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Othello Commentary - Act IV.

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Act IV. Scene I. - Cyprus. Before the Castle.

Othello: "How shall I murder him, Iago?"

Iago fans the flames of Othello's distrust and fury with Desdemona's supposed "infidelity" by first suggesting Desdemona shared her bed with Cassio and then by saying that her giving away the handkerchief is no big deal when Iago knows all too well that giving away this sentimental gift is. Next Iago tells Othello that Cassio will "blab" or gloat to others about his conquest of Desdemona before telling Othello that Cassio boasted to him that he did indeed sleep with Desdemona.

Cassio arrives, Othello hiding himself as Iago suggests, so that he can see for himself that Cassio does indeed boast of his affair with Desdemona to others. Iago now cunningly talks to Cassio about Cassio's mistress Bianca, each smile and each gesture made by Cassio infuriating Othello who thinks Cassio is talking about sleeping with his wife. Next Bianca arrives, angrily giving back the handkerchief Cassio gave her. This infuriates Othello since as Iago puts it, Cassio not only received Othello's handkerchief from his wife but he then gave it to his whore (Bianca) as if it was worthless.

Othello decides to kill Desdemona by strangulation in her bed, Iago's idea. Iago pledges to kill Cassio. Lodovico arrives announcing that Othello is to return home and Cassio is to be the next Governor of Cypress. Desdemona's joy for Cassio enrages Othello, leaving Lodovico and Iago to wonder how much Othello seems to have changed and poor Desdemona to wonder how she offended the man she truly loves...

Iago and Othello are talking or more accurately Iago is talking, Othello, seething.

Iago lets it slip that Desdemona may well have shared her bed with Cassio (Lines 1-4), provoking a furious response from Othello who says it is impossible that Desdemona may have meant no harm by this as Iago innocently suggests.

Iago adds that "If they do nothing, 'tis a venial slip; / But if I gave my wife a handkerchief,-" (if they do nothing it is a venial slip but if I gave my wife a handkerchief,), (Line 10), she can do with her handkerchief as she pleases and in Iago's words can bestow it or give it away to any man she wishes...

Othello in fury tells Iago that his wife "is protectress of her honour [her fidelity] too" sarcastically asking, "May she give that?" away as well. (Line 14).

Iago fans the flames saying, "Her honour is an essence that's not seen; / They have it very oft [often] that have it not: / But for the handkerchief-" (Line 16).

At this point, Othello once again despairs at the terrible misfortune he has suffered and Iago adds that knaves (scoundrels) such as Cassio always or "must blab" (gloat, tell others), (Line 28), suggesting that Cassio is unlikely to let Desdemona's extramarital activities remain a secret.

Now pretending not to want to tell Othello further bad news, Iago reluctantly lets it slip that Cassio told Iago he did "Lie-" with Desdemona or slept with her (Lines 28-34). Othello flies into rage, saying Cassio shall first confess, then be hanged and in his rage falls into a trance (Lines 34- 48).

Cassio now enters, asking, "What's the matter?" (Line 50). Iago explains that Othello has fallen into an epilepsy, adding that this is his second fit; he had one yesterday.

Iago now gets Cassio to leave by suggesting Othello will soon wake up which Othello does (Line 60). Iago tells Othello to hide so he can see for himself how Cassio acts. Othello agrees, adding that he will be most cunning in his patience and also most bloody (Lines 61-93).

Iago explains to us that when Cassio arrives, he will talk to Cassio about his mistress Bianca, Iago adding that he is sure Cassio will laugh excessively about such a topic. This will make Othello mad with rage since Othello will assume he is laughing and smiling and making lewd gestures about Desdemona, his wife and not Bianca his mistress (Lines 93-104).

Sure enough, Cassio arrives and Iago talks to him about Bianca. Cassio does indeed laugh and Othello notices this, just as Iago had planned (Line 118).

Cassio's hand movements and expressions are of course taken by Othello to be expressions about his wife when in fact they are about Bianca, Othello at one point interpreting Cassio's gestures to be Desdemona crying out "'O dear Cassio!'" (Line 140), (Lines 120-149).

Bianca now arrives complaining that she is being taken for granted. She is angry that she has been neglected by Cassio and was asked to copy the handkerchief, giving the handkerchief angrily back to Iago before departing with Cassio in trail (Lines 150-173).

Cassio's bawdy gestures and Bianca giving Cassio, Desdemona's handkerchief as if it were worthless, fit for spreading around to all and sundry earns Othello's rage. He asks Iago simply, "How shall I murder him [Cassio], Iago?" (Line 177).

