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Othello Commentary - Act III.

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

Cassio: "I never knew / A Florentine more kind and honest."

Cassio arranges some music, which he hopes, might earn him some favor with Othello. Cassio tells Iago that he has arranged to meet Desdemona, Iago helping Cassio to do this. Iago's wife, Emilia tells Cassio that Othello would like to reinstate him as his lieutenant but the fact that his fight is public news, prevents Othello from doing so immediately. Emilia tells Cassio who is eager to be reinstated as Othello's lieutenant that she can arrange a meeting with Desdemona. Desdemona's good word with Othello might help Cassio be reinstated...

Cassio begins this scene by telling some musicians who surround him, where to play. Cassio is hoping the musicians' music and the clown he has paid for will help smooth things over between him and Othello. The musicians play until they are dismissed by the Clown Cassio has also paid for (Lines 1-21). At this point, Cassio arrives, giving the Clown a piece of gold for his troubles (Line 25).

Now Cassio asks the Clown "If the gentlewomen [Iago's wife Emilia] that attends [waits on] the general's wife [Desdemona] be stirring [is about]," instructing the Clown to "tell her there's one Cassio entreats her a little favour of speech:" (tell her one Cassio asks the favor that she listen to him), (Lines 27-29).

Iago enters, asking why Cassio has not yet gone to sleep. Cassio explains that he has made the bold move of trying to seek Desdemona's audience so she may help him out of his trouble (Lines 32-37).

Iago explains not to worry, he can help Cassio gain Desdemona's audience, saying "I'll send her [Desdemona] to you presently; / And I'll devise a mean [means] to draw the Moor [Othello] / Out of the way, that your converse [conversation] and business / May be more free" (I'll send Desdemona to you Cassio and I'll come up with a way to distract Othello so you and Desdemona can talk more freely), (Lines 38-41).

By these lines we can also assume that "means" of distracting Othello may be more so Iago can have Othello watch Desdemona and Cassio "soliciting" than to help Cassio.

Now in a line full of irony, Cassio praises the deceptive and manipulating Iago by saying "I never knew / A Florentine [Iago] more kind and honest" (Line 42), completely unaware that more "Florentines" like Iago would not necessarily be a good thing...

With Iago departed, Emilia enters and Cassio learns some good news from Iago's wife,"all will soon be well" Emilia says (Line 44) since Desdemona has learned of Cassio's loss of rank and is already defending him or as Emilia puts it, "she speaks for you [Cassio] stoutly [strongly]:" (Line 47), the only problem is that the whole incident is now famous in Cypress and so Othello who does love Cassio, is reluctant at the moment to reinstate Cassio as his lieutenant (Lines 47-52).

Cassio, eager to ensure his reinstatement as Othello's lieutenant asks Emilia to arrange a private audience for him with Desdemona. Emilia says she can "bestow" (Line 57) or place Cassio in a place where he can discuss his problem freely with Desdemona and Cassio thanks her for her troubles (Line 56).

Thus Cassio, who already had Othello almost on his side again, goes down a path Iago wants, because Cassio is just a little too eager to regain his title and not let any opportunity pass...

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

Meanwhile at Othello's castle, Othello is instructing Iago, now well trusted, to deliver some letters to a pilot who will deliver them on "to the senate;" back in Venice (Line 1). This task completed, Iago is to "Repair" or return to Othello where Othello will be "walking on the works;" (supervising and managing), (Line 2) the fortifications that he intends to now look at (Lines 4-6).

Act III. Scene III. - Before the Castle.

Iago: "O ! beware my lord, of jealousy; / It is the green-ey'd monster which doth mock / The meat it feeds on...."

Cassio speaks with a very sympathetic Desdemona who assures him that Othello still very much loves Cassio. Furthermore, Desdemona resolves to keep putting in a good word for Cassio until he is again Othello's lieutenant. Though Desdemona is keen for Cassio to watch her defend him, Cassio decides to leave.

