Act 2 Scene 3

Synopsis of Act 2 Scene 3

Othello retires to enjoy his first night with his bride, leaving Cassio in charge of the island’s security. Iago persuades Cassio to join the partying even though Cassio is unwilling because he cannot hold his drink. Iago ensures Cassio gets drunk before he goes on watch, where Roderigo picks a quarrel with him. Cassio loses his temper and is fighting with Roderigo when Montano steps in to prevent any injuries. Cassio then fights Montano, while Iago tells Roderigo to have the alarm bells rung in order to arouse Othello. When Othello arrives, Cassio has injured Montano and Othello demands answers. Iago pretends all innocence and appears not to want to accuse anyone. But he had already lied to Montano about Cassio’s drinking habits, so Montano now insists that Iago reveal Cassio’s alcohol-induced quarrelsome behaviour. Othello strips Cassio of his lieutenancy.
On their own, Iago consoles Cassio (who mourns the loss of his good name), and encourages him to believe that he will be reinstated as Othello’s lieutenant, especially if he confides in Desdemona and asks her to plead for him to her husband. Cassio thanks him, completely trusting his judgement. Alone, Iago congratulates himself on how well his plot is going. He then reassures Roderigo that things are going well and plots to use Emilia in his scheming.

Commentary on Act 2 Scene 3

Iago is most honest – Again Othello shows his absolute trust in Iago’s integrity, a trust which Cassio shares.
The purchase made .. ‘tween me and you. – Othello and Desdemona have not yet made love, which will make Othello more vulnerable to Iago’s suggestions that Desdemona is unfaithful to him. (It is unclear whether they have consummated their marriage before Othello is roused by the disturbance of the brawl.)
most exquisite lady .. delicate .. perfection. - Cassio’s admiration of Desdemona is pure, while Iago’s malicious response is to suggest she is a flirt.
unhappy brains for drinking .. wrong side outward .. fluster’d with flowing cups – The power of alcohol to disrupt a person’s reason is emphasised and manipulated by Iago. Pottle deep indicates that Rodrigo has already emptied two tankards.

England .. potent in potting - Shakespeare’s references to the English capacity for beer would get a laugh from his contemporary London audience. 
Ay, but, by your leave, not before me. - Cassio shows snobbery here by stating that he should be in line for salvation before Iago, on account of his superior rank.
’Tis pity of him. .. Will shake this island. – Iago subtly slanders Cassio’s reputation by suggesting that Cassio’s faults are equal to his (obvious) virtues.
I do love Cassio well, and would do much / To cure him of this evil. – Iago’s hypocrisy and treachery would be obvious to the audience who have seen Cassio’s disinclination to drink.
Hold, ho, lieutenant! Sir! Montano! gentlemen! - Iago here pretends to be the loyal and dutiful soldier who appeals to his comrades to behave professionally and with honour. He therefore reinforces his reputation of honesty and integrity, while others’ reputations suffer by comparison.
Are we turned Turks, .. Ottomites? - Othello shudders to think that the heathen Turks couldn’t kill them but as Christian soldiers they are trying to kill each other.
Holds his soul light. - Othello tells his men that he will not only kill anyone else who draws a sword but that that man will risk being sent to hell, not heaven, for being so rebellious and disobedient.
like bride and groom / Devesting them for bed .. opposition bloody. – Iago’s simile of innocent love turned murderous prefigures the tragedy to come.
If partially affined .. do offence to Michael Cassio. - Montano here believes that Iago wants to protect Cassio and so he warns Iago that he must report Cassio’s drunkenness to Othello, little realising that that is exactly what Iago wants to do. The irony of the situation is obvious.
Reputation – Reputation serves to advance, and undo, many in the play – Desdemona is attracted by Othello’s reputation; Iago is mistakenly trusted due to his reputation. The ensuing conversation contrasts the importance of having a good name and of being a person of integrity, with the Machiavellian pragmatism of Iago 
a sensible man .. fool .. presently a beast! – The unseating of Cassio’s reason due to alcohol prefigures Iago’s effect on Othello
good lieutenant, I think you think I love you. – Iago is seeking reassurance that Cassio trusts him, not for friendship’s sake but so that he can dupe and mislead Cassio still further.
Our general’s wife is now the general. – Othello is so in love with Desdemona that he will do whatever she asks. 
the contemplation .. graces .. confess .. importune her .. help .. free .. so blessed a disposition - Iago’s plan is to make it easy for Othello to mistrust Desdemona when he sees her having private conversations with Cassio. Again, Desdemona is associated with the actions typical of a Catholic’s veneration of the Virgin Mary.
to renounce his baptism, / All seals and symbols of redeemed sin, / His soul is so enfetter’d to her love .. Divinity of hell! – Iago’s devilish nature is made clear by his desire to overturn the solemn sacrament of baptism by which Christians believe themselves to be saved from damnation.
LuciferWhen devils will the blackest sins put on, / They do suggest at first with heavenly shows - Iago makes his association with Satan even clearer – Lucifer was believed to be a fallen angel whose dazzling brightness concealed evil intentions.
virtue into pitch – Iago, as a creature of moral darkness, turns the ‘fair’, moral uprightness of Desdemona as black as tar.
By the mass, ‘tis morning. - Shakespeare does not keep a strict account of time in his plays so although the time frame of the evening is only a few hours long, we are now told it is dawn. Iago swears by the solemn sacrament of Holy Communion or Mass, disdaining something most of Shakespeare’s audience were taught to honour.
be done .. set her on .. delay – Shakespeare suddenly speeds up the dramatic momentum.

Investigating Act 2 Scene 3

  • Study Iago’s speech starting ‘And what’s he then that says I play the villain,’ until ‘That shall enmesh them all.’ 
    • Summarise Iago’s argument in the first half of this speech
    • How would you advise Desdemona to help Cassio?
    • Starting with ‘Divinity of hell’ list all the pairing of opposites in the second half of the speech
    • How does this passage reflect the character of Iago?
  • How are Cassio and Desdemona’s actions going to convince Othello of their adultery?
  • Why do you think Iago is so successful in making everyone trust him?
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