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THE STORY - SUMMARY AND NOTES
ACT III, SCENE II
Inside the castle, Othello asks Iago to help him complete some state business and then join him as he inspects a portion of the fort. Iago's in luck. He wants to get Othello away from Desdemona for a short time, and now Othello himself is providing the excuse. Iago just has to make sure they return in time to catch Cassio pleading with Desdemona.
ACT III, SCENE III
This is the longest and most crucial scene of the entire play. When it begins, Othello is a happy man and a loving husband. When it ends, he has committed himself to murdering his wife. It's been said that this scene is so powerful and compact that it's a complete play in itself. That Shakespeare can accomplish Othello's character change so convincingly within this short space is a tribute to his genius as a dramatist and his ability to create a villain as complete and ingenious as Iago.
Cassio finally has his opportunity to see Desdemona. She promises to do everything in her power to help him. Emilia also urges Desdemona to speak to Othello on Cassio's behalf. She tells Desdemona that even Iago has been upset by this situation, as upset as if he had been fired. It's clear that Iago has succeeded in fooling Emilia, too. She seems as convinced of his sincerity as anyone. Desdemona, too, calls Iago "an honest fellow."
Desdemona assures Cassio that Othello will only stay as distant from him as he must during this unfortunate period. But Cassio isn't satisfied. He wonders if there's a chance that Othello will forget his loyalty and friendship in the meantime.
Desdemona promises to keep Cassio alive in Othello's mind. No matter what Othello might be doing, she'll remind him of Cassio's desire to be his lieutenant again. What irony there is when she says,
Therefore be merry, Cassio, For thy solicitor shall rather die Than give thy cause away. Act III, Scene iii, lines 29-31 NOTE: Desdemona continues to show herself as generous and loyal, completely free of ulterior motives. She takes pleasure in helping a friend, particularly since she feels she's doing her husband a favor, too, by reuniting him with Cassio, a loyal friend and good employee. Her sweetness is so real that her fate will indeed seem terrible.
Iago's plot now moves into full swing. He has maneuvered Othello back to the castle at just the right time. Desdemona sees them come in and urges Cassio to stay and listen to her speak about him to Othello. But Cassio is too uncomfortable at the thought of seeing Othello face-to-face, and he slips away. Always sensitive to the slightest change of behavior, Iago uses Cassio's uneasiness to his own advantage. He tells Othello that he doesn't like the looks of "that." Of what? Othello wants to know. Iago replies, "Nothing, my lord; or if-I know not what."
It's an old trick, isn't it?- to point someone's attention to something, and then pretend it isn't important. Naturally, Othello's curiosity is aroused-wouldn't yours be?
Wasn't that Cassio who just left, Othello wants to know. Iago says it couldn't be. Why would Cassio sneak away looking so guilty? (Of course we know that Cassio was more embarrassed than guilty.) But Othello only knows what he saw.
Desdemona immediately begs that Othello forgive Cassio. Othello refuses, but politely, and says perhaps he will later. Desdemona persists. When? she wants to know. Tonight? Tomorrow? But Othello Will only promise that for her sake it will be soon.
Desdemona isn't satisfied. She wants Othello to promise that he won't keep Cassio away for longer than three days. She can't understand why Othello should hesitate in doing her this favor.
Why does Othello hesitate? It could be that he remains firm as a matter of principle. It's part of military discipline that good soldiers must be used as examples when they do something wrong. Othello can't show himself as weak to the rest of the soldiers stationed on the island. It may also be that he's thinking of Iago's words, "I like not that," and wondering why Desdemona has taken on Cassio's cause.
Can you sympathize with Desdemona's persistence? She's made a promise to Cassio and wants to keep her word. We've all nagged gently at one time or another to get something we feel is important. And she can have no idea that anyone would see her interest in Cassio's problem as anything but innocent.
Othello finally gives in. Despite his principles and his doubts, he can't deny his wife anything for long. He says that Cassio can visit whenever he wants. Asking for a few minutes to himself, the others leave. Othello then speaks of his intense love for Desdemona, saying that chaos will come if he ever loses her.