At a distance, Iago manipulates Othello by first suggesting shock and then hiding his outbursts from Othello. This guarantees Othello's attention, as Iago plants seeds of doubt in Othello's mind about Desdemona's fidelity especially where Cassio is concerned. Iago leaves an Othello who almost believes that his wife is having an affair with Cassio.

Othello now complains of a headache to Desdemona, which results in her dropping a strawberry patterned handkerchief, Othello's first gift to her. Emilia picks this up giving it to Iago who decides the handkerchief could help his manipulation if he ensures Cassio receives it.

Iago arranges to place the handkerchief near Cassio's lodgings or home where he is certain to find it and take it as his own, unaware that it is Othello's gift to Desdemona.

A furious Othello returns to Iago, certain his wife is faithful and demanding proof from Iago of Desdemona's infidelity. Reluctantly and hesitantly, Iago tells Othello he saw Cassio wipe his brow with Desdemona's handkerchief. Othello is convinced, cursing his wife and telling Iago who is now promoted to lieutenant to kill Cassio. Othello will deal with Desdemona...

Before the castle, we see Desdemona, Cassio and Emilia.

Desdemona assures Cassio in the opening line that she will do her best to put in a good word for Cassio: "Be thou assured [rest assured], good Cassio, I will do / All my abilities in [on] thy [your] behalf" (Line 1).

Emilia adds that Cassio's hardship "grieves my husband [Iago], / As if the case [problem] were his" (Line 2), Desdemona confirming that Iago is indeed "an honest fellow" (Line 5).

Desdemona now tells Cassio not to worry; soon he and Othello will be as good friends as ever they were. Cassio in appreciation says that whatever becomes of him he will never be anything but Desdemona's "true servant" (Line 9).

Desdemona explains that she will ensure Othello stands no further away from him than polite distance (Lines 9-13). Cassio is not altogether happy about this, fearing that soon his general (Othello) in Cassio's words, "will forget my love and service" to him (Lines 13-18).

Desdemona tells Cassio not to worry. She will make Othello's bed seem like a school, "his board a shrift;" (Line 24) and she will "intermingle" (vouch) everything Othello does "With Cassio's suit", not stopping her campaign of vouching for Cassio until she has succeeded. (Lines 19-28).

Othello now enters with Iago, some way off in the distance. Cassio decides to leave despite Desdemona telling him to stay to hear her vouch for him. Saying he is "ill at ease," (uncomfortable), Cassio makes his exit, Desdemona letting him go (Line 32).

Iago now starts softening Othello up for his manipulation... He starts by exclaiming "Ha! I like not that" securing the attention of Othello who would likely has just seen Cassio leave his wife (Line 35).

Othello now asks what Iago is talking about...

Iago says "Nothing, my lord:" leading him on by adding "I know not what" (Line 36).

Othello definitely wants answers now and trying to piece together what Iago is trying to hide asks, "Was not that Cassio parted from my wife?" (Didn't Cassio just leave my wife?), (Line 37).

Iago now starts to imply something might be going on between Cassio and Desdemona. He does this by pretending to ignore the idea that Cassio could be having a secret affair with Othello's wife.

Iago: "Cassio my lord? No, sure, I cannot think it / That he would steal away so guilty-like, / Seeing you coming", (Cassio my lord? No, sure, I cannot believe Cassio would run away so guiltily because he sees you coming towards him and Desdemona), (Line 38).

Othello though is certain it was Cassio, saying "I do believe t'was (it was) he" (Line 40).

Desdemona now explains to Othello that it was Cassio, describing him as "A man that languishes [is weak] in your displeasure", (Lines 41-45).

Othello does not understand, but Desdemona explains that she means Cassio and that with whatever grace or power she has to move Othello, asks Othello to call Cassio back and forgive him for mistakes made from ignorance not cunning (Lines 44-51).

Othello now asks where Cassio is and Desdemona explains to Othello how grieved he was to have upset him. She asks for Othello to call him back again (Line 52).

