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Othello Commentary - Act II.

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Act II. Scene I. - A Sea-port Town in Cyprus. An open place near the Quay.

Several weeks later in Cypress, Montano and several others are awaiting Othello's arrival by bark or ship. We learn that a terrible storm has largely battered and destroyed the Turkish fleet, which no longer poses a threat to Cypress. Unfortunately there are fears that this same storm drowned Othello as well. Montano reveals his high praise of Othello, which is shared by many. Cassio, who has arrived, sings Desdemona's praises.

A ship is spotted but it is Desdemona's and Iago's ship not Othello's. Iago suspects Cassio loves Desdemona and slyly uses it to his advantage. Iago reveals that another reason for his hatred of Othello is because he suspects Emilia his wife, may be having an affair with him.

Iago tells Roderigo that he still has a chance with Desdemona but Cassio who Desdemona could love is in the way. Killing Cassio will leave Desdemona to Roderigo. Othello finally arrives to everyone's great happiness. Iago decides to tell Othello that Cassio is having an affair with Desdemona's so Iago will be rewarded whilst Cassio will be punished.

The scene begins with Montano and two officers discussing recent events. We learn from their conversation that several weeks have passed, the sea at the moment is a "high-wrought flood;" with not a sail visible on the horizon (Line 2).

This is important since Montano is looking for sails, which would mark the return of Othello's ship.

Montano explains that the weather has been rough recently, so much so that he says "Methinks the wind hath [has] spoke aloud at land; / A fuller blast [stronger wind] ne'er [never] shook our battlements;" (Line 5).

We learn from the Second Gentleman that this rough wind resulted in the break up or "segregation" of the Turkish invasion fleet, so much so that Montano believes the Turkish fleet must have all "drown'd;" if they did not find shelter, since he believes the storm would have been impossible to bear out at sea without shelter (Lines 9-20).

A Third Gentleman now announces that the Turkish fleet has been so "bang'd" up by the storm that their "designment" or invasion has failed and he mentions that "a noble ship of Venice / Hath [has] seen a grievous wrack and sufferance [much destruction] / On most part [most] of their fleet" (Lines 20-24)

We learn this news came from Cassio, whose ship made it safely to harbor, whilst Othello in "full commission" is on his way to Cyprus (Line 29). Montano welcomes this, adding that Othello is "a worthy governor" to replace him.

The Third Gentleman has more news. Cassio is saddened because though he is happy the Turks were pushed back, the seas were violent and foul when Cassio last saw Othello at sea (Lines 31-35).

Montano now shows his deep respect for Othello, explaining that "I have serv'd him, and the man commands / Like a full soldier" (Line 35) adding that they should all scan the seas until they cannot tell the difference between sea and sky to find Othello's ship (Line 39).

Montano and company now pray that Othello will make it to Cypress and Cassio now enters, telling us "O! let the heavens / Give him [Othello] defence against the elements, / For I have lost him [Othello] on a dangerous sea" (Line 45).

Montano asks if Othello is "well shipp'd?" or aboard a strong ship. Cassio assures Montano that his "bark [a type of ship] is stoutly timber'd [strongly timbered or sturdily built]," and his "pilot" (helmsman) expert and well experienced. As such, Othello's chances of surviving the storm are better than average (Lines 46-47).

At this point a sail is spotted, and amidst the excitement that it might be Othello, Montano asks if Othello has a wife, learning that he does.

Cassio describes Desdemona in flowing terms saying Othello "has achiev'd a maid / That paragons description and wild fame; / One that excels the quirks of blazoning pens, / And in th' essential vesture of creation / Does tire the ingener" (Lines 61-64).

We learn now that the boat that has put in or arrived is that of Iago, not Othello, Cassio adding that this boat arrived quickly despite the storms because the ship carried the fair Desdemona (Lines 65-81).

Montano, still not knowing who Desdemona is, is now told that Desdemona is Othello's wife.

Desdemona, Emilia, Roderigo and Attendants arrive, Desdemona thanking Cassio for his welcome and asking of her husband Othello. She learns that he has not yet arrived and Cassio now kisses Iago's wife Emilia.

Cassio explains that Iago should not worry, he is merely being polite to which Iago replies that if Emilia gave Cassio her lips as much as Iago receives her tongue or is verbally attacked, "You'd have enough" (you would have had enough), (Lines 95-102).

