello and treating him as a Token Black Friend, but he's completely averse to the idea of a family member who's not his own race.
  • Evil Plan: Iago's plan to drive Othello into an absolute rampage. It works brilliantly, though it would have fallen on its face if Othello didn't listen to him.
  • Exact Eavesdropping: At one point Othello hears what appears to be Cassio bragging about sleeping with Desdemona. Cassio's actually talking about his mistress, Bianca. A justified use of this trope as Iago was talking to Cassio at the time and deliberately guiding him to talk about his mistress.
  • Exact Words: Many of Iago's lies are actually true, if you interpret them as literally as possible.
  • False Friend: Iago, to everyone. Even Emilia doesn't know the full depths of his bastardry.
  • Fatal Flaw: Othello's jealousy.
  • Final Speech: Poor smothered Desdemona manages to gasp out a few words before dying... of asphyxiation. Even by Renaissance standards, this may have stretched disbelief beyond the exigencies of the Rule of Drama. Most adaptations and modern productions end up cutting the speech entirely.
  • Flaw Exploitation: Iago is the master of this, playing on Brabantio's racism and paternalism, Cassio's low alcohol tolerance, Othello's jealousy, and Roderigo's lust (and lack of grey matter) all to his own advantage.
  • For the Evulz: Iago's motivation for acting against Othello is never specifically stated. Although he gives a few reasons in his monologues, it is never truly clear what he was trying to accomplish. His final words before being taken offstage can be seen as a Shakespearean "fuck you" for anyone trying to decipher his final goal.
    Iago: Demand me nothing: what you know, you know:
    From this time forth I never will speak word.
  • Get Thee to a Nunnery: Othello angrily telling Desdemona "I am glad to see you mad" has baffled Shakespearean scholars for centuries. No one is sure what that is supposed to mean.
  • Green-Eyed Monster: The Trope Namer, and the play's major theme; jealousy ends up being the motivation for most characters, and it's eventually what causes everything to end in destruction. Iago accuses Cassio of being this to Othello, while likely serving as an example himself.
  • Have a Gay Old Time: According to the stage directions, Roderigo "makes a pass at Cassio" while trying to kill him.
  • Heal It with Blood: Desdemona cures Othello's pain with a handkerchief stained with the blood of virgin women.
  • Hero with Bad Publicity: Iago makes sure that Cassio is one these for the majority of the play.
  • Honor Thy Parent: Brabantio is beside himself with anger upon learning that his daughter Desdemona has eloped with Othello, to the point of denial. He hauls Othello before the Duke of Venice and accuses him of enchanting his daughter. On it being made clear that Desdemona was merely enticed by Othello's stories of his exploits in war, Brabantio asks his daughter to whom in the assembled company she most owes obedience, implying that it is to him, her father. Desdemona tactfully replies that she has learned to respect him and remains his daughter, but that as her mother preferred Brabantio over her father, so she now has a responsibility to her husband. Brabantio bitterly resigns himself to his daughter's marriage.
    Brabantio: [to Desdemona] For your sake, jewel, / I am glad at soul I have no other child: / For thy escape would teach me tyranny, / To hang clogs on them.
  • Horrible Judge of Character:
    • This is a tricky one. Othello constantly refers to Iago as "honest Iago" and everyone else seems to think likewise. To be fair, Iago does nothing to contradict this assessment until The Reveal and it's implied he goes way back with Othello. Although much of what Iago says is literal. He does more damage through what he does not say. Moreover, "honest" was also a condescending title for a social inferior (like "sirrah"), as well as meaning "chaste" and the modern sense of "truthful". Shakespeare, being Shakespeare, plays with all three meanings.
    • Othello's lack of perception in general is the driving force of the plot. Iago inflamed his emotions, but those were volatile. Once Othello had made up his mind about what was happening, he became disastrously blind towards everyone else's intentions.
  • Idiot Ball: Partially, although the plot isn't completely driven by certain characters' stupidities, most non-Iago characters are completely and conveniently stupid whenever it supports the short-term plot.
    • Desdemona has promised Cassio that she'll plead his case to Othello to try and get him re-instated. Perfectly fine. Desdemona proceeds to do so, insistently and constantly, ignoring timing, tact, and Othello's mood at any given moment. She is also evasive about missing the handkerchief when being direct could have helped her standing with Othello.
    • One of the most important motifs in the play is the Handkerchief, Othello's family heirloom that he gives to Desdemona, and which becomes a symbol of all sorts of things, but particularly her innocence and faithfulness. Either Desdemona or Othello drops this on the floor with neither one noticing.