Iago now reminds Othello of how Cassio laughed at his vice (his adultery with Desdemona), reminding Othello that the handkerchief he saw was Desdemona's. Iago now rubs further salt in Othello's wound by commenting on how Cassio not only received Othello's handkerchief from his wife but then gave it to his whore (Line 185).

Othello now makes an important decision; Desdemona will not survive the night. At first he decides to "Hang her!" (Line 196), then he decides instead to "chop her into messes [pieces]" (Line 210) then later to poison her (Line 215). But on Iago's suggestion, Othello decides he will "strangle her in her bed," (Line 219), specifically "the bed she hath [has] contaminated" (Line 219).

Iago for his part pledges to kill Cassio or in his own words, he will become Cassio's "undertaker;" (Line 224).

Lodovico now arrives with Desdemona, greeting his general warmly, and delivering to Othello a letter, which Othello duly reads. Lodovico also asks how Cassio is, learning from Desdemona that Cassio and Othello are no longer on speaking terms (Lines 230-250).

Lodovico suggests his letter may have something to do with it; Othello has been ordered home and Cassio made Governor of Cypress (Lines 247-250).

Desdemona answers she is glad to hear it and Othello hearing Desdemona say this, shouts "Indeed! [Really / I am sure you are!]" (Line 251), thinking his wife is happy for Cassio. Othello then tells Desdemona that he is "glad to see you mad."

Desdemona does not understand, to which Othello in a rage strikes his wife, calling her "Devil!" (Line 251).

Desdemona explains that she does not deserve this, and Lodovico trys to tell Othello to calm down; Desdemona is weeping. Othello tells him not to take her tears too seriously and Desdemona leaves, telling Othello that "I will not stay to offend you" (Line 258) even though she does not know how she has offended her husband (Lines 253-260).

Othello now tells Lodovico that he will obey the letter's mandate for him to return to Venice and Lodovico departs a very confused man. (Line 270).

Having left Othello, Lodovico talks to Iago, amazed that Othello has acted the way he has; he had heard that Othello, "the noble Moor" (Line 275) was a man of noble nature and is now uncertain that he is a man "Whom passion could not shake?" (Line 277)

Iago innocently explains that "He is much chang'd" (changed), (Line 279), and Lodovico is saddened that the Othello he had been told of, no longer seems to exist.

Act IV. Scene II. - A Room in the Castle.

Desdemona: "I understand a fury in your words, / But not the words."

Othello questions Emilia whether Desdemona was unfaithful to him. Emilia replies no. Annoyed that Emilia answers suggest nothing has happened between Desdemona and Cassio, Othello dismisses her comments as those of a simple woman.

Othello meets Desdemona, Desdemona becoming increasingly upset with her husband's anger towards her, one she can see no reason for. Othello eventually reveals that her infidelity is the source of his anger, Desdemona pleading her innocence on deaf ears.

Desdemona tells Emilia to have her wedding sheets placed on her bed in the hope that these will smooth matters over. Emilia and Desdemona discuss Othello's strange behavior. Emilia is certain some evil fellow has twisted Othello to believe Desdemona has been unfaithful, not realizing that this evil man is her own husband Iago.

We learn that Iago has been pocketing Roderigo's gifts to Desdemona, which never reached her. Fearing Roderigo will learn this, Iago tells Roderigo that Cassio must die, conveniently using Roderigo to kill Cassio for him...

Now out of his trance, Othello questions Emilia for any evidence of infidelity on Desdemona's part, asking Emilia, "You have seen nothing then?" (Line 1).

Emilia explains that she has never heard, let alone expected any such behavior from Desdemona (Line 2).

Othello now asks Emilia if she ever saw Desdemona and Cassio together (Line 3). Emilia answers yes but points out that "I saw no harm," adding that she heard every syllable of conversation between them (Line 4).

Intrigued, Othello asks Emilia for details, learning that Cassio and Desdemona never whispered nor sent Emilia away for privacy's sake, even to fetch Desdemona's fan, gloves or her mask (Line 5).

Othello, who is looking for evidence of infidelity, but can find none, says, "That's strange" (Line 10).

Emilia vouches for Desdemona's virtue now, explaining that "if she [Desdemona] be not honest, chaste, and true, / There's no man happy; the purest of their wives / Is foul as slander" (if Desdemona is not honest, chaste and true, then no man is happy as even the purest of their wives must be as foul), (Line 16).

