Act IV. Scene I. - Cyprus. Before the
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
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
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.
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-"
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
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;"
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!"
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?"
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
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
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
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
Now out of his trance, Othello questions Emilia for
any evidence of infidelity on Desdemona's part,
asking Emilia, "You have seen nothing then?"
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
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"
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),
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"
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
Desdemona asks "To whom, my lord? with whom? how
am I false?", Othello telling her to leave (Line
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
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
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];"
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
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
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,
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
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
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
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
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
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
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).