Othello says no, some other time. Desdemona asks if it will be at dinner? Othello says no; will it be at tomorrow's dinner? , Othello again says no, adding that he will meet his captains at the citadel and that he will not be eating at home (Lines 54-60).

Desdemona will not abandon Cassio and asks if Othello will see Cassio on Tuesday morning or night or Wednesday morning, saying it should be no longer than three days (Lines 60-73).

Othello may now be very suspicious of his wife. Why is Desdemona so desperate for Cassio to be reinstated as his officer?

Othello ends this line of conversation by telling Desdemona that Cassio should come when he wishes, adding that he will deny him nothing (Lines 74-76).

Desdemona will not however let this go, saying that when she makes such a request, should it not have the influence that Othello would be fearful to ignore it?

Othello answers that he will deny his wife nothing, asking only that he now be left alone (Line 84).

Desdemona departs with Emilia, Othello once again confirming that he does love his wife, saying of Desdemona, "but I do love thee [you]! and when I love thee [you] not, / Chaos is come again" (Line 92).

This is ironic, since Othello is saying when he loves and trusts Desdemona, everything is fine, when Othello does not love (or trust) his wife he will be plunged into chaos. Given that Iago the man who will make Othello not love his wife is beside him, this line is both ironic and an example of foreshadowing; future events are being predicted by this line. Othello will soon not love his wife and Othello will soon be plunged into chaos.

Iago now places seeds of doubt in Othello about Cassio. He asks Othello whether Michael Cassio knew of his love for Desdemona when he began to woo or court her (Lines 93-96).

Learning that Cassio did, Iago asks for the satisfaction of his piece of mind on whether Cassio did anything else? (Line 97).

Othello now is again curious, asking "Why of thy thought, Iago?" (What of it Iago?), (Line 98).

Iago now makes his thoughts clear saying, "I did not think he had been acquainted with her" (Line 99).

Othello now disagrees; saying Cassio often come between them.

Othello: "O! yes; and [Cassio] went between us very oft [often]" (Line 100).

Thus by suggesting Cassio was not having an affair with Desdemona, Iago by reminding Othello of Cassio's involvement in their courtship, has given Othello good enough reason to suspect it himself...

Othello and Iago now both agree on Cassio's involvement, saying the words "Indeed!" and Othello questions Iago on whether in his opinion, Cassio could be called "honest?" (Lines 101-106).

Othello now questions Iago if this could be. Iago tactfully says "Think, my lord!" (Line 106). Othello suspects Iago is hiding a terrible truth about Desdemona and Cassio from him:

By heaven, he [Iago] echoes me, / As if there were some monster in his thought / Too hideous to be shown. Thou [you] dost [did] mean something: / I heard thee [you, Iago] say but now, thou [you] lik'dst [liked] not that, / When Cassio left my wife; what didst [ did you] not like? (Lines 107-110)

Othello realizing what is happening, says Iago meant to say something (Desdemona is being unfaithful) that is in Othello's words was "Too hideous to be shown" (Line 108).

Othello reminds Iago that he did mention he did not like the way Cassio was talking to Desdemona earlier. What bothered him, Othello asks?

Seizing the moment, Othello tells Iago that if he truly loves him, he will tell him his real thoughts and stop hiding them from him (Lines 109-116).

Iago now repeats that Cassio is honest and ironically says "Men should be what they seem; / Or those that be not, would they might seem none!" (Line 127).

Othello tries again to force Iago's thoughts from him (Lines 128-164), at which point Iago ironically famously tells Othello "beware, my lord, of jealousy; / It is the green-ey'd monster which doth [does] mock / The meat it feeds on;" (Line 166).

Othello now explains that he cannot doubt his wife telling Iago, "I'll see [believe it] before I doubt; when I doubt [Desdemona's fidelity], prove; / And, on the proof, there is no more but this, / Away at once with love or jealousy!" (Lines 189-192).

Othello will not doubt his wife without proof.