Desdemona now fears more and more for her husband whilst Iago attempts to distract her with increasingly offensive riddles (Lines 104-164).

Cassio's attempts to make up for Iago's offensive comments, earn Iago's suspicion, such that Iago in an aside (private speech revealing a character's thoughts to the audience), suspects Cassio may have feelings for Desdemona, feelings he can use against Cassio.

Iago explains that Cassio "takes her by the palm;" suggesting Cassio likes Desdemona, adding that "with as little a web as this will I ensnare as great a fly as Cassio" (with as small a web as Cassio's liking for Desdemona will I ensnare as large a fly as Cassio), (Line 170).

A trumpet is heard and this signifies Othello's safe return from sea. Othello greets his wife saying "O my fair [pretty] warrior!" (Line 186), the two rejoicing in their reunion (Lines 184-212). We also learn from Othello that the Turkish fleet have indeed drowned at sea (Line 205).

Iago and Roderigo are now alone. Iago tells Roderigo again that he has a chance with Desdemona, the Moor only won her heart with fantastic lies anyway (a reference to Othello's war stories mentioned earlier in Act I).

There is however a problem. Cassio is now in a good position to steal Desdemona's heart, adding that "the knave [derogatory term] is handsome, young," and has all the qualities Desdemona would value in a man (Lines 214-255).

Roderigo does not believe it; Desdemona is "full of most blessed [virtuous] condition" (Line 256).

Iago argues if this was truly the case, Desdemona would never have married the Moor and he tells Roderigo to trust him, he brought Roderigo out from Venice; he can win her for him now (Lines 256-264).

Iago has a new plan. Roderigo shall anger Cassio to a fight, a man who according to Iago is ill tempered and likely to fight. He tells Roderigo not to worry, he will be right behind him to back him up.

Thus by killing Cassio, Roderigo can again reach his destination (the heart of Desdemona) by the shortest possible route rather than fail completely due to Cassio's presence. Convinced, Roderigo leaves whilst Iago attends to further business (Lines 264-296).

In another aside, Iago makes clear to us his real thoughts on all this. Iago does not doubt Cassio loves Desdemona, saying "That Cassio loves her, I do well believe it;" adding "That she loves him, 'tis [it is] apt, and of great credit:" explaining that he doubts the Moor (Othello) will be a good husband for Desdemona (Line 298-303).

Iago also adds that he loves Desdemona but not out of "absolute lust,-" but because she will help Iago bring about Othello's downfall (Line 304).

Interestingly, Iago now mentions another reason for hating Othello, he fears he may be sleeping with his wife, Emilia, adding that he will not be happy until he is even, "wife for wife;" (Line 311) or failing this, Iago will put Othello into a rage so strong even judgment will not cure it.

Iago will tell Othello that Cassio has been having an affair with his wife Desdemona which shall lead to Othello thanking, loving and rewarding Iago whilst allowing Iago to also punish Cassio whom he also believes Emilia, his wife, has been unfaithful with (Lines 312-324).


I stand accountant for as great a sin,- / But partly led to diet my revenge, / For that I do suspect the lusty Moor [Othello] / Hath [has] leap'd into my seat; the thought whereof [of] / Doth [does] like a poisonous mineral gnaw my inwards [eat me up]; (Lines 305-309)

Act II. Scene II - A Street.

A Herald announces celebration that "our noble general Othello!" has defeated the Turkish fleet, calling on all to celebrate this great triumph and also to celebrate Othello's "nuptial" or wedding to the fair Desdemona.

Act II. Scene III. - A Hall in the Castle.

Iago: "I'll pour this pestilence into his [Othello's] ear...."

Othello turns in for the night entrusting his guard to Cassio who delegates this duty to the "trusted" Iago. Iago learns more of Cassio's high regard for Desdemona and Iago manipulates Cassio into drinking too much since he is certain Cassio will do something he will regret.

With Cassio gone, Iago tells Montano of Cassio's drinking problem turning Montano's previously high regard for Cassio into dust. Iago also tells Roderigo to attack Cassio. This happens, and Cassio wounds Roderigo and then Montano who was trying to break up the fight. Othello is now awake and Cassio's name ruined.

Othello learns from Iago that Cassio started the fight. Othello though he loves Cassio, has no choice but to demote him from his position as his lieutenant. Next Iago comforts Cassio by suggesting he speak with Desdemona who could put in a good word for him with Othello.

