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

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Act IV, Scenes 1-3 Summary and Analysis

Act IV, Scene 1
New Character:

Lodovico: a Venetian nobleman, kinsman to Brabantio

Before Othello’s castle, Iago presents images of Desdemona’s infidelity to Othello until he is overcome with emotion and falls into a trance. Cassio enters and asks what is wrong. Iago tells him that Othello has fallen into a fit of epilepsy and will speak to him later. Othello revives, and Iago tells him that Cassio came but will return. Moreover, he tells Othello to hide himself and watch Cassio’s gestures as Iago speaks to him. When Cassio returns, Iago engages him in a conversation about Bianca, but Othello believes Cassio to be speaking about Desdemona and becomes furious. Bianca then enters complaining about the handkerchief he gave her to copy. Othello is convinced that Desdemona has been unfaithful and vows revenge. A trumpet announces the arrival of Lodovico, a Venetian nobleman, who brings letters from the Duke of Venice instructing Othello to return and appointing Cassio in his place. Desdemona, who also arrived, is pleased at this, and an enraged Othello strikes her. Lodovico, surprised at the change in Othello, inquires as to its cause.

Iago continues to play upon the jealousy that he has generated in Othello with images of “a kiss in private” and “to be naked with her friend in bed.” He adds that giving away a handkerchief is a visible act and suggests that honor can be given away and not seen. This reminds Othello of what Iago had previously said and “would most gladly have forgot it!” Iago does not want him to forget it and intensifies the pressure by saying that Cassio said he did “lie … with her, on her; what you will.” At this point Othello is so overcome with emotion that he falls into a trance and Iago triumphantly says, “Work on / My medicine work!” relishing what his evil has wrought upon Othello. When Cassio enters, Iago creates the occasion to set up another damaging situation. When Othello revives and Iago informs him that Cassio will return, he tells Othello to “encave yourself / And mark the fleers, the gibes, the notable scorns / That dwell in every region of his face” as he prepares Othello for deception once more. When Cassio returns, Iago talks about Bianca so that Othello can conclude that Cassio’s disparaging remarks are about Desdemona. Ironically, what adds more credibility to this seeming love affair is when Bianca enters and berates Cassio for giving her “some minx’s token” to copy. Othello believes this to be Desdemona’s handkerchief, and his response is to “Hang her! … chop her into messes, and poison her,” expressing the degree which his emotions have reached. However, Iago suggests that he “strangle her in bed, even the bed she hath contaminated,” a suggestion which foreshadows the dramatic climax of the play.

The end of the scene establishes the overt changes in Othello that have occurred over a short period of time. When Desdemona learns that Othello is commissioned back to Venice and Michael Cassio has been appointed in his stead, she is happy for Michael, but Othello interprets her genuine feeling as proof of their love. He strikes her, and Lodovico questions, “Is this the noble Moor whom our full Senate / Call all in all sufficient? Is this the nature whom passion could not shake?” It is clear that the “pestilence” with which Iago has infected Othello has not only changed the way he thinks but also the way he acts.

Act IV, Scene 2

Within the castle, Othello asks Emilia if she ever heard or saw anything suspicious when Desdemona and Cassio were together. Emilia contends that Desdemona is honest, and Othello tells her to go get Desdemona. When Emilia exits, Othello says that Emilia cannot be taken at her word. When Emila and Desdemona enter, Othello calls Desdemona a whore, and she is confused at this accusation because she is innocent. She wants to know what could she have done to get him into such a state. Emilia re-enters and...

(The entire section is 1,420 words.)