Answer key: short answer study guide questions othello Act One


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Act One

1. What was Iago's complaint in Scene I?

Iago has been passed over for a promotion. Cassio got the promotion to Lieutenant even though Iago had more time in service as a soldier. Cassio got the promotion over Iago because his learning included theory and strategy whereas Iago's did not.
2. Who was Brabantio, and why did Iago and Roderigo awaken him in the middle of the night?

Brabantio was Desdemona's father. Iago and Roderigo awaken him to tell him of Desdemona's marriage to Othello.

3. Why did Iago leave Roderigo at Brabantio's house?

Iago didn't want to be seen as being against Othello (even though he is).

4. What was Brabantio's reaction to Othello's marriage to Desdemona?

He was outraged at this mixed-marriage.

5. Why did the Duke send for Othello?

"Valiant Othello, we must straight employ you/Against the general enemy in Ottoman."

6. Brabantio complains to the Duke about Othello's marriage to Desdemona. After listening to both sides of the story, what was the Duke's reply?

The Duke says he thinks Othello would win his daughter as well under the same circumstances; that Brabantio will just have to make the best of the situation.

7. What was Roderigo's complaint, and what was Iago's reply to it?

Roderigo was love-sick and depressed, seeing no hope for his winning Desdemona now that she is married to Othello. Iago tells him to use his reason, to hold back his passion, that they should "be conjunctive in [their] revenge against him [Othello]."

Act II

1. Why did Iago want Roderigo to anger Cassio?

Iago told Roderigo that if he can show Cassio as being undisciplined, he can cause "these Cyprus to mutiny" and have Cassio relieved of his duty. This will allow Roderigo a better chance of getting Desdemona, since Othello and Desdemona will have to stay longer until a replacement for Cassio can be found.

2. What was the purpose of Iago's plan?

By encouraging and using Roderigo, Iago will "put the Moor/At least into a jealousy so strong that judgement cannot cure." Iago will ruin Othello's relationship with Desdemona as a means of revenge for Othello's promoting Cassio instead of himself (Iago).

3. Why did Iago want Cassio to drink more wine?

He wanted Cassio to be a little drunk and argumentative when Roderigo would approach him later.

4. What lie did Iago tell Montano about Cassio?

He told Montano that Cassio was drunk every night. He also casted doubt on Othello's judgment for appointing Cassio, who might be drunk in a moment of crisis.

5. Why did Othello strip Cassio of his rank?

Through Iago's crafty explanation of Cassio's fight with Roderigo, Othello thought Cassio was irresponsible and dishonorable.

6. Why did Iago want Cassio to ask Desdemona for help in restoring Othello's faith in Cassio?

If Desdemona would take up Cassio's cause, it would appear as though she would favor him. That would advance Iago's plot to make Othello jealous beyond reason.


1. Why didn't Iago simply tell Othello right away that Desdemona and Cassio were having an affair?

By being reluctant to tell Othello his thoughts and making Othello drag the information out of him, Iago did lend credibility to his tale and did hold Othello's friendship.
2. What thing did Emilia find and give to Iago? What did Iago intend to do with it?

She gave him the handkerchief Desdemona had dropped, Othello's first gift to Desdemona. Iago wanted to plant it in Cassio's possession to show Othello that Desdemona had given it as a favor to Cassio.

3. What was Iago's reply when Othello demanded proof of his wife's disloyalty?

He lied, telling Othello that Cassio had a dream in which he cried out to Desdemona, saying "Let us be wary, let us hide our loves" and "Cursed fated that gave thee to the Moor!" Then Iago told Othello that he saw Cassio with Desdemona's handkerchief.

4. What did Othello decide and command at the end of Scene III?

Iago was to have Cassio killed within three days. Othello would kill Desdemona himself. Iago was promoted to Lieutenant.

5. What was Emilia's relationship with Iago? Desdemona?

Emilia was Iago's wife. She did things out of love for him. Emilia was a servant to Desdemona but also had affection and friendship for her. In Act III, Emilia was still more loyal to Iago than to Desdemona; she did not tell Desdemona about the handkerchief.

6. Who had the handkerchief at the end of Act III? Why?

Cassio gave it to Bianca, his prostitute friend, for her to take out the design.


