Week 7 (Spring ’21): Acts 2-3

Greetings!  Your homework this week is to read Acts II and III of Othello, watch my videotaped lectures below, and then post a comment about the assigned reading at the bottom of this page. The speeches that I refer to in my lectures are printed below each video. At the bottom of this page, below all of the videos, I give you some simple study questions to help you formulate a post. The study questions follow up on things I say in my lectures, so you may want to watch the videos first. Leave your post in the comments section at the bottom of this page.

Notable speeches from Othello Act II:

Iago's soliloquy at 2.1.283:

That Cassio loves her, I do well believe't;
That she loves him, 'tis apt and of great credit.
The Moor, howbeit that I endure him not,
Is of a constant, loving, noble nature,
And I dare think he'll prove to Desdemona
A most dear husband.  Now I do love her too;
Not out of absolute lust, though peradventure
I stand accountant for as great a sin,
But partly led to diet my revenge,
For that I do suspect the lusty Moor
Hath leaped into my seat, the thought whereof
Doth, like a poisonous mineral, gnaw my inwards,
And nothing can or shall content my soul
Till I am evened with him, wife for wife;
Or failing so, yet that I put the Moor
At least into a jealousy so strong
That judgment cannot cure.  Which thing to do,
If this poor trash of Venice, whom I trace
For his quick hunting, stand the putting on,
I'll have our Michael Cassio on the hip,
Abuse him to the Moor in the rank garb
(For I fear Cassio with my nightcap too),
Make the Moor thank me, love me, and reward me
For making him egregiously an ass
And practicing upon his peace and quiet
Even to madness.  'Tis here, but yet confused:
Knavery's plain face is never seen till used.

Othello points out that they still haven't consummated their marriage, 2.3.8:

                     Come, my dear love.
The purchase made, the fruits are to ensue;
That profit's yet to come 'tween me and you. --
Good night.

Another soliloquy from Iago, 2.3.324:

And what's he then that says I play the villain,
When this advice is free I give and honest,
Probal to thinking, and indeed the course
To win the Moor again?  For 'tis most easy
Th'inclining Desdemona to subdue
In any honest suit; she's framed as friutful
As the free elements.  And then for her
To win the Moor -- were't to renounce his baptism,
All seals and symbols of redeemed sin --
His soul is so enfettered to her love
That she may make, unmake, do what she list,
Even as her appetite shall play the god
With his weak function.  How am I then a villain
To counsel Cassio to this parallel course,
Directly to his good?  Divinity of hell!
When devils will the blackest sins put on,
They do suggest at first with heavenly shows,
As I do now.  For whiles this honest fool
Plies Desdemona to repair his fortune,
And she for him pleads strongly to the Moor,
I'll pour this pestilence into his ear,
That she repeals him for her body's lust;
And by how much she strives to do him good,
She shall undo her credit with the Moor.
So will I turn her virtue into pitch,
And out of her own goodness make the net
That shall enmesh them all.
Notable speeches from Othello Act III:

Desdemona tells Cassio and Emilia how she'll advocate for Cassio, 2.3.19:

Do not doubt that.  Before Emilia here
I give thee warrant of thy place.  Assure thee,
If I do vow a friendship, I'll perform it
To the last article.  My lord shall never rest;
I'll watch him tame and talk him out of patience;
His bed shall seem a school, his board a shrift;
I'll intermingle everything he does
With Cassio's suit.  Therefore be merry, Cassio,
For thy solicitor shall rather die
Than give thy cause away.

Othello conflates his personal fate with the state of the universe, 3.3.90:

Excellent wretch!  Perdition catch my soul
But I do love thee!  and when I love thee not,
Chaos is come again.

Othello finally speaks a monologue, 3.3.258:

This fellow's of exceeding honesty,
And knows all qualities, with a learned spirit
Of human dealings.  If I do prove her haggard,
Though that her jesses were my dear heartstrings,
I'd whistle her off and let her down the wind
To prey at fortune.  Haply, for I am black
And have not those soft parts of conversation
That chamberers have, or for I am declined
Into the vale of years -- yet that's not much --
She's gone.  I am abused, and my relief
Must be to loathe her.  O curse of marriage,
That we can call these delicate creatures ours,
And not their appetites!  I had rather be a toad
And live upon the vapor of a dungeon
Than keep a corner in the thing I love
For others' uses.  Yet 'tis the plague of great ones;
Prerogatived are they less than the base.
'Tis destiny unshunnable, like death.
Even then this forked plague is fated to us
When we do quicken.  Look where she comes.
     [Enter Desdemona and Emilia]
If she be false, O, then heaven mocks itself!
I'll not believe it.

