Othello Act 4, Scenes 1–3 Summary and Analysis
by William Shakespeare

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Act 4, Scenes 1–3 Summary and Analysis

Scene 1

Othello and Iago are speaking, and Iago goads Othello by telling him that the handkerchief is Desdemona’s to do with as she wishes. Iago then says that some men are prone to brag about the women they have slept with, and Cassio has mentioned being with Desdemona. Othello sputters as he speaks about the handkerchief, confessions, and killing Cassio; he then “falls in a trance.” 

Iago, in an aside, celebrates the success of his plan, and Cassio enters. He tells Cassio that Othello is having an epileptic fit. He sends Cassio away but tells him to come back later. Othello’s trance ends, and Iago tells Othello that it is better to know the truth about one’s wife than to have her adultery be secret. He then tells Othello that Cassio should be coming back soon and asks Othello to hide while Iago has Cassio recount his story of sleeping with Desdemona. Othello promises to stay calm while he hides. With Othello gone, Iago tells the audience that he is going to ask Cassio about Bianca instead of Desdemona.

Cassio enters. Iago greets him and tells him that if Bianca had any say in the matter, he would already have been reinstated as lieutenant. Cassio, laughing and speaking of Bianca, says that she seems to be in love with him but that he would never marry a whore. He talks about how she hangs on him regularly and pulls him along when they are together. Othello, who can only hear the laughter, believes his gestures refers to Desdemona pulling him to bed. 

Bianca enters and gives him back the handkerchief, telling him that she will not be made to copy the embroidery of some love token he received from another woman. Othello recognizes it as the handkerchief he gave to Desdemona. She insists that Cassio come to dinner with her or she will not see him again. She storms off, and Cassio follows her to prevent her from making a larger scene. Othello comes out of hiding, wishing to kill Cassio and lamenting the loss of his wife’s virtue. He asks Iago to get poison so that he can kill his wife, but Iago suggests strangling her in the bed that she has contaminated.

A trumpet sounds, and Lodovico, Desdemona, and an entourage enter. After exchanging pleasantries, Lodovico hands Othello a message, which says that he is to return to Venice and make Cassio governor of Cyprus. Desdemona is happy to hear this, but Othello strikes her. Lodovico is shocked by Othello’s actions and insists that he apologize to Desdemona, but Othello implies that her tears are just a performance. Othello says that Cassio can have the job, welcomes Lodovico and company to Cyprus, and insults them before leaving. Lodovico asks Iago if Othello is normally so emotional and cruel, but Iago invites Lodovico to watch Othello and see for himself.

Scene 2

Scene 2 opens with Othello interrogating Emilia about Desdemona and Cassio. Emilia defends Desdemona, saying that she is the purest wife one could ask for. He sends Emilia away and calls for Desdemona. Desdemona enters and pleads with Othello to explain what he has been thinking. He cryptically accuses her of being unfaithful, but she cannot understand why he believes this. He continues to accuse her of infidelity and insult her. She attempts to defend herself, but Othello throws money at her and tells her to leave him alone. He exits as Emilia enters.

Emilia asks Desdemona what she and her husband were talking about, but Desdemona is in shock and cannot answer. Iago enters and inquires about Desdemona’s emotional state. Emilia explains that Othello repeatedly called her a whore, and Iago feigns shock, wondering how Othello would get such an idea. Emilia suggests that someone must have started the rumor to secure a political position, and curses whichever villain might be bold enough to try this. Desdemona asks Iago if he knows how she might win her husband back and again asserts her innocence. Iago tells her that politics have likely put Othello in a bad mood. Trumpets call them all to dinner.

Desdemona and Emilia...

(The entire section is 1,445 words.)