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Background (from the Shakespeare play)
Desdemona, daughter of the Venetian senator Brabantio, is in love with the successful foreign general Otello, who is serving in the Venetian army. She marries him in secret, without telling her father. Roderigo is attracted to Desdemona but is rejected by her father. Jealous of Otello, he tells Brabantio about his daughter’s marriage. Brabantio is furious and sets off to arrest Otello. Just then, the news arrives that the Turkish fleet has set sail for Cyprus, which is occupied by Venice. The doge appoints Otello commander-in-chief of the defending force. Since it turns out that Otello has been a welcome guest in Brabantio’s house, the doge also gives his approval for Desdemona’s marriage. Brabantio is obliged to relent. Iago, a scheming, malicious ensign of Otello’s, has been passed over for promotion to captain in favour of Cassio. He now hates his commander and is planning his revenge; he nevertheless manages to win Otello’s confidence.
Otello is returning to Cyprus in the midst of a violent storm, having conquered the Turks in a battle at sea. Iago promises Roderigo that Desdemona will one day be his and inflames him against Cassio. He gets Cassio drunk and instigates a fight between Cassio and Roderigo. An uproar ensues until Otello steps in. He demotes Cassio and orders peace. He and Desdemona are left alone; together they sing of their happiness in love.
Iago encourages the despondent Cassio to ask Desdemona to intercede on his behalf with Otello. The moment Cassio leaves, Iago professes his faith in evil which he can turn to his own benefit, his conviction that people are subject to an evil fate, and his disbelief in life after death. When Cassio goes to see Desdemona, Iago inflames Otello’s jealousy as he watches the two talking from afar. When Desdemona then in fact begs her husband to forgive Cassio, Otello reacts correspondingly furiously. Iago secretly steals Desdemona’s handkerchief from his wife Emilia. He convinces Otello that he has heard Cassio talking in his sleep about Desdemona and that he had seen the handkerchief in Cassio’s hands. Otello swears revenge.