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Free Study Guide-Othello by William Shakespeare-Free Online Booknotes
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Act II, Scene 1

Summary

The scene shifts to Cyprus, about two weeks after the last scene. The governor of the island is waiting for news from the sea. There is a rumor that the Turkish fleet has been destroyed in a storm. There is also a fear that Othello’s ship may have been destroyed as well, for the general has not yet landed in Cyprus.

Desdemona arrives with Iago and Emilia and is warmly welcomed. When she learns that Othello has not yet arrived, she is greatly concerned about her husband’s safety. Being a Senator’s daughter, however, she is well trained not to show her true emotions; she chats idly with Iago and Cassio. Iago is delighted when Cassio takes her hand, for his villainous plan is to make Othello think that Cassio and Desdemona are lovers. He knows that these small, natural courtesies will help him prove his accusations to Othello.

A flourish of trumpets announces the safe arrival of Othello. He comes ashore and takes his wife in his arms, saying he has gone through hell during the storm and now finds himself in heaven with Desdemona, the joy of his soul. Desdemona herself offers a prayer, asking that their love and joy increase; Othello answers, "amen." He then tells "good Iago" to go and unload his things; ironically he fully trusts this villain.

When the newlyweds have departed and the onlookers have drifted away, Iago draws near Roderigo and asks whether he noticed how fondly Cassio and Desdemona acted to one another. When Roderigo claims it was just courtesy, Iago shakes his head and points out that it is "Lechery. . .prologue to the history of lust." Roderigo is amazed, but Iago persuades his friend into believing that Desdemona is already tiring of the black Moor and is looking for some younger, fairer person to satisfy her "animal" desires. Then Iago tells Roderigo that Cassio must be destroyed if Roderigo is to win the hand of Desdemona. Roderigo nods vigorously and listens to Iago’s scheme. This very night Cassio is to be the officer of the watch. Roderigo is to go and provoke Cassio into a fight; Iago promises that Cassio is hot-tempered and easily angered, another of his blatant lies. Iago will then convince the authorities that Cassio needs to be dismissed for his hot-temper and irresponsible behavior. Desdemona, he assures Roderigo, will quickly lose interest in him.

At the end of the scene, Iago explains in a soliloquy that he hates the Moor and plans to take away his peace and quiet, even to the point of madness. He also justifies his hatred of both Othello and Cassio, accusing both of them of betraying him by having affairs with his wife Emilia.

Notes

The action now shifts to Cyprus, where it will remain until the end of the play. The dramatic and symbolic contrast between Venice and Cyprus is significant. Venice is a place of high civilization and great wealth. It is the center of a rich and powerful commercial empire, governed with discipline and conduct, order and control. By contrast, Cyprus is a place of danger and uncertainty, even though it is a key to Venetian security. The first introduction to Cyprus is during a raging storm, a symbol of impulse and passion. The opening lines of the scene refer to the storm and heighten the anxiety for the safety of the voyagers from Venice.


Along with the news of the destruction of the Turkish fleet in the storm comes the news of Cassio’s safe arrival. Anxiety is renewed, however, when Cassio tells that he and Othello were separated in the storm. Governor Montano expresses his concern for Othello, whose skills as a warrior and commander he greatly admires. Cassio’s prayers for the safety of Othello and his bride show his close relationship with both of them. He is again shown to be an honorable man who is totally faithful to his general.

When Desdemona arrives safely, Cassio praises her lavishly. She at first pays little attention to him, for she anxiously inquires after her husband. When she learns he has not arrived, Desdemona engages in small talk to pass the time and keep her thoughts off of Othello’s safety. She even banters with Iago, whose comments about his wife border on the bawdy. She clearly recognizes Iago for what he is, "a most profane and liberal counsellor" and a show-off. She is relieved to finally hear the sound of her husband’s trumpet. When Othello comes on the scene, he embraces his wife and expresses tender words to her, expressing his happiness.

Much more is learned about Desdemona during this scene. In earlier scenes, she has been portrayed as a headstrong beauty, who defies her father and marries Othello. She is not fearful of speaking her peace, telling the Council that she will follow her new husband to Cyprus. As the daughter of a prominent Venetian Senator, she is obviously well educated, well bred, adaptable, and comfortable in society. In this scene, she proves her genuine and deep love for her husband in her concern for his safety. She is also developed as a loyal friend, defending Emilia against Iago’s rude comments. In addition, she shows she has a keen wit, matching some of Iago’s verbal banter. Finally, she is perceptive enough to recognize the villain for what he is.

Iago continues his evil machinations. He tells Roderigo that Desdemona has grown tired of Othello and is in love with Cassio. He tells Roderigo that if he is to ever win Desdemona for himself, he must fight with Cassio and win.

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