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Please explain this quotation from Shakespeare's Othello? "Emilia: But he protests...

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rozh | Student, Undergraduate | Valedictorian

Posted May 24, 2012 at 8:03 PM via web

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Please explain this quotation from Shakespeare's Othello? "Emilia: But he protests that he cares about you..."

Emilia:

But he protests that he cares about you and needs no other plea than his regard for you-and only the smallest excuse--to reinstate you. (III.i.47-51)

 

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booboosmoosh | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

Posted May 24, 2012 at 9:48 PM (Answer #1)

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In Shakespeare's Othello, Act Three, scene one, Cassio has been egged into a confrontation with Roderigo—through Iago's manipulations. Iago has attempted to remove Cassio from Othello's good graces, and when Cassio drinks and then gets into a fight, Othello relieves him from duty for "behavior unbecoming an officer."

Cassio is a good man; fighting is extremely unusual for Cassio, and he is greatly distressed that it has taken place. Iago pretends that he will do whatever is necessary to help Cassio get his position back. In fact, it is at Iago's suggestion that Cassio has sought Desdemona's help. Iago, of course, wants nothing but revenge because Othello promoted Cassio instead of Iago, so his motives are anything but pure. (In fact, he wants to implicate—falsely—Cassio in an adulterous affair with Desdemona.)

At this point of the story, Desdemona, who has nothing but a casual acquaintance with Cassio, has said she will support Cassio's efforts at reinstatement by speaking to Othello. Emilia, Desdemona's attendant (and Iago's wife—a good woman, especially compared to her husband) has come out to speak to Cassio about Desdemona's progress with her husband.

Emilia notes that Othello and Desdemona have been speaking about Cassio's situation. Othello notes that Cassio has fought Roderigo who is well-known and popular—coming from an influential family—so that Othello cannot casually welcome Cassio back. On the other hand, Othello has explained that he really does not need anyone else to speak on Cassio's behalf because he loves Cassio as a dear friend—and that is enough reason for him to bring Cassio back—to reinstate him. However, it must be done "on the safest occasion" or "safest public occasion."

...in wholesome wisdom

He might not but refuse you; but he protests he loves you,

And needs no other suitor but his likings

To take the safest occasion by the front

To bring you in again. (47-51)

eNotes translates this to say:

...in pure wisdom,

He might not refuse you, but he protests he loves you

And needs no other person begging than his own opinion

To take the safest public occasion

To bring you back again.

Even so, Cassio still thinks that having Desdemona's support could help him, and asks to speak to her alone. Emilia will arrange this. Unbeknownst to Emilia or Desdemona, Iago will use this time they spend together, coupled with circumstantial evidence, to ultimately convince Othello that Desdemona has been having an affair with Othello's lieutenant, Cassio (which is, of course, a complete lie). 

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