Iago now finishes off his manipulation, explaining that he is glad Othello will not be rash, since he can now prove his loyalty to Othello, saying that Othello should not look for proof from him, but from his wife, saying "Look to your wife; observe her well with Cassio;" (look to your wife and watch her closely with Cassio), adding that Othello should be impartial and to "Wear your eye thus, not jealous nor secure [be impartial in your judgments]:" since Iago would not see Othello's nature turned (Lines 192-204).

Iago now ends his speech by laying down an offhanded (passing) remark Othello cannot but notice, saying "In Venice they do not let heaven see the pranks / They dare not show their husbands; their best conscience / Is not leave't undone, but keep unknown" (In Venice woman commit adultery hiding this from their husbands), (Line 202).

Othello asks Iago what he means and Iago points out Desdemona has deceived her father in marrying Othello, adding that when Desdemona feared Othello's appearance most, she still loved him this fact gaining Othello's agreement with Iago (Lines 206-208).

Thus by following a suggestion (Desdemona can lie to her father and why not you) with the fact that Desdemona loves Othello, Othello believes the first suggestion as he accepts already the second.

Iago now finishes up by saying that what he said comes from his love of Othello nothing more, asking Othello not to repeat his words.

Iago now leaves and sets off to watch Desdemona's movements. Othello is now already distrustful of his wife. Meanwhile Othello is left with questions, many, many questions (Lines 216-240).

Othello now asks why he married Desdemona, thinking Iago still knows much more than he is letting on (Lines 241-244).

Iago returns, saying it is better to leave this matter to time to sort out saying if Desdemona strains Cassio's entertainment too strongly, much will be seen in this. In the meanwhile, Iago wishes to be left to his fears (Lines 244-255).

Othello now alone, praises Iago's great honesty and starts thinking of what he would do if Desdemona were truly unfaithful saying if she is unfaithful, he is abused and is relief must be to loath (hate) her (Lines 258-276).

Othello is very certain he would not like be cheated on, saying he would rather be a toad and live in a dungeon than to keep in a corner the person he loves (Desdemona) "For others' uses [for others to use or be intimate with]" (Line 273).

Othello turns a corner now realizing how unfounded these thoughts are and with Desdemona's arrival, Othello decides she could not be unfaithful to him: "If she be false, O! then heaven mocks itself. I'll not believe it" (Line 278).

Desdemona announces preparations for dinner and asks her beloved husband why he speaks so softly.

Othello replies that it is because he has a headache or as Othello describes it a, "pain upon my forehead" (Line 284).

Desdemona tells Othello she will bind his head and all should be well within an hour or so (Lines 285-286).

Othello complains that the napkin used is "too little:" (Line 287), and Desdemona drops her handkerchief to the floor.

Othello tells Desdemona not to worry about it, leaving with her.

Emilia now is left all alone and picking up the handkerchief remarks how fortunate it was that she has found it; the handkerchief being Desdemona's first "remembrance" (gift) from the Moor (Othello).

Emilia explains that Iago has wanted this handkerchief for some time, saying "My wayward husband hath [has] a hundred times / Woo'd [urged] me to steal it," but Desdemona keeps the handkerchief so close to her it was never possible (Line 292).

Emilia is happy. Her husband (Iago) will be pleased though she has no idea what Iago will do with it (Lines 290-299).

Iago now arrives, chiding his wife. Emilia tells him he should not, she has something he wants. Emilia produces the handkerchief and Iago eagerly grabs it.

Iago asks if Emilia stole it, Emilia explains she found it on the floor after Desdemona dropped it "by negligence," (by accident), (Line 311).

Emilia wants to know what Iago will do with it. He tells her it is no business of hers. Emilia asks for the handkerchief back if Iago will not return it to Desdemona. Iago says he has other plans for it and Emilia leaves (Lines 300-320).

Now alone, Iago explains to us his cunning plan...