  1. What lines indicate that Emilia believes her husband is a good man?
    “My husband is so upset about Cassio’s problem you’d think it was his own.”

  1. Why does Cassio urge Desdemona to act quickly?
    Because if she takes too long, Othello might forget Cassio’s love and loyalty.

  1. To what is Iago referring when he says, “Ha! I like not that”? What is he doing when he says, “I cannot think it. That he would steal away so guilty-like seeing you coming”?
    Cassio and Desdemona speaking; Planting ideas about Cassio and Desdemona by saying that it would be so unlike him.

  1. When Desdemona pesters Othello to bring Cassio back, Othello asks that she stop, but says he will deny her nothing. What is her response? Why is she wrong?
    She says that she will never deny him; She is wrong because she will later deny the idea that she has been with Cassio or has been unfaithful to Othello in any way.

  1. Iago asks seemingly innocent questions about Cassio and leads Othello to demand to know his thoughts. How does Iago manage this?
    Iago acts very vague so that Othello will inquire more.

  1. Iago says of Cassio, “men should be what they seem.” What does this mean? Why is this ironic?
    It means that men shouldn’t lie; it’s ironic because Iago is the biggest liar in the play.

  1. Iago builds Othello’s anxiety by delaying responses to direct questions. What four reasons does he give for not answering?
    1. He cannot ask him to reveal his deepest thoughts;
    2. He might be wrong;
    3. It would destroy his peace of mind;
    4. He would be stealing his reputation.

  1. Explain: “I’ll see before I doubt, when I doubt prove, and on the proof, there is no more than this – away at once with love or jealousy.”
    Othello wants to see real evidence before he suspects Desdemona of infidelity. He wants proof in order to let go of love and jealousy.

  1. Iago tells Othello that he understand s the nature of Venetians. What does he say about 1) their conscience 2) their ability to deceive?
    Iago says that Venetians try to “hide” their infidelities from their husbands. They do things that are wrong, and they do not want to get caught. They lie easily.

  1. Explain: “Oh Desdemona’s honest. Long live she so and long live you to think so!”
    Othello said that Desdemona would not be dishonest or cheat on him. He hopes that Iago will think so, too.

  1. Othello fears Iago understands human nature better than he, and lists three reasons why Desdemona may be untrue. What are they?
    1. Othello is black; Desdemona would prefer a Venetian
    2. He’s getting old
    3. Cheating wives is the “plague” of important men

  1. How does Desdemona lose her handkerchief? What is special about it? What does Iago plan to do with it?

    Desdemona drops it; the handkerchief was an ancestral heirloom from Othello’s family whose decorations were sewn by a two-hundred-year-old prophetess.

  1. Explain: “He that is robbed, not wanting what is stol’n let him not know’t and he’s not robbed at all.”
    Othello is referring to Cassio and the alleged affair with Desdemona. If a man’s robber and wouldn’t miss it, then he’s not robbed at all.

  1. When Othello demands “ocular proof,” how does Iago answer?
    Othello wants to actually see the proof. Iago is defensive; he says he only wanted to “help” a friend, but he’s not appreciated for being honest.

  1. What two bits of “evidence” does Iago offer?
    Circumstantial evidence.
    1. Cassio was talking in his sleep
    2. Cassio has Desdemona’s handkerchief

  1. What command does Othello give Iago? What office does he give him?
    To kill Cassio and then Iago will be Othello’s lieutenant.

  1. Why might Iago ask Othello to let Desdemona live?
    He could be valuable to help Othello to come up with a way to kill Desdemona or Desdemona would be his when Othello rejects her.

Scene iv

  1. What story is attached to the handkerchief?
    It was the first thing Othello gave Desdemona. It was an ancestral heirloom passed down with magical qualities attached to it.

  1. Why might Desdemona lie about the handkerchief? What is Emilia’s response?
    She fears Othello; All men get angry at their wives about everything.

  1. How does Desdemona rationalize Othello’s anger?

    The story about the magic must be true.

  1. Emilia suspects that more is bothering Othello. Explain: “Tis a monster begot upon itself, born on itself.”
    Men are not jealous for any particular reason – the jealousy just grows out of nothing.