Discussion Board

Write a comment on Othello Acts 2-3 and post it in the comments section below.  Be sure to quote the text of the play at least once in your post.  Consider answering any of the following study questions:

1.) Iago is both very racist and very sexist. How do racism and sexism overlap, compete, reinforce each other, or otherwise interact in Othello?

2.) Does Iago’s character seem to change at all in Acts II-III, as he cedes his place as the de facto main character of Othello to Othello?

3.) Do you have an interpretation of Michael Cassio? We know a handful of things about him, yet those things do not add up in any obvious way to a consistent character type: Cassio is foreign (from Florence, not Venice); he’s handsome and flirtatious with women; he is (according to Iago) highly educated but not particularly experienced in war; he can’t hold his liquor and is a violent drunk; he’s very close to Othello, who employed him as go-between during Othello’s courtship of Desdemona. Is there a common thread here?

4.) I speak in my video of how Othello’s language changes over the course of Act 3, scene 3, as Iago persuades him that Desdemona must be having an affiar with Cassio. Do you notice any further ways in which Othello’s language evolves in this scene? Remember, Shakespeare *always* uses language to reflect character, so when a character changes, his language changes with him and vice versa.

26 thoughts on “Week 7 (Spring ’21): Acts 2-3”

  1. #3: My interpretation of Michael Cassio is that he is an easy character to take advantage of. Iago sees all of his weaknesses such as being foreign, and being a bad drinker. Also, Iago sees that Cassio is a ladies man and uses this as a gateway for his plan to make Othello miserable. I don’t think any of this is Cassio’s fault. He is very smart, but also very naive and easy to persuade. In my opinion, Iago’s plan to sabotage Othello would not have worked had Cassio not been in the picture. I feel that Shakespeare included the character of Cassio in the play as a way to develop the plot and also as a way to show just how manipulative Iago can be if you let him see just one weakness. Also, although Cassio is a ladies man, I believe that he is just flirtatious and would never actually pursue a married woman, like Iago is trying to convey. Unfortunately, Cassio is a good guy that falls victim to Iago because he has many weaknesses in his character and being foreign only makes him more naive.

  2. Michael Cassio’s character is tough to interpret and has no common thread based on how much of the play we have read so far and I believe that Shakespeare does this on purpose to elevate the mystery. In Act 2, Scene 1, Iago makes it clear that he believes that Cassio slept with his wife when he says “For I fear Cassio with my night-cape too.” While there is no reason to believe Cassio has had an affair with either Emilia or Desdemona, Shakespeare wants us to constantly wonder about Cassio’s intentions and build up the suspense by making the audience unsure if Iago’s baseless rumor about Cassio and Desdemona may actually be true.

  3. My interpretation of Michael Cassio is a bit conflicted because I feel like we don’t know much about him that is concrete. I believe that he is not a strong minded character by any means. Based on what we have read so far, I can infer he is one of those people who can be taken advantage. He is a weak character and I think Shakespeare does this with intention for the audience to view him in a certain way.

  4. 1) Iago is both very racist and very sexist. In act 2, scene 1, lines 113-117, Iago discusses how his wife Emelia talks a lot and he has nothing good to say about her. He also believes that all women are the same and he is very disrespectful. He discussed how both ugly and beautiful women are both able to get men because they are tricky and smart. Iago stated, “Of her own clime, complexion, and degree, Where to we see in all things nature tends..” (3,3, 236-237). In these lines, he showed that he is racist when he discusses how he believes that Desdemona’s skin color and status are the only thing that allowed her to choose a guy/ have that guy to be drawn to her.

  5. After reading Acts 2 and 3, I noticed a parallel between “Othello” and “The Merchant of Venice.” It is about the props (ring versus handkerchief) that symbolize the current and future state of the character’s relationship with one another (Bassanio and Portia versus Othello and Desdemona), and how giving it away or losing it foreshadows misunderstandings and unfortunate events (Act 3, Scene 4, Lines 71-73, 77-79):

    But if she lost it,
    Or made a gift of it, my father’s eye
    Should hold her loathéd

    Make it a darling like your precious eye.
    To lose ’t or give ’t away were such perdition
    As nothing else could match.