    • Emilia knows what happened to the handkerchief and does not interrupt Othello's interrogations of her mistress and friend about the handkerchief until it's far too late.
    • Roderigo is possibly the most stupid character in anything ever, and his stupidity directly facilitates Iago's plotting. He goes and gets smitten with Desdemona and so follows her and her newly-wed husband (a big scary general) to a war-torn country in an attempt to win her back. In the meantime, he is played as a complete pawn, not only personally funding Iago's schemes, but also getting stabbed as a fundamental aspect thereof.
  • Ignored Confession: Iago flat-out tells Othello that he shouldn't believe anything Iago says and that it's all probably lies anyway. Which of course just leads Othello to trust him more, which of course was Iago's plan all along.
  • Jerkass:
    • Othello, suspecting Desdemona, questions Emilia, who has been with Desdemona from Act 1 onwards, whether his wife had cheated on him with Cassio. She says no. He then asks Desdemona to promise him that she hasn't cheated. She does. He decides not to believe either of them. This could be proof of Iago's amazing skills of manipulation, but considering that the bulk of the play takes place over three days in Cyprus and Cassio and Desdemona haven't even had a chance to talk, it's clear that Othello just doesn't trust his wife, which makes him a jerk.
    • Iago can quite convincingly play the part of a Nice Guy, but acting like a total asshole comes just as easily to him. And that's not going into his true character. Whatever reasons he has for his villainous actions, at the end of the day, it's clear that he's a monstrous individual, something he seems aware of, and pleased with.
    • Brabantio is a total racist who cares more about how his daughter's actions make him look than he does about her own well being and happiness.
    • Roderigo is this due to his Entitled to Have You nature towards Desdemona which leads him to commit plenty of amoral actions, even when there's no evidence to suggest she has any kind of romantic feelings for him.
  • Kick the Dog:
    • Everything Iago does to destroy Othello. His precise reason is never made clear, but all of them never come close to justifying what his actions, and he's all too willing to let parties that have done nothing against him be killed along the way.
    • Brabantio disowning Desdemona in excessively cruel terms once it's clear he can't stop her marriage.
    • Othello's murder of Desdemona. Even he's aware of how horrible it is, and he clearly has a difficult time going through with it. But he does, the truthfulness and severity of her nonexistent crime be damned.
  • Lame Comeback:
    Brabantio: Thou art a villain!
    Iago: You are a senator!
  • Made a Slave: In Othello's Back Story, according to his stories.
  • Maligned Mixed Marriage: Desdemona's father does not take Othello's relationship with his daughter well, which Iago exploits.
  • May–December Romance: Othello is supposed to be several decades older than Desdemona, and the age disparity, as much as sensitivity to racism, is why he so quickly believes she's been unfaithful.
  • Meaningful Name
    • "Desdemona", unsurprisingly, means "ill-fated". Othello even calls her "ill-starred wench".
    • Desdemona and Othello.
    • "Iago" is a form of "Jacob," which carries connotations of "supplanter." As Iago's manipulation begins to work on Othello, the general's speech patterns begin to mirror those of his ensign, and over time the two effectively switch roles in the relationship.
    • "Iago" is also the Spanish form of "James." St. James is the patron saint of Spain, and his full name, Santiago Matamoros, roughly translates to "Saint James the Moor-Slayer." Coincidence? I say nay.
  • Motive Rant: During the play, Iago delivers numerous soliloquies bragging about his intentions and offering competing motives to the audience. But at the very end, it's Subverted when when Othello asks him why and Iago refuses to say.
    Othello: Why he hath thus ensnared my soul and body?
    Iago: Demand me nothing. What you know, you know. / From this time forth I never will speak word.
  • Murder-Suicide: Othello stabs himself after killing Desdemona and then realizing she wasn't actually cheating on him.
  • Near-Villain Victory: Iago succeeds in his revenge plan and ALMOST escapes with his reputation intact. Thanks to Emilia, he does not.
    • Even then he gets in one last hit, spiting the remaining characters by refusing to even give them a reason why he bedevilled them.
  • No Accounting for Taste: Iago and Emilia have a very unhappy marriage with him frequently making misogynistic jokes in her presence. One of the early results of her bad treatment is that Emilia puts forward some, for the time, very surprising ideas about whether a woman could ever be justified in cheating on her husband. Emilia feels far more loyalty and affection towards Desdemona than her husband (which in the end leads to Iago's downfall).