Othello sends Emilia away, immediately dismissing these warning signs about Desdemona's alleged infidelity by remarking that Emilia is "a simple bawd" (Line 18), adding that Emilia is "a subtle whore, / A closet lock and key of villainous secrets;" yet a women who would kneel and pray since Othello explains that he has seen her do this (Lines 20-22).

Emilia and Desdemona return, Othello telling Emilia to leave so he can be alone with his wife (Lines 23-29).

Now alone, Desdemona pleads on her knees for Othello to explain his anger towards her, saying, "I understand a fury in your words, / But not the words" (I understand your anger but not why), (Line 32).

Othello asks Desdemona what she is. Desdemona replies "Your wife, my lord; your true / And loyal wife" (Line 34).

Othello tells her to swear that "thou [you] art [are] honest" (Line 36).

Desdemona says "Heaven doth [does] truly know it", Othello replying "Heaven truly knows that thou [you] art [are] false as hell" (Lines 37- 38).

Desdemona asks "To whom, my lord? with whom? how am I false?", Othello telling her to leave (Line 39).

Desdemona tries to make Othello see her love for him, saying "I hope my noble lord [Othello] esteems [holds] me [as] honest" (Line 64).

Othello cruelly replies as much as "summer flies are in the shambles," , Desdemona again asking Othello what sin she has committed (Line 65).

Othello finally tells her, asking Desdemona "Was this fair paper, this most goodly book, / Made to write 'whore' upon?" and then calling her an "Impudent strumpet!" (Lines 71-80).

Desdemona pleads her innocence on deaf ears.

When Desdemona says she is not a whore and will be saved, Othello cruelly and sarcastically asks for forgiveness, saying "I cry you mercy, then; / I took you for that cunning whore of Venice / That married Othello" (I beg your forgiveness. I mistook you for that cunning whore from Venice, Desdemona who married Othello), (Line 88).

Emilia enters, asking Desdemona what's wrong with her lord. Desdemona, now completely distraught, asks "Who is thy [my] lord?" (Line 99), saying "I have none;" (Line 100) and asking Emilia to leave her alone.

Trying once more to appease her angry husband, Desdemona tells Emilia to lay her wedding sheets on her bed and to call her husband over; perhaps memories of happier times will soothe her angry husband (Lines 100-105).

Desdemona now asks how she could have behaved "that he might stick / The small'st opinion on my least misuse?" (how Othello could think the smallest or most ridiculous thought on something so unlikely like adultery), (Line 108).

Iago now joins Emilia and Desdemona, Desdemona hesitantly asking Iago if the whore Othello was talking about was meant to be her (Lines 118-128).

Emilia now speaks words that so very closely would explain the truth, if only she looked deeper.

Emilia: "I will be hang'd, if some eternal villain [We know this is Iago], / Some busy and insinuating rogue, / Some cogging cozening slave, to get some office [Iago did want to be a lieutenant], / Have not devis'd [devised / invented] this slander [these lies];" (Line 130).

Iago immediately and ironically says "Fie! there is no such man; it is impossible" (Line 134) but we know better, Iago is this "cogging cozening slave," this "insinuating rogue;" who has hurt Desdemona's reputation...

Emilia again suspects the truth when she adds that "The Moor's abused by some most villanous knave [Iago], / Some base notorious knave, some scurvy fellow" (Line 140).

Desdemona now asks Iago how she can clear herself of this problem (Lines 148-164).

Iago tells Desdemona to be content, it is Othello's nature to act like this, obviously some "business of the state" or state matter has upset him and so he then upsets her (Lines 164-167).

Iago assures Desdemona it can be nothing else, though we of course know better.

Desdemona and Emilia leave just as Roderigo arrives. We now begin to learn what Iago has gained from using Roderigo. Roderigo complains that he gave some very expensive jewels to Iago to forward to Desdemona, yet he received no communication from Desdemona....

Roderigo adds that he is tired of this effort and will seek Desdemona out himself saying he will no longer pursue her if she returns his jewels. If, however, she will not return his jewels, Roderigo tells Iago that he will seek satisfaction [punishment] from Iago instead (Lines 186-212).

Some fancy footwork (lying) gets Iago out of this dilemma and now Iago tells Roderigo that Cassio must be killed.

Doing this, Iago says, will cause an incident which will force Othello and Desdemona to stay in Cypress instead of leaving for Mauritania, a destination Othello is not traveling to, but which would place Desdemona beyond Roderigo's reach (Lines 212-251).

Act IV. Scene III. - Another Room in the Castle.

Desdemona: "Wouldst thou do such a deed for all the world?"