  1. What does Cassio do with the handkerchief?
    Cassio gives it to Bianca for her to copy the embroidery patterns that he found in his room.

Act IV

1. After Iago lied and told Othello that Cassio confessed going to bed with Desdemona, what advice did he give the overwhelmed Othello?

Iago told Othello to forget about it -- that many women end up in beds where they don't belong. He also told Othello to have patience, not to act rashly, to think and protect his own reputation.
2. How did Iago trick Othello into thinking Cassio was gloating and bragging about his affair with Desdemona?

Iago told Othello that he would question Cassio about his affair with Desdemona. When Cassio comes, Othello retires out of sight, to watch. Instead of questioning Cassio about Desdemona, he asks about his relationship with Bianca, which brought the desired appearances to make Othello's jealousy grow.

3. Why was Bianca angry with Cassio?

She loved him and thought some other woman had given him the handkerchief as a gift.

4. How did Bianca's return with the handkerchief help Iago?

Her returning the handkerchief to Cassio made things appear to Othello as though all Iago had said was true; that Desdemona had given the handkerchief to Cassio, who had thought no more of it than to give it to a prostitute.

5. Why did Othello hit Desdemona?

She, in his eyes, had openly stated her love for Cassio. He was enraged by even the thought of Cassio.

6. What was Lodovico's reaction to Othello's behavior towards Desdemona? How did Iago later explain Othello's behavior to Lodovico?

Lodovico was shocked, saying that Othello's behavior would not be believed in Venice, and he asked if Othello had lost his wits. Iago replied that this behavior is mild, but he, Iago, can't honestly speak of Othello's behavior, that Lodovico should just observe Othello for himself.

7. Why did Othello ask Emilia about Cassio's affair with Desdemona, and what was her reply?

He was still looking for truth and proof. Emilia claimed that Desdemona was innocent.

8. To whom does Desdemona turn for help after Othello calls her a strumpet?

She, ironically, turns to Iago.

9. Why did Iago tell Rodriego to kill Cassio? Why did Roderigo consent to think about it?

Having Cassio removed at this point removes some possibilities for complications to Iago's plan. Also, having Cassio killed would be sweet revenge for Iago. Roderigo agreed to consider Iago's proposal because Iago had shown him how the removal of Cassio was necessary in the plan for Roderigo's having Desdemona.

Act IV, CONT’d.

Scene 1
1) What are Othello and Iago discussing at the beginning of the scene? What physical reaction does Othello have to Iago’s information?
That Cassio and Desdemona kissed in private and that they lied naked together in bed.
2) Whom do Iago and Cassio discuss while Othello is hiding? What does Cassio say about her? Whom does Othello think they are discussing and why?
Bianca; Cassio makes fun of Bianca’s loose ways; Othello thinks they are discussing Desdemona because of the way Iago stages the conversation.
3) Who enters at the end of Iago’s and Cassio’s conversation? What does she say to Cassio and what does she give him?
Bianca; she finds out the handkerchief belonged to someone else and gives it back to Cassio.
4) How does Othello plan to kill Desdemona? How does Iago suggest he do it? What is Othello’s response to Iago’s suggestion?
Othello plans to kill her with poison; Iago suggests he strangle her/smother her with the pillow instead; Othello thinks this is fair because she will die in the bed where she committed her sins with Cassio.

5) Who is Lodovico? How does Othello treat Desdemona in Lodovico’s presence, and what does Lodovico say about Othello’s behavior? What does Iago tell Lodovico about Othello’s behavior?