Iago will "lose this napkin," (leave it) at Cassio's lodging (place) where Cassio cannot but find it, Cassio explaining that "trifles" as light as air (coincidences like the napkin being in Cassio's possession) are to the jealous confirmations or proof as strong as "holy writ;" or holy declarations (Lines 320-325).

Iago hopes this may help his plan along, adding that he is already changing Othello: "The Moor already changes with my poison:" adding that soon his poison, will "Burn like the mines of sulphur" in Othello given a little more manipulation (Lines 325-331).

Othello now arrives and is very certain that Desdemona is not cheating on him with Cassio. He makes this very clear when he says "I found not Cassio's kisses on her lips;" (Line 342), to which Iago replies "I am sorry to hear this" (Line 345).

Othello also adds that Iago had better have proof Desdemona has been cheating or Iago should wish he were a dog such will be the fury of Othello's wrath for misleading him.


Villain, be sure thou prove my love a whore, / Be sure of it; give me the ocular proof; / Or, by the worth of mine eternal soul, / Thou hadst been better be have been born a dog / Than answer my wak'd wrath (Lines 360-363).

Iago now asks "Is't come to this? [Has it come to this?]", (Line 364).

Othello makes it clear that it has, saying "Make me to see't; or, at the least, so prove it, / That the probation bear no hinge nor loop / To hang a doubt on; or woe upon thy life!" (Make me see Desdemona's infidelity or at the very least prove it so without a doubt I can believe it or suffering and misery upon your life), (Line 365).

Othello is still mad, adding that there is no greater damnation than the one he commits in slandering Desdemona and by implication torturing him (Lines 369-374).

Iago begs for forgiveness (Line 374) but Othello wants proof to which Iago innocently asks what that could be? (Lines 375-396).

Iago now laments just how hard it would be for him to prove Desdemona is being unfaithful, but tells Othello that if he wants "imputation, and strong circumstances," (implication and circumstantial evidence), which would "lead directly to the door of truth [that Desdemona being unfaithful]... you may have it" (Line 408).

This is the turning point for now Othello says...

"Give me a living reason she's disloyal" (Give me a reason why Desdemona is disloyal or unfaithful), (Line 409).

Iago explains that he does "not like the office;" (Line 411) or the responsibility of what he must now do and explains that he heard Cassio in his sleep say:

'Sweet Desdemona, / Let us be wary, let us hide our loves!' / And then, sir, would he gripe and wring my hand, / Cry 'O, sweet creature!' and then kiss me hard, / As if he pluck'd up kisses by the roots, / That grew upon my lips; then laid his leg / Over my thigh, and sigh'd, and kiss'd; and then / Cried, 'Cursed fate, that gave thee [you] to the Moor! [Othello]'" (Lines 420-426)

Othello is disgusted but reminds Iago that this is a dream, not proof. Now Iago reveals his trump card asking Othello,

"Tell me but this: / Have you not sometimes seen a handkerchief / Spotted with strawberries in your wife's hand?" (Line 436).

Othello says yes, it was his first gift to Desdemona.

Iago agrees and says:

"I know not that [I did not know that]; but such a handkerchief- / I am sure it was your wife's-did I to-day / See Cassio wipe his beard with" (Line 439).

Othello says "If it be that,-" (Line 440) and Iago finishes Othello's sentence saying if this was true it does indeed tell against her along with all the other proofs Iago has already mentioned (Line 441).

Othello now is enraged, claiming to be too weak for revenge and now Othello cries "O! blood, blood, blood!", Iago suggesting patience (Line 452).

Othello now explains that he can never let this matter go and falls to his knees (Lines 455-461).

Telling Othello to not yet rise, Iago pledges his life and duty "To wrong'd [the wronged] Othello's service!", saying Othello may command in whatever bloody business awaits (Line 468).

Othello now rises, telling Iago that he accepts his service and in particular within three days wants to hear from Iago the word that Cassio is dead.

Iago accepts this saying his friend (Cassio) is dead but asking that Desdemona may live (Line 474).

Othello finishes the scene in rage, screaming "Damn her, lewd minx! O, damn her!" (Line 476).