Iago comforts a wounded Roderigo, telling him he has won by ruining Cassio's name. Iago has his wife Emilia ensure Desdemona and Cassio will talk so as Iago says, Othello can see his wife talking with Cassio, allowing Iago to convince Othello that Desdemona is being unfaithful...

Othello decides to turn in for the night entrusting Michael Cassio to guard him. Cassio assures Othello that he has entrusted this duty to Iago, a man Othello agrees is "most honest" and Othello wishes Cassio goodnight and beckons Desdemona towards him (Line 6).

Othello: "Come, my dear love, / The purchase made, the fruits are to ensue; / That profit's yet to come 'twixt me and you. Good night" (Come my dear, the purchase or my marriage to you has been made, the fruits or your intimacy Desdemona are to follow. The profits or joy of this are yet to come tonight between me and you. Goodnight), (Line 8).

With Othello and Desdemona departed, Iago greets Cassio. Cassio welcomes Iago, telling him "we must to the watch" by which he means they must begin their duties of guarding Othello.

Iago replies "Not this hour lieutenant;" (Line 12), saying that it is not even ten o'clock and explaining that Othello has "cast us thus early" or sent them off so they he may be intimate with Desdemona.

Cassio agrees, remarking that "She's a most exquisite lady" (Line 18), Iago crudely replying "And, I'll warrant her, full of game" (and, I'm sure, full of game), (Line 19).

Cassio agrees, singing Desdemona's praises with remarks that she is "a most fresh and delicate creature" (Line 21) and a woman with an "inviting eye;" yet also "right modest [modest]" and in total, best described as "perfection" (Line 28).

Iago now closes this line of conversation by wishing Othello and Desdemona "happiness to their sheets!" (Line 29) and now beckons Cassio to some wine with him. Cassio initially rejects him but eventually Iago wins him over (Line 33-49).

Iago now alone again, lets us in on his plans....

Iago says that if he can get Cassio to drink but one more cup on top of what he has already drunk, Iago is sure Cassio will become "full of quarrel and offence" (rowdy / violent), as Iago's young mistress' dog (Line 53).

Iago now hopes that Cassio will be moved to some action, which will "offend the isle" or upset the island's inhabitants (Lines 50-65).

Cassio now returns with Montano to Iago and is drinking quite freely, Iago encouraging this with song (Lines 72-76 and 92-100). Cassio is very impressed with Iago's songs and eager to convince Iago that he is not drunk but still sober. Cassio again leaves (Lines 101-122).

Iago is now alone with Montano. He makes full use of this to suggest to Montano that Cassio is frequently drunk requiring drink often and fearing Othello puts too much trust in him, fearing that Cassio could "shake this island" or do something terrible (Lines 127-141).

Montano seems convinced. Perhaps Othello cannot see the faults in Cassio or by Othello's good nature only prizes the good in Cassio ignoring his problems? Montano wonders aloud (Lines 138-141).

Roderigo now enters and Iago tells Roderigo to go after Cassio saying "I pray you, after the lieutenant; go" (Line 142).

Montano is now totally convinced of Cassio's weakness saying it is such a pity "the noble Moor / Should hazard [risk] such a place as his own second [in command] / With one of an ingraft infirmity [fundamental weakness];" (Line 143).

Iago replies that he loves Cassio and would do much to help Cassio out of his "evil" or drinking problem, and cries of "'Help! Help!'" are now heard (Lines 148-150).

Cassio enters, driving Roderigo into view, both still fighting. Montano ties to stop the fight but the clearly drunk Cassio succeeds in striking Roderigo (Lines 150-154).

Montano tries to intervene and is himself hit by Cassio for his troubles when Montano tells Cassio "you're drunk" (Lines 155-158).

Iago now cries out that Montano, the governor of this isle, has been wounded, saying with quite likely relish that, "You [Cassio] will be sham'd [shamed] for ever" (Line 164).

Due to a bell being rung, the ensuing noise wakes Othello who asks what is going on... Montano explains that "'Zounds! I bleed still; I am hurt to death" (Line 166).

Othello tells everyone to hold for their lives or stop and Iago repeats this reminding everyone that the general (Othello) is speaking. In this way we can assume Iago is allying himself with Othello to further hide his involvement and gain favor with Othello...