Lodovico was sent by the Duke; Othello treats Desdemona poorly in front of Lodovico because of her praise of Cassio; Lodovico says that Othello must be angry because of the letter that says Cassio should have been general; Iago says that Othello’s behavior has recently become like this.
Scene 2
1) What does Othello ask Emilia at the beginning of the scene, and how does Emilia respond?
Othello asks if she saw Desdemona and Cassio together and Emilia says no.
2) What does Othello say to Desdemona and how does Desdemona respond? Is Othello treating Desdemona fairly?
Othello asks her to tell the truth or she will damn herself and Desdemona reassures that she has been faithful; Othello is not treating her fairly because he is only trusting what Iago has to say.
3) When Desdemona and Emilia tell Iago about Othello’s behavior, how does Iago respond? What does Iago say he thinks is the cause of Othello’s anger? What does Emilia think is the cause?
Iago says Othello called Desdemona a whore; Iago says that Othello must be upset due to political business; Emilia thinks Othello has been tricked.
4) Why is Roderigo angry and how does he threaten Iago? In response, what does Iago say Roderigo must do and why? According to Iago, what will be Roderigo’s reward if he follows Iago’s advice?
Roderigo is angry because he has found out that Iago isn’t doing anything to help him
Scene 3
1) What does Othello command Desdemona to do, and how does Desdemona respond?
Go to bed and send Emilia home; Desdemona obeys
2) According to Desdemona, who was the maid Barbary and what happened to her?
Desdemona’s mother’s maid; She died singing a song called “Willow” about a husband who killed his wife.

3) What are Desdemona’s views about women who cheat on their husbands? What are Emilia’s views? What does Emilia give as the reasons a woman might cheat?

Desdemona doesn’t think they should cheat; Emilia thinks women have the right and that if they cheat it’s only because their husbands lead them to.
Act V

1. How would Iago gain from Roderigo's death? Cassio's?

If Roderigo would die, Iago wouldn't have to own up to stealing the jewels he was supposed to be giving to Desdemona from Roderigo. If Cassio would die, Iago's lies to Othello would be safe.
2. What happened when Cassio and Roderigo fought?

Roderigo was wounded by Cassio. Cassio was wounded from behind by Iago.

3. What did Iago do after he wounded Cassio?

Iago left but returned a few minutes later to "help" Cassio and to finish off Roderigo, who had been identified as one of the attackers.

4. How was Desdemona faithful to Othello to the end?

When Emilia asked "who hath done this deed" to Desdemona, she replied "Nobody, I myself." She did not tell that Othello had smothered her.

5. What was Emilia's reaction when Othello told her that Iago had revealed Desdemona's affair with Cassio to him?

She was shocked and amazed. All along she had thought the tale had been a lie contrived by some awful person; never dreaming that Iago was responsible.

6. Who told the truth about Iago?

Before her death, Emilia told all she had figured out. Then, Iago's actions confessed his guilt. Finally, letters found in Roderigo's pockets made Iago's conviction even more certain.

7. What happened to Othello, Iago and Cassio in the end?

Othello killed himself. Iago was stabbed and imprisoned, his fate to be determined by Cassio. Cassio became "Lord Governor."

Act V CONT’d

Scene 1

  1. Why do you think Roderigo is so willing to murder Cassio? What do you think Iago told him to convince him it was imperative?

    Iago has given him good reason to do so; He told him that Cassio was a main reason that Roderigo and Desdemona are not together.

  1. Why do you think Iago doesn’t stay and kill Cassio after injuring him?
    If he sticks around for too long he won’t be able to frame someone else.

Scene 2

  1. What evidence proves that Othello still loves Desdemona?
    He asks her to pray before he kills her so her sins will be forgiven and she won’t go to hell; He kisses her after she dies; He kills himself from the guilt of murdering her.

  1. Despite his apparent love for Desdemona, Othello still kills her. What do you think the predominant reasons for this might be? Consider the fact that he no longer seems heated and rash in this last scene.
    He has gone too far and cannot go back on his promise to himself and Iago; He truly believes that he should be the one to impart justice.

  1. Why does Desdemona respond, “Nobody; I myself,” to Emilia’s question of who did this to her? How is this ironic?
    She is still unwilling to blame Othello because she loves him too much; It is ironic because he is the only one who did not actually contribute to her death.

  1. When does Emilia realize that her husband really is the root of the treachery? Cite the line(s).
    When Othello tells her that it was Iago who told him about the affair. “Oh, my mistress, a villain has made a mockery of your love! My husband said she was unfaithful!”

  1. If Iago hadn’t drawn his sword against his wife, do you think that he would have been able to talk his way out of the mess?
    No (open to interpretation).

  1. Cite the ending couplet from the play.
    “Myself will straight aboard, and to the state

This heavy act with heavy heart relate.”

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