  • No Hero to His Valet: Emilia is the only person who doesn't think the world of Iago.
  • Older Hero vs. Younger Villain: Iago is less than thirty, while Othello insinuates that he is an older man when speaking to the Duke.
  • Passed-Over Promotion: The motives Iago cites for his vendetta against Othello change a few times, but one is that he is incensed by is Othello promoting Cassio to lieutenant instead of him, when it's implied he's been at Othello's side for a while. Iago strives first to take Cassio down. and then Othello himself.
  • Politically Incorrect Villain:
    • Iago seems to be this, as he insults Othello's race when manipulating Roderigo and Brabantio, and the misogynistic jokes he throws around to disarm people are a big case of Harsher in Hindsight. Of course, given how ambiguous Iago's motives are, he could merely be putting on a racist and misogynistic facade, playing to his audience, as he notably only uses racist language when talking to other racists.
    • Roderigo is this trope played very straight, being all too happy to use racist insults against Othello, and unlike Iago who can be played as ambiguously racist as seen above, there's very little to indicate that Roderigo doesn't fully believe in his hateful remarks, not to mention he comes across as too stupid to even think of putting up a facade.
    • Brabantio isn't as villainous as Roderigo and especially not on Iago's level, but he's still quite quick to draw swords against Othello due to being horrified at his daughter being with a Moor, and even after learning that they're genuinely in love, he completely disowns her.
  • Poor Communication Kills: The play is farce Played for Drama.
  • Pride: Iago and Othello's hamartia.
  • The Reveal: In universe, Iago lied about the handkerchief, Desdemona cheating, Cassio cheating, Roderigo's role...
  • Reverse Psychology: Used extensively and masterfully by Iago.
  • Satanic Archetype: Iago, who is repeatedly compared to the devil. To the point that literary critic Harold Bloom speculated that John Milton based his own version of Satan on the ensign.
  • Scary Black Man: Othello himself, depending on how the actor chooses to portray him.
  • Signature Item Clue: The title character is convinced of his wife's infidelity when he discovers that her supposed lover is carrying her distinctive embroidered handkerchief.
  • Spanner in the Works: Emilia ruins Iago's plan simply by stating she found the handkerchief and gave it to her husband, when Othello thought Desdemona gave it to Cassio. What's more amazing is that she spilled the beans even though Iago threatened her with a knife and stabbed her when she exposed him.
  • Star-Crossed Lovers: Desdemona and Othello simply want to spend the night as a couple, but circumstance, prejudice, and Iago's plot all prevent this from happening before tragedy strikes.
  • The Storyteller: Othello won Desdemona by telling her stories of his incredible exploits, rising up from enslavement to become one of the most respected generals in Italy.
  • Subtext: Some of Iago's lines suggest, at least to modern eyes, that he's attracted to Othello himself.
  • Suspiciously Specific Denial: A clearly-drunk Cassio repeatedly insists that he's not drunk.
  • Symbolism: The handkerchief given to Desdemona by Othello comes to represent Desdemona's chastity and fidelity. Reinforced by the fact that in Shakespeare's time, the "strawberry" pattern on the kerchief would have represented bloodstains on a wedding sheet.
  • Talking in Your Sleep: Iago tells Othello that he knows that Cassio is having an affair with Desdemona because he heard him talking about it in his sleep, along with some more... physical demonstration.
  • Tragedy: Of course, in classic Shakespeare fashion, we see the cast's situation go from bad to worse as most of them die throughout the course of the play, with the exception of our depraved villain, Iago.
  • A Tragedy of Impulsiveness: The title character, with only circumstantial evidence supplied by a truly nasty Manipulative Bastard, believes that his wife, Desdemona, is cheating on him. He plots to have Cassio, her supposed lover (he isn't), killed, and ultimately kills Desdemona himself. When the truth is revealed, it drives him to suicide. There's a reason why 'Othello' is also known as 'The Tragedy of the Handkerchief'.
  • Tragic Hero: Othello is practically the textbook definition, being a virtuous, honorable man with one terrible flaw (his trust in Iago) that leads him to do evil and cause his own destruction.
  • Treacherous Advisor: Iago being referred to as "honest", "dear", etc. is played up for all the irony it's worth.
  • Unaccustomed as I Am to Public Speaking...: Standing before the Venetian judges, Othello opens his speech by explaining his past as a hard-living soldier, saying he has no training in any kind of rhetoric. And he proceeds into a beautiful, eloquent, robust speech of the adventures he recounted to Desdemona. In fact, Othello's particular brand of diction is unique in Shakespeare, and some critics refer to his speaking pattern as "The Othello Music."