Lodovico tries to calm Othello down. Othello orders Desdemona to bed to await him later, an order Desdemona dutifully obeys out of love for Othello. Emilia notices that Othello is much calmer now and tells Desdemona her bed has been made with her wedding sheets as requested. Desdemona asks to be buried in those same sheets should she die before Emilia, a hint of trouble ahead (Foreshadowing). Emilia is barred from joining Desdemona in her bedchamber, angering her.

Desdemona, depressed recalls a song (The Willow Song) of a maid who was similarly abused by her husband and sings it. Desdemona and Emilia talk about infidelity. Desdemona would not be unfaithful to her husband (Othello) for all the world; the more cynical and worldly Emilia would for the right price...

The scene begins with Othello, Lodovico, Desdemona and Emilia in a room in the castle.

Lodovico opens the scene by telling Othello to "trouble yourself no further" (Line 1).

Othello wants to walk (and talk) with Lodovico instead but Lodovico politely excuses himself by thanking Desdemona for her hospitality (Line 3).

Othello again tries to convince Lodovico to walk with him but mid-speech tells Desdemona to "Get you to bed on the instant;" (Line 7), telling Desdemona that he will soon be back and for Desdemona to dismiss her attendant there. Desdemona will now be alone (Lines 5-9).

Desdemona, ever the dutiful wife, does as Othello wishes, saying "I will, my lord" (Line 10).

Othello, Lodovico and Attendants depart, leaving Desdemona alone with Emilia.

Emilia remarks that Othello seems to have calmed down; "he looks gentler than he did" earlier she says (Line 11).

Desdemona tells Emilia that Othello said he would return "incontinent;" and that he ordered her to dismiss Emilia (Line 12).

Emilia is less than pleased by this but Desdemona will not anger Othello further, saying "We must not now displease him" (We must not anger him), (Line 17). Emilia says she wishes Desdemona had never met Othello and Desdemona once again makes her love for Othello clear.

Desdemona explains to Emilia her love of Othello, saying "my love doth [does] so approve of him, / That even his stubbornness, his cheeks and frowns,- / Prithee, unpin me,-have grace and favour in them" (Lines 19-21).

Emilia tells Desdemona that she has made her bed with Desdemona's wedding sheets as requested (Line 22) and Desdemona fatefully tells Emilia that should she "die before thee [you]," (Line 24), that she be shrouded in those very same sheets.

Desdemona now talks about a maid of her mother's called Barbara who like Desdemona "was in love," adding that the man "she lov'd [loved] prov'd [proved to be] mad / And did forsake her;" (Line 27) explaining that she had a song of "'willow;'" (Line 28, now known in academic circles as the "Willow Song").

Desdemona explains that this song expressed her sad misfortune and that she died singing it.

Significantly, Desdemona says that this "song to-night / Will not go from my mind;" saying she has "much to do / But to go hang my head all at one side, / And sing like poor Barbara" (Line 32).

Clearly Desdemona is quite depressed.

Desdemona and Emilia now comment on how handsome a man Lodovico is, Desdemona commenting that he speaks well (Lines 36-40).

Desdemona sings the "Willow Song" (Lines 41-58).

Desdemona and Emilia now discuss women who would be unfaithful to their husbands. Desdemona explains that she would never be unfaithful, "by this heavenly light!" (Line 67), Emilia agreeing but cheekily adding that "I might do't as well i'the dark", (I might do it, a reference to intimacy, as well in the dark), (Line 68).

Not taking Emilia's answer seriously, Desdemona now repeats the question, asking if Emilia would ever be unfaithful or as Desdemona asks, "Wouldst [would] thou [you] do such a deed for all the world?" (Line 69).

Emilia replies that "The world is a huge thing", explaining that it is a great price for a small sin or as Emilia says, "'tis a great price / For a small vice" (Line 70).

Desdemona believes Emilia would not, saying "In troth , I think thou wouldst not" (Line 71).

Emilia says that she would (Lines 74-79), Desdemona again saying she would not "do such a wrong / For the whole world" (Line 80) and Emilia makes it clear that despite Desdemona's claim, many such people do exist (Lines 88-108).

We end the scene with the impression that Desdemona is faithful, loving and devoted to Othello, this contrasting with Emilia who would be unfaithful for the right price.

We also can see that Emilia is considerably less naive about human nature than Desdemona.

Note the way Emilia describes adulterers in detail showing her insight and knowledge of such people (Lines 86-108) as opposed to Desdemona who does not believe "there is any such women" (Line 85).

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