  6. Despite this Shakespearean play being named Othello, it does seem as though Iago is the main character due to him being responsible for much of the play’s plot. In acts two and three, Iago transforms from a relevant character to a predominant figure in the play. In act 1, the audience did not know much about Iago’s character other than the fact that he was highly inappropriate. His dialogue is for the most part, brief until the end of scene three, and he is largely absent in scene three. In act two however, we are enlightened on some of Iago’s sinister schemes and evil intentions and we therefore come to learn much more about him. He emerges as a main character in part by his frequent soliloquies in this part of the play where he reveals more of his inward character and true intentions. In one of these significant soliloquies, he reveals his plan to the audience and unearths his true nature that he hides from the other characters in the play. He states “ I can fasten but one cup upon him with that which he hath drunk tonight already, he’ll be as full of quarrel and offense as my young Mistresses’ dog. Now my sick fool Roderigo, whom love hath turned almost the wrong side out, who Desdemona have tonight caroused potations pottle – deep; and he’s to watch. Three else of Cyprus, noble swelling spirits that hold their honors in a wary distance, the very elements of this warlike isle, have I tonight flustered with flowing cups; and they watch too. Now amongst this flock of drunkards am I to put our Cassio in some action that may offend the isle. But here they come. If consequence do but approve my dream, my boat sails freely both wind and stream.” Since these kinds of soliloquies were not present in act one, a change in Iago’s character can be seen from act one to acts two and three.

  7. Iago’s character does not seem to change much in Acts 2 and 3. We continue to see how Iago manipulates the other characters in this play. Iago is a great judge of character and he uses this to his advantage. Iago is also very smart and thinks quickly on his feet. He uses this ability to be able to improvise in situations, such as when he sees Cassio take Desdemona’s hand in Act II, Scene 1, and says “With as little a web as this I will ensnare as great a fly as Cassio” (Line 163). Something in Acts 2 and 3 that is slightly different than Act 1, is that Iago never tells an outright lie. He uses the trust that the other characters have in him to his advantage to further his plans against Othello. This continues to make him appear as though he is a trustworthy man and allows him to continue manipulating the people around him.

  8. Racism and sexism are inherently connected to each other in Othello. This connection is so strong that oftentimes one line contains both racism and sexism. However, people may not notice this underlying sexism in overtly racist comments and vice versa. For example, when Iago says, “Even now, now, very now, an old black ram Is tupping your white ewe.” (I.i.97-97) everyone notices the overt racism. However, the underlying sexism is that Iago makes it sound as though Desdemona has no say in the matter. Surely Desdemona, as a woman, does not have the agency to choose for herself who to have a relationship with, Iago believes. This sexism sets up the subplot of Brabantio believing that Othello uses black magic, as it is the only way Desdemona could be tricked into marrying Othello, a black man. Another quote that shows this racism and sexism is “you’ll have your daughter covered with a Barbary horse, you’ll have your nephews neigh to you” (I.i.124-126).

  9. In Othello Iago is racist and sexist. We see he is sexist because of the way he treats his wife. In act two scene one, one of the first things he brings up about his wife is that she is always scolding him. By saying “her tongue she oft bestows on me” he is saying she is always nagging him. Iago often intertwines racism and sexism within his lines. Iago doesnt refer to Othello by name he always refers to him as “the moor.” at one point while referring to him like this he begins to go on about how Desdemona will get tired of him. His racism towards Othello and his sexist views come together here as he treats Desdemona like she will get tired of her husband and want something new. He treats woman like they are objects and not people.

  10. Shakespeare’s tragic play, Othello, begins with the villainous Iago as the main character. Iago is seen giving many soliloquies that help develop his character and inform the audience what he plans to do. For instance Iago states, “For whiles this honest fool Plies Desdemona to repair his fortune, And she for him pleads strongly to the Moor, I’ll pour this pestilence into his ear” (2.3.373-376). The fragment of his soliloquy informs the audience of his manipulative and deceptive nature that has been seen from the start of the play. Although, Iago seems to fall more in the background by the end of Act 3 because his soliloquies are absent. Othello takes the role of the main character instead. Iago does not change, it is just not as clear what exactly he plans to do. The absence of Iago’s thoughts may create a more suspenseful affect on the audience because the unknown that lies ahead for his character. Furthermore, anything he says may be a lie as he has shown he is not honest. The distrust was set up by the beginning of the play, but the tension that now surrounds Iago makes him seem more villainous as he can be unpredictable.

