Othello Act II, Scenes 1-3 Summary and Analysis
by William Shakespeare

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Act II, Scenes 1-3 Summary and Analysis

Act II, Scene 1
New Characters:

Montano: Governor of Cyprus

Two Gentlemen: converse with the governor

A third Gentlemen: brings news of the Turkish fleet

Emilia: wife to Iago; attendant to Desdemona

At a seaport in Cyprus, near the harbor, Montano and two gentlemen discuss the storm raging off the coast. A third gentleman enters with news that the storm has destroyed the Turkish fleet and that Michael Cassio has arrived. Cassio enters, expressing hopes for Othello’s safe arrival in Cyprus. A messenger arrives with the news of the arrival of another ship, and Cassio directs the second gentleman to find out whose it is. The second gentleman re-enters, announcing the arrival of Iago’s ship. Desdemona enters, asking Cassio for news of Othello, and he assures her that Othello is well. Desdemona and Emilia engage in some banter with Iago, and after the word play, Iago carefully notices how Michael Cassio courteously greets Desdemona.

Othello then enters, content that the war is over and jubilant at seeing Desdemona safe. Subsequently, he directs everyone to the castle and tells Iago to disembark the spoils of war. Alone with Roderigo, Iago tells him that Desdemona is in love with Cassio and that when her appetite for the Moor wanes, Cassio is the one to whom she will turn. Roderigo expresses disbelief at this observation, so Iago describes the warm greeting Cassio gave Desdemona. Next, he urges Roderigo to instigate Cassio to anger and provoke him to a fight. He convinces Roderigo that once Cassio is removed, he will have a better chance with Desdemona. Alone, Iago expresses his suspicion of Emilia’s infidelity with Othello, his desire for revenge, and his plan to have Othello trust him more.

The opening scene of this act serves several dramatic functions. First, Montano’s discussion with the two gentlemen provides a panoramic view of the intensity of the storm with “a high-wrought flood,” “the wind-shaked surge, with high and monstrous mane,” and “the enchafed flood.” The imagery used to describe the sea suggests the fury of a wild beast with which it rages. Consequently, portraying a storm of this magnitude would present a difficulty on the Elizabethan stage. This description also makes plausible the news that the storm has destroyed the Turkish fleet. In addition, the scene justifies Cassio’s concern for Othello when he says, “O let the heavens / Give him defense against the elements / For I have lost him on a dangerous sea!” The irony here is that Othello’s enemy is not the war nor the sea but Iago who has safely landed in Cyprus. Cassio’s comment that “Tempests themselves … the guttered rocks … congregated sands, / Traitors … as having a sense of beauty, do omit / Their mortal natures” personifies a treacherous sea with a benevolent nature in sparing Desdemona. This image contrasts the malevolent nature of Iago who is a traitor sparing no one to undo Othello.

To offset the intensity of the opening of the act, Desdemona and Emilia engage in some light humor with Iago prompted by Cassio’s greeting of Emilia. After Cassio kisses Emilia, Iago remarks, “Sir, would she give you so much of her lips / As of her tongue she oft bestows on me, / You would have enough.” This quip begins a series of “praises” of women by Iago under the guise of light banter with serious overtones that suit Iago’s duplicity as one who says one thing yet means another, even in humor. After the ironic word play, Iago carefully notices how Cassio greets Desdemona when he “takes her by the palm … smile[s] upon her … kissed [his] three fingers so oft” in a gallant gesture. Iago takes this innocent gesture and gives it an evil motive later to convince Roderigo of their secret love. Iago’s comment that “with as little a web as this I will ensnare as great a fly as Cassio” suggests the image of a spider weaving a web to trap it victim. Like the spider, Iago is weaving a web of deceit to capture the...

(The entire section is 2,366 words.)