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Free Study Guide-Othello by William Shakespeare-Free Online Booknotes
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Act IV, Scene 2


Othello tries to force admission from Emilia that Desdemona and Cassio are lovers, but Emilia is steadfast in her denials, saying that her mistress is pure and chaste. Then, he sends for Desdemona and tries to force a confession of infidelity from her, not using Cassio’s name. At first the innocent Desdemona does not understand his charges. She merely thinks he is again behaving oddly and clings to the idea that Othello is enmeshed with some political difficulty or perhaps anger at being recalled to Venice. Then Othello’s savage words of accusation sink in to her mind, and she realizes what she is being accused of. She is horrified, but there is nothing she can do except deny the charge. Her denials fall on deaf ears.

Emilia comes back to find her mistress in a blurred state, mid- way between sleep and waking. She is like a child who has been beaten to stupefaction. When she somewhat recovers, she calls for Iago. She plans to send him to Othello to ask her husband to forgive her for whatever it is that has made him angry. Iago assures her that it is some political matter that is troubling Othello and that it will pass. He lies, "Go in and weep not, all things shall be well".

Roderigo feels that he is being befouled by Iago. He has become bankrupt. Iago has taken his gold and jewels on the pretext of giving them as presents to Desdemona, but he is far removed from the gratification of his desires. Roderigo threatens to reveal his treachery. But Iago again prevails upon him to have patience for a short while more, assuring him that he is close to winning the hand of Desdemona. For Roderigo to gain his goal, however, he must murder Cassio. Iago says that he himself will help if anything goes wrong. Roderigo agrees to his plan.


This scene, known as the "brothel scene" is brutal, just like the striking of Desdemona in the previous scene. This time Othello’s brutality is psychological and extended. He begins by questioning Emilia about Desdemona’s infidelity. She somewhat redeems herself from her earlier silence about the handkerchief, for she is insistent that Desdemona is pure and faithful. In fact, she says she would bet her life on the chastity of her mistress. Then she curses the "wretch" who has made Othello falsely jealous, unknowingly cursing her husband. Othello is unconvinced by her words and sends for Desdemona.

When his wife arrives, Othello is unmerciful with his questions and accusations. He makes her swear that she is honest, which she truthfully can do. Then he accuses her of blasphemy and charges her with being a whore. Desdemona cannot believe her ears and denies every charge. She thinks that Othello is punishing her because he is angry about something else, perhaps being called back to Venice. Neither can she believe the tears that she sees in Othello’s eyes, for she still believes him to be a proud and noble man and a pillar of strength. In fact, in the soliloquy that Othello offers during the scene, there are remnants of the noble man before his fall.

After Othello leaves, Emilia comes in. Understandably, Desdemona is in a totally dazed state, but is lucid enough to say that Othello is no longer her "lord." Emilia has trouble dealing with the change in her mistress, but she follows her requests and sends for Iago.

When Iago learns from Desdemona what has happened with Othello, he pretends to be horrified. At the same time, Emilia is verbally berating the "eternal villain" who has slandered Desdemona and planted the seeds of poison in Othello’s mind, never suspecting it is her husband. Desdemona then begs Iago to tell her how she can again win the love of her husband, for she still loves him dearly.

The scene ends with the entrance of Roderigo, complaining that he is bankrupt and still does not have Desdemona’s love. The evil Iago convinces him that he needs to kill Cassio in order to win her hand. When Iago suggests that the murder take place that same night, the gullible Roderigo willingly agrees to the plan.

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