  11. My interpretation of Michael Cassio is hard to see because as far as we can see he is someone that Iago can take advantage of. The way the audience might view him is that is he is someone weak because Iago says things to Cassio which Cassio might take the fault even though it is really not his fault. He is someone that can be manipulated by someone who wants to have others not look at them but to someone, they are putting the blame on, in order to be safe of not getting caught with what they are planning which Iago is doing. In Act 2, Scene 1 “If this poor trash of Venice, whom I trace, Abuse him to the Moor in the rank garb.” Iago is saying that since he will plan to do these bad things to Cassio in order to trick Othello.

  12. Iago is a very clever villain. His last line “I am your own forever” in Act 3 was a very interesting choice of words from William Shakespeare because in all of Act 1 he is explaining how much hate he has towards Othello and now he is all his. Then during Act 3 he is plotting against Cassio with Othello. Iago gets Othello upset with Cassio and Desdemona over conversations. I do like how honest Iago is being Othello telling him that his thoughts might not be what he wants to hear, but kind of does that in a way that engages Othello anticipated on what he has to say, which stirs up all the problems. Lastly, the use of the handkerchief was pretty wise of Iago to use as proof of evidence (which is false evidence) against Cassio. It really disappointed me that Emilia, Iago’s wife, was the one who gave him the used handkerchief because what is her purpose of doing that towards Desdemona who has been so kind to her. She has been verbally abused by Iago but yet wants to give him something he wants makes me feel that she strongly wants to be loved and cared nicely by Iago.

  13. After reading act’s 2-3 of Othello I have noticed that Iago comes off as someone who is a racist and a verbally sexist. One example of when Iago expresses sexism is when he says “Her tongue she often Bestows me”. He is referring to his wife about how she is constantly nagging him. He treats his wife and other women like objects. “Of her own clime, complexion, and degree, Where do we see in all things nature tends..”(III.III.236-237). Iago claims all women ugly or beautiful are sneaky and smart and that is how they get too men. Iago used a term to refer to Othelo, the term “Moor” which means “Black”. Referring to him basically as “black” instead of using his name which he does know. So in conclusion Iago does come off sexist and racist intentially.

  14. Iago’s character I believe does not change in Acts 2-3. To also talk about how Iago is sexist, he talks about how all women are the same. Even though he is married and you should love and care about your wife, he doesn’t seem to care about her. He talks bad about her a lot and he is very disrespectful.

  15. I believe that Iago’s character remains just as manipulative and racist as he was in act I . In act 2 we listen as Iago tries to manipulate Roderigo again by using his love for Desdemona to his advantage. Iago tells Roderigo that because Cassio held Desdemona’s hand when they were talking they obviously have some feelings for each other. Iago says “Very nature will instruct her in it and compel her to some second choice. Now, sir, this granted—as it is a most pregnant and unforced position—who stands so eminent in the degree of this fortune as Cassio does? (act II, scene I, line 255-259) in an attempt to convince him to start a fight with Cassio so he gets fired and Iago can take over as lieutenant.

  16. My interpretation of Michael Cassio is that he is a weak-minded character that can be taken advantage of much like Roderigo is. Even though we don’t know much about Cassio yet, it seems that Iago can recognize his weaknesses and strengths and uses them to his advantage. “If I can fasten but one cup upon him with that which he hath drunk tonight already, he’ll be as full of quarrel and offense as my young mistress’ dog” (2.3, lines 49-52). Iago took advantage of Cassio for his own benefit to try and get Desdemona to cheat on Othello. I’m not sure if Shakespeare intentionally chose two characters to be weak-minded or if because much is not known about Cassio, it just appears that he is weak-minded.

  17. I do not think that Iago’s character changed in acts 2 and 3. In act 1 we see him as a manipulative character and it continues throughout the next two scenes. He talks about how terrible of a person Othello is in act 1, but then acts like he has Othello’s best interests in mind when he interacts with him in acts 2 and 3. It shows the audience how fake and manipulative Iago is. His racism and sexism stays constant throughout these scenes as well, saying that all women are the same and that they sneak around and manipulate people to get what they want. Although how Iago presents himself to different people is constantly changing, his character is consistently deceitful.