  • Unexplained Recovery: In the final scene, Roderigo is said to have been slain after being stabbed by Iago, only for Cassio to abruptly reveal that he spoke "after long seeming dead" to reveal Iago's guilt, though it's unclear if he survived or just hung on to that point.
  • Unusual Euphemism: Throughout the play, there is a vast amount of sexual innuendo from many different characters. Iago is obsessed over Othello's sex life, introducing several more words to the lexicon in the process. Interestingly, all the other characters are far more open-minded, unlike Shakespeare's other play about race relations in Venice.
    Iago: I am one, sir, that comes to tell you your daughter and the Moor are now making the beast with two backs!
    Iago: Even now, now, very now, an old black ram / Is tupping your white ewe!
  • Unwitting Pawn: Roderigo, Othello, Emilia... anyone who's not Iago is part of his scheme to ruin Othello.
  • Villainous Breakdown: Iago completely flips his lid when Emilia exposes his duplicity and kills her in rage. When he is captured, he is completely broken at having come to the cusp of victory only to be defeated by his underestimated wife and resolves to never speak again up to his death.
  • Villain Protagonist: The plot revolves around Iago, not Othello. Iago actually has far more lines than the title character, with many monologues and soliloquies detailing his manipulations of the rest of the cast.
  • Villain with Good Publicity: Iago, again. There's not one person who doesn't trust the guy. Except his wife. But who asks her opinion?
  • Vorpal Pillow: Othello kills Desdemona by smothering her with her own pillows. This is the closest they come to getting in bed together.
  • Where da White Women At?: Iago plays this card about Desdemona with regards to Othello as "proof" of her sexual appetite. Iago goes on to convince Othello that Desdemona's defiance of her father in her courtship of and marriage to Othello is proof of her lustful nature, noting how "unnatural" it is that she should prefer him—the exotic foreigner—over all the Venetian Dandies like Roderigo who have sought her hand. The unnatural-ness of it all vindicating, supposedly, her voracious sexual appetite. Iago implies that she's already had her fill of Roderigo's type, carnally of course, and longs for a change—possibly because no local boy would marry her on account of her actually being a slut. All that's left is for Othello, in his anger, to connect the dots...
  • With Friends Like These...: Shakespeare's Trope Codifier, as Othello's bestie Iago really had it out for him.
  • Wrong Genre Savvy: Roderigo thinks he's the hero of a romance, which Iago encourages to his own ends.
  • Xanatos Gambit: Lampshaded by Iago: "Every way makes my gain."
  • Yandere: Othello's jealousy drives him to murder Desdemona over her perceived infidelity. According to Alternative Character Interpretation, Iago himself spurred Othello on out of his own jealousy at Othello and Desdemona's happiness.
  • You Know What You Did: The basis of the entire plot.
  • You Monster!:
    • In his dying breath, Roderigo calls Iago an "inhuman dog".
    • When Emilia finds out Othello killed Desdemona, she calls him "a blacker devil".

Adaptations include:

  • An 1887 opera by Giuseppe Verdi
    • As well as more obscure operas by Rossini (1816, featuring an optional happy ending) and Daron Hagen (1999, retitled Bandanna, with Othello as the Mexican-born sheriff of a 1960s US border town)
  • Paul Robeson and James Earl Jones both made their names playing Othello in the theater, in the 50s-70s, with the latter following in the former's footsteps.
  • A 1951 film directed by and starring Orson Welles
  • A 1965 film starring Laurence Olivier (Othello), Maggie Smith in her Star-Making Role (Desdemona), with the film debuts of both Derek Jacobi (Cassio) and Michael Gambon (an extra)
  • A 1975 Exploitation Film Switchblade Sisters: Word of God is that the film's Big Bad, Patch, was based on Iago.
  • A 1981 BBC production starring Anthony Hopkins in the title role with Bob Hoskins as Iago. It was originally going to star James Earl Jones, but British Equity disapproved.
  • A 1986 film of the opera directed by Franco Zeffirelli and starring Placido Domingo and Renata Scotto
  • A 1990 television film featuring Willard White as the first black man to play Othello in a film adaptation and Ian McKellen as Iago.
  • A 1995 version starring Kenneth Branagh, Laurence Fishburne, and Irene Jacob. Notable for being the first theatrical film adaptation to feature a black man as Othello. (Also notable for Othello's Shirtless Scene.)
