Othello Act 3 Scene 3 takes place over a couple of days, becoming one of the longest episodes in the play. Over this time, Iago manages to change Othello’s perception of the people around him. How did he do so? Find out in the summary and analysis prepared by our experts.
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💢 Summary of Othello: Act 3 Scene 3
Act 3 Scene 3 of Othello starts with Desdemona’s promise to Cassio to help him plead his case for reinstatement. Emilia, not understanding her husband’s intentions, says that Iago is preoccupied with the matter “as if it was his.” Desdemona is fooled by Iago’s act too and calls him “honest fellow.” She also says that she always keeps her promise and asks Emilia to assure this.
At the same time, Othello and Iago regard the trio from a distance. As Cassio leaves, Iago makes a remark, “I like not that.” It’s the first time he openly tries to make Othello suspicious. Othello tries to clarify what Iago means but to no avail. Othello’s attention focuses on Cassio, and he asks, “Was not that Cassio parted from my wife?” Instead of answering directly, Iago comments on the look that Cassio has. He describes it as “guilty-like,” as if he stole something from Othello.
Several seconds later, Desdemona joins them. She immediately starts asking Othello to reinstate Cassio. He promises to do that but not as quickly as Desdemona wants. She leaves the stage with Emilia after several attempts to reason with Othello.
Alone with Iago, Othello confesses that he loves Desdemona. Iago asks if Cassio knows that the Lord loves Desdemona. Othello confirms that: the couple frequently spent time together with Cassio. He tries to understand the nature of these questions, not seeing that Iago leads him to some conclusions. Finally, Othello asks if Cassio is honest. Iago does not reply to this question. It makes Othello angry, and he demands an answer. Intricately, Iago plants the thoughts about Desdemona’s infidelity into Othello’s mind.
As Desdemona returns, she tries to calm Othello down with the handkerchief that he gave her. He says that he has a headache and that her “napkin is too little.” He pushes the cloth, and it falls. No one notices it except Emilia. As she takes it, she says that Iago asked her to steal this handkerchief many times, “a hundred times.” Finally, she gives it to Iago to please him, though she doesn’t know why he needs it.
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Emilia exits, and Iago is left alone on the stage. He explains that he will hide “this napkin” in Cassio’s lodging so that it will become proof of Desdemona’s infidelity. Iago also confesses that the Moor is already changing with “Iago’s poison.”
Othello comes back to the stage and pressures Iago to find proof of Desdemona’s lie. He exclaims, “Give me a living reason she’s disloyal.” Iago quickly tells the story about the handkerchief, and it leaves the general angry, “I’ll tear her all to pieces!”
At the end of the scene, Othello is convinced that Desdemona and Cassio have an affair. He does not need to see the evidence to confirm it. Iago achieves what he needs, and Othello promotes him to the rank of lieutenant.
🎭 Active Characters
Cassio, Desdemona, Emilia, Othello, Iago
🔥 Active Themes
|Appearance vs. Reality||Jealousy||Sexism|
🥺 Analysis of Othello: Act 3 Scene 3
Act 3 Scene 3 is the most extended in Othello. As the scene starts, Desdemona promises to plead on Cassio’s behalf. She is sure that Othello’s ability to make a sound judgment will win. Nevertheless, the audience knows that the general cannot decide if he does not have Iago’s approval or assessment.
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This scene also demonstrates how little other characters know about Iago. He fools everyone; even Emilia believes that her husband is genuinely concerned with Cassio’s well-being. Only the audience finds out about Iago’s plan and his true intentions. All his remarks towards the audience serve as a reminder that appearance is not the same thing as reality. Desdemona’s comment about Iago’s honesty is ironic as well, as he can make anyone believe in his sincerity. Throughout the scene, as Othello turns against Cassio and Desdemona, it will get confirmed.
This episode demonstrates that Cassio and Desdemona’s friendship is solid. Just as her affection for him, she even guarantees that she would rather die than give up hope of helping him. As Shakespeare explains it in Act 3 Scene 3, Desdemona and Cassio became friends while Desdemona and Othello started a courtship. Iago uses this fact in his favor.
First, Iago makes an innocent remark about the way Cassio looks. He says, “I like not that.” Rather than accusing of infidelity, he directs Othello to make this conclusion. He remarks and dismisses it. Second, he says that Cassio looks ashamed. As Othello asks to explain, Iago answers nothing. This confuses the general and tricks his imagination. Besides, Iago reminds Othello how well Desdemona lied to Barbantio. It echoes the warning that Barbantio gave before their departure to Cyprus. With this method, Iago plants the seeds of suspicion into Othello’s mind.
Iago, in this scene, acts as a perfect manipulator. He uses the best possible timing to include the tension and add to the growing doubts. Everything Othello thought is true and certain, does not look this way anymore. Cassio is suddenly not honest; Desdemona is not innocent. The two are plotting against him. Only Iago was, is, and remains “honest” in Othello’s eyes. It makes the general take everything Iago says as the absolute truth.
At the beginning of the scene, Othello still refers to Desdemona with love and kindness. However, he wants to kill her by the end of the same episode. Othello tries to lie to Iago that he isn’t jealous as he is afraid to appear weak. Nonetheless, with every new phrase and detail, the audience sees that Othello is losing this game. At some point, Othello even cries out, “why did I marry?” He is blinded by jealousy.
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The prejudice about women is also demonstrated in Othello’s soliloquy. He starts by saying that women have a deceitful nature. It contrasts with the thoughts he had about the topic in the previous scenes. The soliloquy is interrupted by Desdemona, who comes to call Othello for dinner. He refuses because he is not feeling well. Desdemona tries to comfort her husband with the handkerchief, but Othello refuses. In the process, the object falls on the floor unnoticed.
Emilia picks up the handkerchief, and instead of returning it to Desdemona, she gives it to Iago. The audience learns that Iago has asked her to steal the object many times before. However, she refused until this moment. She needs and desires to please her husband as any woman was supposed to do at the time.
After Emilia exits the scene, the audience finally learns why Iago wanted the handkerchief. Othello gave it to Desdemona as a token of love. In Iago’s hands, it will become living evidence of Desdemona’s infidelity, an “ocular proof” requested by Othello. Once again, Shakespeare uses this object to show to the audience the duplicity of things. The handkerchief is the symbol of both love and jealousy. Othello accepts circumstantial evidence of Desdemona’s infidelity because Iago completely ensnares him.
At the end of the scene, Othello is ready to kill both Cassio and Desdemona. He slowly turns into a brutal beast while Iago keeps presenting himself as loyal, helpful, and caring. It gets him a promotion to the position of lieutenant. Othello never questions Iago’s trustworthiness because of Iago’s perfect scheme and the reputation that he has gained.
Thanks for reading the article! If you’re interested in summaries of other scenes or ready to explore the themes, check the links below.