Identify and describe a humorous scene in Othello, including its function and tone.

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In the second act of Othello, William Shakespeare introduces humor in regard to a drinking party (act II, scene 3). When Othello and his men have a feast to celebrate his victory and marriage, Iago coaxes Cassio into drinking, taking an important step toward carrying out his plan. Although...

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this scene offerscomic relief, it has serious consequences. Cassio has “very poor and unhappy brains for drinking.” He is supposed to be standing guard, but he gets into a drunken brawl; this rash behavior later gets him demoted. The tone of the “night of revels” is light and farcical, as Iago sings a lot of silly songs, but because he informs the audience of his plot in advance, it has dark undertones which match most of the the play.

Two scenes that use humor as comic relief occurs in act III and involve the character of the Clown, who is Othello’s servant. In the interlude with the musicians (scene 1), the Clown presents the lighter side of the sexual themes that have been introduced earlier. He makes a pun about musical “instruments” as a synonym for penises, and “wind instruments” for big talkers or braggarts. He reappears in scene IV, making lewd jokes with Desdemona involving the word “lies,” meaning lives, telling untruths, or having a sexual relationship. This scene also provides foreshadowing, as Othello accuses Desdemona of both lying and having an affair with Cassio, and ends his life by stabbing.

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Despite the grinding emotional impact and bleak ending of Othello, locate a scene that includes humor and describe its tone and function in the play.

Humor can be observed in the numerous examples of dramatic irony in Othello. Dramatic irony occurs when the audience knows something that the characters on stage do not, and if done successfully it usually provokes a knowing titter or two.

One such example comes in act 2, scene 3, when Othello refers to Iago as "most honest." The audience knows by this point that Iago is a dishonest, lying, conniving man who's pledged to destroy his master for no good reason. The idea that he is honest is a joke. But as a joke it's still funny, albeit in a darkly humorous vein.

The hapless, upper-class Roderigo also provides some much-needed comic relief. Whereas it's tragic to see Iago ruin the lives of Othello and Desdemona, it's almost—I say, almost—a pleasure to watch him make Roderigo an even bigger fool than he already is. Roderigo is so utterly lacking in self-awareness, so completely deluded in thinking that he stands a serious chance with Desdemona, that his failed schemes can't help but make us laugh.

Perhaps the most sustained comedy in Othello takes place in act 2, scene 3, which, as well as telling the audience that Iago is "most honest," provides a riotous depiction of drunkenness. There are bawdy songs, Cassio's increasingly failed attempts to prove his sobriety, and some salty comments on the drinking habits of Shakespeare's fellow Englishmen. At times, the scene borders on slapstick, but is important to the overall structure of the play as it contains some of its most important themes.

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