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Free Study Guide-Othello by William Shakespeare-Free Online Booknotes
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Act II, Scene 3

Summary

Iago comes to Cassio early in the night and suggests in a friendly way that they drink to Othello’s health. He plans to get Cassio sufficiently drunk, so that Roderigo can easily pick a quarrel with him. At first, Cassio declines, saying he does not drink well, but Iago persuades him, reminding that it is "a night of revels;" he tells Cassio that any man who refuses a glass or two of wine is no man at all. Finally Cassio gives in, quickly becoming inebriated. He becomes sentimental first, then religious, then outraged and very talkative. He insists that he is not drunk, but obviously is.

Cassio wanders off to take his watch. There he is baited and provoked by Roderigo. Because he is drunk, Cassio flies into a blind rage. Iago manages to create an added effect of the clamor and confusion, while he pretends to try and make peace between the men. The Governor of the island enters and tries to stop the fighting; in the process, he is wounded by Cassio’s sword. When Othello arrives, he is faced with a "barbarous brawl," which Iago says is wholly Cassio’s fault. Therefore, Othello dismisses Cassio from his post of lieutenant. Iago’s evil plans are working perfectly.

When Cassio is left disconsolate, Iago points out that he can get back in Othello’s favor if Desdemona pleads for him. Since the general loves his wife dearly, he will not refuse her pleadings. Cassio resolves to ask her for help the next morning, and Iago plans to make it appear as though she is pleading for her lover. Thus, he will "turn her virtue into pitch. And out of her goodness make the net that shall enmesh them all".

At this point, Roderigo enters and complains that he has spent much money and has still gained no advantage with Desdemona. Iago tells him of the dismissal of Cassio and assures Roderigo that he is certain to have Desdemona in the near future. Roderigo is satisfied and goes away. Dawn is breaking, and Iago looks forward to another day.

Notes

This scene opens with Othello bidding Cassio to inspect the guard during the night. The economy of Othello’s speech reflects the effortless discipline and temperance of this good soldier. Othello, however, issues a gentle warning to Cassio "not to outsport discretion". Ironically, Iago will trick Cassio beyond discretion, leading to his fall in this scene.


Cassio again proves his noble nature early in the scene. He repeatedly thwarts Iago’s attempts to engage in a coarse conversation about their commander’s wedding night. He also refuses Iago’s offer of wine, admitting he does not drink well; but Iago persists until Cassio gives in. It does not take much for Cassio to become drunk. When he goes to inspect the guard, as Othello has requested, Roderigo picks a quarrel with him. Cassio runs after Roderigo with his sword drawn. A fight breaks out, and Iago is there to make it seem louder and more serious.

When Governor Montano enters and tries to stop the fighting, he is wounded by Cassio. Iago sends Roderigo to ring the alarm bell, which wakens Othello. When the general arrives on the scene, Iago blames everything on Cassio. Othello is enraged and immediately dismisses Cassio, leaving the gate open for Iago to become the lieutenant in his place.

Iago takes on the role of a concerned and loyal servant to Othello, paving the way for his final and deadly triumph. He also "befriends" Cassio, suggesting that he should approach Desdemona about his reinstatement. Her good nature and her influence over Othello will surely cause Othello to restore Cassio to office. Cassio, biting Iago’s bait, promises that he will approach Desdemona the next morning. In a soliloquy, Iago expounds the "divinity of hell". He is delighted to see that his evil plan is working perfectly.

When a disgruntled Roderigo tells Iago that he has had enough of "the chase," Iago tells him to be patient, pointing out that Cassio has already been disgraced. Then Roderigo is again led by Iago to believe that he can still be in a position to win Desdemona.

In a final passage, spoken by Iago, he takes stock of the present situation and comes to the conclusion that two things are to be done. First he will make Emilia urge Desdemona to help Cassio, and then he will ensure that Othello sees his wife and Cassio together.

This scene is dramatically important for a number of reasons. First of all, it marks the first significant success of Iago, namely, the dismissal of Cassio. Secondly, it shows that Iago is enthralled with himself and his villainy; he loves that no one sees through his hypocrisy. Thirdly, it reveals more of the plans of his wicked plot. Fourthly, it reveals the tragic flaw in the character of Othello; Iago will use his jealousy to bring about his downfall. Finally, the scene ends the emphasis on Iago and switches attention to the mind and soul of Othello, which are put into torment by the evil Iago.

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