  • A 1997 "photo negative" production by the Royal Shakespearean Society featured an all-black cast, with Patrick Stewart as Othello. With a stylish "fracture" skull tattoo to emphasize his martial prowess.
  • A 1997 ballet choreographed by Lar Lubovitch with music by Elliot Goldenthal.
  • A 2001 film directed by Geoffrey Sax and starring Christopher Eccleston, Eamonn Walker, and Keeley Hawes, which moved the plot to modern England and changed everyone's names. The male protagonists are high-ranking police officers in the London Met.
  • A 2001 film entitled "O" (originally slated for 1998 release), directed by Tim Blake Nelson and starring Mekhi Phifer, Josh Hartnett, Andrew Keegan, and Julia Stiles. Updated to modern times and set at a prep school.
  • A 2006 Hindi film titled Omkara. The setting is updated to modern rural India, Othello changes from being a moor to a half-caste. Also Iago (named Langda (Hindi for limp) Tyagi because of his limp) is given a reason for trying to destroy Omkara's life although it's still Disproportionate Retribution.
  • A 2008 Malaysian film called "Jarum Halus", directed by first time director, 22-year-old Mark Tan. The film is set in modern-day Kuala Lumpur with Othello changed to a Chinese CEO called Daniel who works at a company dominated by Malays. Guess who he runs away with. It stars Razif Hashim, Christien New, Juliana Ibrahim, and Dato Rahim Razali.
  • The central love story was adapted into Harlem Duet by Canadian playwright Djanet Sears
  • A December 2016/January 2017 performance at the New York Theater Workshop directed by Sam Gold and starring David Oyelowo as Othello and Daniel Craig as Iago. Set in a modern-day military barracks.

Adaptations that don't have their own pages provide examples of:

  • Adapted Out: The ridiculous moment where Desdemona manages to gasp out a final speech before dying of strangulation is almost always cut out of adaptations. (The Orson Welles version is a rare example of an adaptation that includes this bit.)
  • The Bad Guy Wins: In the 2001 modernised adaptation, where "Ben Jago" commits a perfect crime and becomes head of the Met.
  • Breaking the Fourth Wall: The 1995 film production had Iago look at the camera at several points, and at one point even places his hand over the camera lens; some say this adds the idea that he was in control of everything, while it is technically described as a soliloquy in which the audience can more clearly understand Iago's scheme, and he's notably the only character to do so in the film. Though other characters make soliloquies, they look like they're musing to themselves rather than directly speaking to the audience. Another effect of him being the only one to talk to the camera is to emphasise the fact that he might be satanic in some way, since he's clearly operating on a whole different level to the other characters if he has a degree of Medium Awareness.
  • Brownface: The title role has traditionally (though certainly not always) been played by a white actor made up to look like a person with brown skin, or even in full-on blackface. Needless to say, this is subject to extreme Values Dissonance these days. Modern productions are likely to prefer an alternate solution, such as simply casting a person of color.
  • Died in Your Arms Tonight: In the ballet adaptation, after the murder of Emilia and the exposure and arrest of Iago, Othello and the temporarily revived Desdemona are left alone on the stage to share one final duet as she dies in his arms, after which he stabs himself.
  • Large Ham: Laurence Olivier, in the title role. He painted his skin black, spoke in an "invented" accent, and even walked in a different and bizarre manner.
  • Race Lift:
    • The Patrick Stewart version has (white) Stewart as the title character, and everyone else is black.
    • There is a debate among scholars as to whether Othello is a black man or an Arab/Berber, as both were referred to as Moors at the time. Naturally, whenever a productions makes the call one way or the other, those who disagree with the decision will see it as a race lift.
    • A 2015 Stratford production had Iago played by a black actor, adding some fascinating new dimensions to his rants against Othello.
  • Setting Update:
    • The 2001 TV movie sets the story in modern London, with Eamonn Walker as "John Othello" and Christopher Eccleston as "Ben Jago" as high-ranking police officers who fall out after Othello gets a promotion Jago was expecting.
    • The "Manga Shakespeare" graphic novel features a full on fantasy setting with Othello being a Winged Humanoid, Desdemona a Horned Humanoid and while everyone is obviously not human, indeed Roderigo is a purple wolf with arms, Iago is the only one to appear completely human but the reader may not interpret him as such.
    • The December 2016/January 2017 stage performance at the New York Theater Workshop starring David Oyelowo and Daniel Craig set the story in a modern-day military barracks.