Othello Reading Questions

Act I:

  1. In these opening lines, we catch the two characters, Iago and Roderigo, in the middle of conversation. What are they talking about when Roderigo says “thou…shouldst know of this.” (The Norton has a note that gives the answer, otherwise you’ll have to read on a bit to figure it out).
  2. What has Othello done to wrong Iago?
  3. This is a play with military figures in it, so rank is very important. Who is higher, Cassio or Iago? What are their ranks? Look at 1.1.157 and note how Iago is playing on the word for his title.
  4. Why do Iago and Roderigo rouse Brabanzio out of bed?
  5. Note carefully throughout these two acts the way various characters describe Othello. What features do they mention? What adjectives are applied to him?
  6. In the two opening scenes, both Othello and Iago say that Brabanzio is unlikely to win his suit against Othello with the duke. Why are they so certain? (see, for instance, 1.2.17-28)
  7. What is Brabanzio accusing Othello of at 1.2.63 ff.? How does Othello respond to these accusations later on in 1.3?
  8. After Othello’s long speech at 1.3.127 ff., the Duke says “I think this tale would win my daughter, too.” Why is Othello’s speech so effective, do you think?
  9. What decision does the Duke render? Why? (this is an interpretive question, so there are at least a couple different answers!)
  10. Note Brabanzio’s warning to Othello at 1.3.291-292. What is he saying?
  11. We know that Iago is lying to Othello, but whom else is he playing in these opening scenes? What makes Iago such a successful manipulator?

 Act II:

  1. What happens to end the war that was threatened in act 1?
  2. How is Iago characterizing women in 2.1.99-165? Does this line up with the characterizations of women elsewhere in the play?
  3. What is the plan Iago makes and carries out with Roderigo to ruin Cassio’s “reputation” in 2.1 and 2.3? Why is the plan successful?
  4. Iago gives us some more indication of what his motivation might be at 2.1.273 ff. Do we believe him? Why or why not?

Act III:

  1. “Our General’s wife is now the General,” Iago says at 2.3.292-3. What plan does he hatch with Cassio? Whom does he say he is planning to rope in at the end of 2.3? Desdemona promises Cassio “my lord shall never rest./ I’ll watch him tame, and talk him out of patience./ His bed shall seem a school, his board a shrift” (3.3.21-24). What does she mean by this? How is Iago using this behavior to his advantage?
  2. What does Othello mean in lines 3.3.190-196? What is he asking Iago for (and what does Iago promise to give him in the following speech)?
  3. Iago tells Othello that he has reason to distrust Desdemona in lines 3.3.233-43. What is the reason? Why do you think this line of argument might work with Othello?
  4. Note what Emilia picks up at 3.3.294. What is significant about this object, according to Emilia? What does Iago plan to do with it? Note, also, Othello’s description of this artifact’s origins at 3.4.54 ff. Why is this object so important to him?
  5. What “proof” does Iago offer of Desdemona’s infidelity at 3.3.415 ff. Do you find this convincing? What other evidence does he promise Othello?
  6. How does Desdemona explain the transformation in Othello at 3.4.136 ff.? What does Emilia say to this?
  7. Don’t lose track of the handkerchief at the end of act three! What does Cassio do with it? How did he come into possession of it?

Act IV: 

  1. Make note of Othello’s speech at 4.1.34. What has changed about the way Othello speaks, when compared to earlier in the play? What happens to him at the end of this speech?
  2. Remember from our reading of Much Ado about Nothing the significance of horns, a topic that we hear a lot about in this section. Can you imagine, under different circumstances, this play as a comedy?
  3. How is Shakespeare using dramatic irony in 4.1 to great effect? In other words, what does the audience know that Othello does not during the conversation between Cassio and Iago? What role does the handkerchief play in the action?
  4. Lodovico arrives from Venice at the end of 4.1–what does he have for Othello? What does Desdemona do to throw Othello into a rage? Note Lodovico’s speech at 4.1.261 ff., and the change he observes in Othello.
  5. Iago has another plan for Roderigo at the end of 4.2–what is it?
  6. Where did Desdemona learn the song that she sings in 4.3? What is the song about?

Act V:

  1. We are probably note surprised to see Roderigo botch the job he’s been sent to do. What happens? What part does Iago play in the ordeal? What happens to Roderigo?
  2. Pay careful attention to Othello’s speech at the opening of 5.2. What kinds of figurative language is Othello using to describe Desdemona and the act of murdering her?
  3. Note that Othello tells a different story about the origin of the handkerchief at 5.2.224 than he did earlier in the play!
  4. What are Iago’s last words in the play?
  5. Note Othello’s final long speech at 5.2.347 ff. How is Othello characterizing himself in this speech? What has changed about him from his speeches in act I?
  6. What will happen to the “fortunes of the moor” (5.2.375)? Why do you think Shakespeare included this detail?