Othello now asks what has come of his own people, asking have they now turned into Turks, a question which would mean have they lost their minds like the enemy? (Lines 170-180).

Iago now stirs things up further by pointing out the great dishonor done towards Othello by this fight waking the general and his wife from their peaceful sleep (Lines 181-189).

Othello now asks Cassio what came over him, Cassio saying nothing.

Next Othello asks why Montano would risk his deserved and earned reputation by fighting in as street brawl.

Montano explains his innocence, explaining that Iago can support this (Lines 189-206).

Othello now asks the trusted Iago who started the fight (Lines 206-221). Iago explains that he is reluctant to harm Cassio, but that he started the fight, when both Iago and Montano witnessed Cassio fighting with Roderigo.

Montano tried to intervene and was then attacked. Iago tactfully adds that he is sure Cassio would not attack Montano unprovoked.

Othello answers to Iago that "I know Iago, / Thy [your] honesty and love doth [does] mince [muddy / confuse] this matter, / Making it light [making it more favorable] to Cassio" (Line 248).

Othello adds that he to loves Cassio but that Cassio can no longer be an officer of his (Line 251).

Desdemona now awake enters, and Othello explains nothing is wrong and tends to Montano's wound, entrusting Iago to keep the peace (Lines 252-261).

With Othello, Desdemona and Montano departed, Iago is alone once more with Cassio. Iago plays the concerned friend, asking if Cassio is hurt. Cassio replies yes, beyond all surgery, for his reputation is now dead.

Iago tries to comfort Cassio by telling him reputation "is an idle and most false imposition; oft [often] got without merit, and lost without deserving:", explaining that Cassio has not lost a reputation at all, unless he reputes himself to be a loser.

Iago tells Cassio not to despair, there are other ways to regain Othello's favor (Lines 270-288).

Cassio now starts to sober up and increasingly is distraught at what he has done as he slowly pieces together his actions with the help of Iago (Lines 288-318).

Iago now explains a solution to Cassio's problem (lost rank). Iago has noticed that Othello, their General is completely devoted to his wife.

If Cassio chooses to "confess yourself freely to her;" (Line 324), Desdemona's influential words with the General (Othello) may be able to put Cassio in his place (or rank) again as an officer (Lines 318-443).

Cassio is pleased with Iago'so called "help", telling him "You advise me well" (Line 335).

Cassio has made up his mind; in the morning he will go and see Desdemona and Iago alone once again explains his plan.

Desdemona will speak to Othello on Cassio's behalf allowing Iago to destroy Desdemona's credit or trust with her husband since as Iago famously says, he will pour a pestilence in his ear (rumor) to suggest Desdemona is only helping Cassio because she "repeals him for her body's lust;" (Helps him for her own desire to bed Cassio), (Line 366).


I'll pour this pestilence into his [Othello's] ear / That she repeals him for her body's lust; / And, by how much she strives to do him good, / She shall undo her credit with the Moor. So will I turn her virtue into pitch, / And out of her goodness make the net / That shall enmesh them all. (Lines 364-372)

In this way Iago will turn poor Desdemona's "virtue [good reputation] into pitch," or rubbish, destroying Othello, Desdemona and Cassio all at once.

Interestingly, this last aside is important for its insight into Iago's character. It seems contradictory. At first Iago wonders how he could be a "villain" arguing that he is merely letting other people's natures take their course, yet later Iago drops this line of denial and embraces the evil his manipulation represents by saying "Divinity of hell!" making links between the false appearances of devils and his own actions with no attempt to deny the association, relishing the destruction of his enemies (Lines 345-370).

Roderigo now enters, a somewhat broken and wounded man. His money is out and he will make plans to soon go back to Venice (Lines 372-378). Iago, mindful of his need of Roderigo's wealth, tells him to be patient asking "What wound did ever heal but by degrees [slowly]?" (Line 380).

Roderigo may be hurt from his fight with Cassio, but Roderigo won; Cassio has lost his position. Roderigo now leaves and Iago makes further plans... His wife Emilia will convince Desdemona to defend Cassio to Othello and he will make sure Othello is in a position to see Desdemona and Cassio speaking or "Soliciting his wife:" so Othello can jump to the wrong conclusion that Desdemona is cheating on him with Cassio (Lines 392-396).

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