  18. Iago is one of the most interesting characters in all of Shakespeare. When we first see him in Act 1, he seems to be the main character, eclipsing even Othello. But once Othello returns, Iago seems to fade into the background just enough to be able to carry out his plot. He is still one of the main characters but he’s a bit less present. But through that absence, when he returns we are able to see just how big a part he is going to play in the grand scheme of things and how truly sinister and manipulative and cruel he is.

  19. My opinion on Cassio is that he’s too gullible and easy to take advantage of. He’s just really weak minded and gets manipulated by too many people, Iago for example during Act II. I don’t know if this will change more during the duration of the play. Maybe he will get some sort of backbone, but most likely Shakespeare shaped Cassio this way to fulfill a plot line sooner or later.

  20. It seems as though Iago exercises an attitude that in today’s world is very outdated and unpopular. He acts racist and sexist almost as if to gain popularity, whether it is because he thinks it is funny to do so or he genuinely is racist and sexist is the real question though. He calls Othello “thick-lipped” which is something that would be extremely frowned upon today. He also says very outlandish and misogynistic things to his wife, Emilia, though it is clear that he thinks these outlandish things not only about his wife, but about all women. This is made rather clear when he says “Come on, come on. You are pictures out of door, bells in your parlours; wildcats in your kitchens, saints in your injuries; devils being offended, players in your housewifery, and hussies in your beds” (II.ii.113-115) as he uses plural forms of his misogynistic terms.

  21. 1. Throughout Act 2, Iago continues to show his racists and sexists self towards Othello and Desdemona. In his conversations with Rodrigo, he vents about how Othello is no good for Desdemona and is fueled by his racists ideals by also mocking him calling him a “Moor”. Then in Iago’s conversation with Desdemona and Emilia, he displays the sexist side of him by trying to say that if a woman is smart enough, they will easily be able to find a husband. These two characteristics tie together in Iago’s plot to convince Rodrigo to try to take Desdemona’s love from Othello, because his racism towards Othello shows that he does not like him and his sexism towards women shows that he thinks Desdemona would be willing to leave Othello.

    Iago says to Rodrigo (Act 2, Scene I, Lines 221-226)
    Mark me with what violence she first loved the Moor, but for bragging and telling her fantastical lies; and will she love him still for prating?
    Iago says to Desdemona & Emilia (Act 2, Scene I, Lines 136-137)
    She never yet was foolish that was fair, For even her folly helped her to an heir.

  22. In my own opinion, I think that Iago’s character has just slowly been showing more and more of what his true plan is. He starts off in the play as just an upset an angry man at Othello as Othello passed up on him as Lieutenant, but as the play progresses he is seen as more and more manipulative, especially when he puts thoughts in Othello’s head and tries to insinuate things without getting completely involved. He is the man in the shadows that tries to do all the dirty work without anyone noticing him and his character slowly but surely matures into the antagonist of this whole play.

  23. 1.) Iago is both very racist and very sexist. How do racism and sexism overlap, compete, reinforce each other, or otherwise interact in Othello?
    Lago proceeds to continue to show his true colors by being racist and sexist towards Desmonda. In Act 3 Scene 3, lines 236-237. He says ” “Of her own clime, complexion, and degree, Where to we see in all things nature tends..” After he says these lines, I was beyond shocked; he’s basically saying that Demonda’s skin color and status are the only thing that allowed her to have a guy to be drawn to her, she’s “exotic”.

  24. It seems like Shakespeare wants Michael Cassio to be a bit of a mystery to the audience. Maybe this is so we are unsure of what he is really capable of. He is portrayed as someone who is inexperienced and may be easily taken advantage of or convinced to do things because of his inexperience’s. I’m not really sure what to make of Cassio right now with the little information we have been given. The different things we do know maybe what someone will use to their advantage to get what they want at Cassio’s expense. He can’t hold his liquor but has a temper when he drinks, maybe someone will get him drunk and convince him to do something bad or make him angry while drunk and get him in a situation to where Cassio gets hurt.

  25. Iago’s racism was already on display in act I and in this reading we saw more of the sexism side of things. He complains about how his wife’s complains to him in Act II, Scene I, 112-14: “Sir, would she give you so much of her lips As of her tongue she oft bestows on me, You would have enough.” Iago seems to be annoyed by women and does not see them as equals in anyway. This is very similar to the views he has about Othello and his race. He often calls Othello by derogatory terms. I think this reinforces my previous view on Iago that i picked up from Act I. Iago is not someone who sees others as his equal unless they look similar to him or have similar status.

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