Othello says he will now withdraw while he devises "some swift means of death / For the fair devil" (his fair wife Desdemona), (Line 477).

Othello also tells Iago that "Now art thou my lieutenant" (you are now my lieutenant), (Line 477)

Iago replies "I am your own for ever" (I am yours forever), (End of scene).

Act III. Scene IV. - Before the Castle.

Desdemona speaks with a Clown whom she sends off to find Cassio. Desdemona worries about her missing handkerchief and comments that if she lost it, it could lead Othello to doubt her fidelity. Emilia when asked of the handkerchief lies, denying that she has seen the handkerchief, she picked up and gave to Iago in the last scene.

Othello enters; asking Desdemona for the very same handkerchief and Desdemona assures him it is not lost and will be found. Desdemona now tries to change the subject to Cassio, but Othello continually stresses the value the handkerchief has to him, this leading to Othello angrily ordering his wife away.

Cassio arrives, Desdemona telling him that her attempts to help him are not going well. Iago claims total ignorance to the cause of Othello's fury. Cassio gives Othello's handkerchief, which he found to his suspicious mistress Bianca who reluctantly starts to copy its patterning (presumably its strawberry motif / design) for him.

Before or outside the castle, Desdemona is speaking with a Clown, asking if the Clown has seen Cassio. The Clown has not, he replies, speaking as Shakespearean clowns do, in riddles which appear incomprehensible but usually are intelligent insights to the play's action. Desdemona nonetheless sends him off to find Cassio (Lines 1-23).

Now Desdemona turns her attention to her missing handkerchief, asking Emilia where she could have lost that handkerchief? (Line 24).

Emilia lies, saying, "I know not, madam" (Line 25).

Desdemona now ironically explains she would rather lose her purse with all it's valuable contents than the handkerchief which could put her jealous husband to "ill thinking" or silly, jealous thoughts (Line 29).

Desdemona seeing Othello coming says she will not leave his side until Cassio is called to him.

Othello enters and Desdemona asks Othello to remember his promise to her, to speak to Cassio (Line 49).

Othello replies by asking for his handkerchief, saying "Lend [give] me thy [your] handkerchief" (Line 52).

This Desdemona begins to do until Othello says "That which I gave you" (the one that I gave you), (Line 54).

Desdemona comes clean; she does not have it. Othello now describes its importance to him; it was given to his mother by an Egyptian many years ago (Lines 56-69).

Othello adds that the handkerchief has "magic in the web of it;" (Line 70) or magical properties and Desdemona tries to reassure Othello it is not lost and will be found (Lines 68-88).

Now Desdemona argues the handkerchief is a trick to distract her from her mission to have the Cassio issue discussed and the two begin to fight, Othello saying he wants to discuss the handkerchief, Desdemona Cassio, with Othello eventually ordering Desdemona away (Lines 88-96).

Emilia and Desdemona talk. Emilia has never seen Othello so jealous and now the two spot Iago and Cassio.

Cassio greeting Desdemona asks how things are going for his reinstatement. Desdemona explains it is not going well, Iago innocently asking "Is my lord [Othello] angry?" (Line 131).

Iago pretends to have no idea why Othello is angry but leaves saying he will find out from Othello (Lines 132-138).

Desdemona is still unsure why Othello is so angry; thinking it must be some matter of state she is unaware of (Lines 140-152). Emilia does not know either.

Desdemona and Emilia now part, Desdemona telling Cassio she will try again to help him (Line 164).

Meanwhile, Cassio meets up with Bianca, his mistress. She is less than happy at being neglected for so long (Lines 168-203) so Cassio gives Bianca a handkerchief he found, hoping it will placate (calm) her. It does not since Bianca immediately asks him if it is from another "friend" meaning another girlfriend.

Cassio explains that he does not know who owns it but asks Bianca to make a copy of the handkerchief since he likes the work (patterning) on it and now he leaves a reluctant Bianca who decides to do the work nonetheless.

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