General structure of Othello

The play Othello by William Shakespeare follows the classic five-act structure. Each act contains several scenes. Act 3 contains the most scenes (four) and Act 5 the fewest (two). The other acts contain three scenes of varying lengths. The shortest scene is the second scene of Act 2, which involves only a minor character, the Herald, announcing that Othello has declared an entire night of celebration. This announcement provides context for events that will affect the outcome of the play.

The play centers around Iago’s jealousy of Othello and Cassio, and his intentions to destroy his two rivals. Because the audience knows about Iago’s intentions from the start, suspense and tension increase as Iago puts his plans into action, and the rest of the characters follow his lead never once suspecting that Iago might not have good intentions.

Dramatic structure of Othello

Since the play follows the typical five-act structure, we can divide the five acts according to Gustav Freytag’s pyramid of dramatic structure, which contains the most important elements of a play: exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution. Since Othello is a tragedy, the resolution will inevitably end in catastrophe, something that is foreshadowed throughout the entire play.

Act 1: Exposition

Act 1 begins in medias res with Iago and Roderigo talking about their hatred of Othello, a Moorish general. The outline of the central conflict is quickly explained: Iago hates Othello because Othello has made Cassio his lieutenant instead of Iago. Therefore, Iago devises a plan to harm them both.

A secondary conflict can be conside...

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